Topics – Preparing the Board for 2022 – Charity Digital News

January is coming to a close – but are charity leaders ready to hit the ground running? Here we give them some tips to get started
A New Year is a time for fresh starts. This is true, too, for charity boards. A New Year means that they can evaluate their performance of the one previous and take on the lessons they learnt throughout. 
In 2020, this lesson largely revolved around agility. Charities had to work around ever-changing lockdown restrictions, delivering their services virtually in order to keep both employees and beneficiaries safe during the pandemic.
For boards, they, too, had to move their meetings online. While hybrid meetings are nothing new – many board members will be familiar with dialling in – the lack of face-to-face time made discussions more difficult, as they tried to guide their organisations’ strategy at a time of turbulence for the sector. 
According to board management platform OnBoard, the previous 18 months have changed the function of the board more than any other 18-month period in history. According to research from McKinsey, nearly a third of boards highlighted difficulty with remote tools and technology as a challenge during the pandemic, while 21% felt they lacked relevant capabilities within the board.  
But while the pandemic may have been a catalyst for change, it didn’t put an end to business as usual. Diversity and inclusion, cyber security, digital transformation, environmental and economic concerns were still very much on the agenda. In fact, due to the pandemic and the changes it wrought, they probably factored higher.  
The role of boards in guiding charities through 2020 was vital. But if 2021 was about learning lessons and beginning our recovery from the pandemic, 2022 is about consolidating it. Whether meetings are held in-person, online, or a combination of the two, the outcome can only be as good as the discussion itself.  
Here we outline some helpful tips to help boards prepare for the coming year and take on board the lessons from those previous.
While technology trouble proved to be a sticking point for many boards, the most significant challenge when the pandemic began was lack of in-person interactions and discussion. We all know that Zoom silences can feel painful and make meetings feel uncomfortable as opposed to the free-flowing ease of in-person meetings.  
However, there are ways to improve hybrid and virtual meetings that maintain the personal touch of in-person meetings and ensure that discussion is encouraged throughout. While the temptation with Zoom meetings is to get straight down to business, this can actually do more harm than good.  
OnBoard notes that the best board meetings begin with conversation and engagement, or a ‘soft start’. Simple questions like ‘What’s your favourite book?’ or even favourite form of potato – in fact, the more off-the-wall the better – can break the ice, and warm attendees up before the serious work starts. 
The benefit of this approach is that it can help attendees understand each other better, getting to know how they think and respond, which can in turn be helpful when discussions get grittier. By starting the meeting with conversation and engagement, boards are likely to be more productive at the end.
The demands of the pandemic meant that many boards went digital with very little notice. But in 2022, as a result of that steep learning curve, we can be more prepared. 
As OnBoard states in its webinar Preparing the Board for 2022, “Exceptional virtual board engagement can be achieved by thoughtfully digitising all aspects of the board meeting.” This means properly structuring a meeting for those who are attending and addressing their needs.  
Follow the lead of digitally native boards – hybrid meetings aren’t a convenient necessity for them, they’re business as usual. They actively prevent digital disengagement by designing the meeting appropriately.  
For example, are all notes from previous meetings easily accessible for all board members? Can they see the agenda beforehand, even if not attending in person? And does everyone have the requisite technology to be able to join in with the meeting? 
Consider who will be at how in plenty of time before hosting the meeting. Make sure everyone feels included and can contribute to the meeting equally. Organisations should avoid presenteeism (where board members feel like their contributions will be more valued if delivered in person) and proximity bias (when ideas delivered in person are actioned regularly over those contributed online).  
Designing your meeting and setting out your agendas clearly beforehand help ensure that everyone has an equal voice and feel comfortable coming forward when the time is right.  
It may seem simple but also make sure to use the chat functions in online meetings and outside of them. These allow you to check in with people in a less formal and more immediate manner than emails. And they can also reduce unnecessary meetings. Furthermore, it’s a helpful place to share any meeting notes that may have been missed otherwise. 
If these challenges are met, then there is no reason that online meetings should be any less productive than their in-person counterpart in 2022.
According to OnBoard, “The best board meetings obsessively lead the agenda towards action.” Every discussion should end with members identifying a way that the charity can progress towards its goal.  
Ensure that everyone has the same information and tools to be able to carry out those actions – including those outside the boardroom – and share a list of actions after the meeting so you can keep track of your decision-making. Meetings can go around in circles if steps are not defined at the end.  
As charity boards settle into the New Year, these are just a few of the steps that they can take to hold better board meetings in the coming months. Look out for digital trends that will inform your year ahead and keep striving towards better diversity on the board – it not only makes boards better decision-makers, but can also tangibly improve performance. 
You can check out more guidance from the OnBoard team in their webinar, “Preparing the board for 2022”, linked below.  
Click above for more tips on how to start 2022 off right with OnBoard’s experts  
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