ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership
How OnBoard Helps “the Association of Associations” Work More Efficiently, Increase Board Engagement, and Keep Meetings Strategic
How OnBoard Helps “the Association of Associations” Work More Efficiently, Increase Board Engagement, and Keep Meetings Strategic
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
Board Management Goals
When asked why associations are significant, Susan Robertson is emphatic: “Associations do important work to advance society and make the world a better place.”
The organization she leads as President and CEO – ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership – is called by many the Association of Associations. “ASAE doesn’t necessarily have a cure for a disease or feed underserved populations,” Susan says, “but we help those who do that kind of work do it better.”
Having been a part of ASAE for 20 years, Susan has seen board management transition from paper-based board materials to PDFs to board portals. She and other staff members credit OnBoard with helping ASAE resolve several challenges the organization faced, including how to:
These challenges might have daunted other organizations, but Susan and the ASAE team were able to tackle them successfully using OnBoard.
“OnBoard supports functions in governance and meetings that all associations need to tackle and do well,” Susan says. “You’ll be hard-pressed to find a tool with as much flexibility as OnBoard has that also offers so much functionality.”
“Other organizations struggling with how to incorporate Zoom early on, but we didn’t. Our board members had a link right there in OnBoard...That seamlessness of experience was a really big deal.”
Like other members of the team, Reggie Henry, ASAE’s Chief Information & Engagement Officer, is focused on helping ASAE and the associations ASAE serves to effectively cope with an uncertain, evolving business landscape and adapt in-person meetings to the virtual environment.
“Associations are dealing with change at levels we’ve never seen before and are having to adjust,” Henry says. “We all woke up in March 2020 and realized that work wasn’t happening in a [single] location anymore and it can happen pretty much anyplace. We also realized that meetings and events, too, weren’t in one spot anymore. We began doing all of that virtually.”
In March 2020, ASAE found itself having to make an immediate switch from holding the standard face-to-face board meeting to a virtual one. In just two weeks, ASAE was able to leverage OnBoard to effectively move the meeting online. Henry credits OnBoard’s ease of use as a primary reason why the transition was a smooth one.
“I go back to OnBoard’s simplicity of use,” he says. “We were able to integrate all of the materials for the meeting because we had a tool that allowed us to pivot really quickly. We didn’t have to explain to our board members how to get to that material in OnBoard because it was pretty apparent to them.”
OnBoard was the first board management software platform to natively integrate with the popular web conferencing app, Zoom. OnBoard’s inclusion of this essential capability made an immediate impact.
“There were other organizations struggling with how to incorporate Zoom early on, but we didn’t,” Henry says. “Our board members had a link right there in OnBoard. They clicked on the link and were right in the meeting. They didn’t even have to change devices. That seamlessness of experience was a really big deal.”
"The world is changing really quickly, and OnBoard gives us more agility and nimbleness than we had before."
- Rebecca Hawk
Director, ASAE Executive & Board Operations
ASAE’s digital transformation actually started years ago when the organization moved away from paper-bound board materials.
“I remember we did board books using a three-hole punch binder, mail, and FedEx,” Robertson says. “It was always right down to the wire, which put so much pressure on the organization to get those materials out enough in advance so that people could read them. It made us inflexible when it came to changes, particularly those at the last minute.”
ASAE used a competing board management software platform to move into the digital governance realm and found its needs evolving, so it undertook a due diligence process. They implemented OnBoard after a review of available options. Considerations that went into the selection included:
The impact from implementing OnBoard was immediate to board members and staff. Board materials were better organized and easy to find, so board members started to feel more self-sufficient. Staff immediately felt less pressure because they could get the board materials submitted on a more flexible schedule and with less stress.
Rebecca Hawk, Director, Executive and Board Operations for ASAE, says, “If I wasn’t able to use OnBoard, I think that an already stressful process of building out a board meeting would be about 10 times as stressful. The world is changing really quickly, and OnBoard gives us more agility and nimbleness than we had before.”
“As a CEO, it’s a good thing when you can tell that your staff’s blood pressure is collectively a little bit lower because they have a tool that works for them and is not problematic,” Robertson says. “You want to have a platform that the staff can adapt to and use to the fullest advantage. That’s what our staff has found with OnBoard.”
"With engagement analytics, I can see not only what's most important to the board, but also come to the meeting more prepared for questions."
- Susan Robertson
President and CEO, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership
As the President of ASAE Business Solutions (ABSI), Betsy Piper-Bach sees many software vendors that position their products as solutions to the challenges facing associations.
The mission of ABSI, the for-profit subsidiary of ASAE, is to connect associations to essential enterprise solutions that will help them solve critical business needs, save time and money, and succeed in achieving their missions. They do this through careful curation and management of the ASAE Business Solutions portfolio of enterprise offerings.
Piper-Bach and her team recognized that the OnBoard team had a standout platform and could deliver high-quality customer service and support. That’s why they worked with us to create the ASAE-Endorsed Virtual Board Meeting Management Solution.
According to Piper-Bach, one of OnBoard’s key differentiators is engagement analytics. Another industry first from OnBoard, Engagement Analytics introduces sophisticated analytics to iterate and improve meeting preparation, deliver strategic insights, and boost board engagement. Since engagement analytics anonymizes and aggregates the analytics data, board members’ privacy is maintained.
“Engagement analytics shows you what pages are being read and for how long,” Piper-Bach says. “As a meeting organizer, I want to be prepared to have a discussion on what people are interested in. For example, by looking at the analytics, I can see that there’s a lot of people reading page 70. So, I ask myself what is on page 70? What do I need to know about page 70? It’s just a very, very unique element to OnBoard.
“Engagement analytics doesn’t actually tell you exactly who’s looking at what,” Betsy says. “That’s helpful because people might be afraid to use it if they thought they were going to be outed for either not having read or spending too much time on a particular section. So, I think the way the data is collected is very helpful in running a board meeting.”
Robertson is equally enthusiastic about engagement analytics and how the functionality offers anonymized and aggregated real-time data on when board books are read, where annotations are made, and what sections receive the most attention.
“With engagement analytics, I can see not only what’s most important to the board, but also come to the meeting more prepared for questions,” Robertson says. “The more time I see board members are spending on a particular report or area of information, the more I anticipate there might be questions or a point they want to bring up for discussion with the rest of the board. It might even give me a sense that something is not as relevant as it needs to be. I can use that to gauge our content with a lot more precision and objectivity.”
"The platform allows us to run really efficient board and committee meetings, and come to them prepared and informed."
ASAE uses OnBoard to support meetings held by both its board and committees. With a 21-member board including officers, ex-officio, and chair, OnBoard enables ASAE’s board and committee members with an organized, centralized information repository and the ability to access any information they need quickly.
ASAE’s board maintains governance responsibility for two organizations – ASAE (the association) and the ASAE Research Foundation. This dual role helps improve and unify the strategy of the organization as a whole, and any technology solution under consideration must make communication between the groups simple and seamless. OnBoard not only complements ASAE’s dual board structure, but also keeps information secure and shared with necessary individuals.
“The platform allows us to run really efficient board and committee meetings, and come to them prepared and informed,” Robertson says. “Board and committee members rely on OnBoard to prepare, and that’s critical because there are a lot of important decisions to be made at the meetings.”
Robertson also noted another OnBoard feature – Notes and Annotations – that has helped the organization’s committees execute the governance work more efficiently.
“We also use OnBoard for our finance, audit, and investment subcommittees, all of which require very detailed preparation and materials to support them,” she says. “The ability to make notes and annotate the documents are important here because there are many, many details the committees need to review and absorb. Overall, we have a very high degree of confidence in the way OnBoard allows us to manage our meetings.”
By keeping the materials so easily accessible, there's really nothing standing in the way between the board member and what they need to prepare for the meeting."
An engaged board is a forward-thinking board. As the chief executive of ASAE, Robertson has taken responsibility for keeping the board engaged and continually strives to create a collaborative partnership with all board members. One way she does this is by using OnBoard to keep meetings focused as strategic working sessions.
“OnBoard supports our efforts to keep discussions strategic,” Robertson says. “We add a lot of details within the board book that we don’t necessarily discuss in our board meetings because we figure people can read those things in OnBoard, and they don’t want it repeated live. By keeping the materials so easily accessible, there’s really nothing standing in the way between the board member and what they need to prepare for the meeting.”
Robertson feels confident that board members are leaving more meetings feeling like they’ve contributed and helped guide the organization. In a word, they feel engaged.
“OnBoard gives us more agility and nimbleness now than we had before... I already knew I loved this product the first few times I clicked around in it."
As leaders of the association that advocates for the entire association industry, ASAE’s board and committee members can’t afford to spend time on a solution that doesn’t give them complete confidence that everything will perform as expected. By that standard, OnBoard has proven to be a success. Robertson knows it because she sees it in action at every meeting.
“You can see the screens in front of the board members are tuned to OnBoard at least most of the time while they’re engaging in the board discussion,” she says. “That tells me that the platform is working, and it’s made our meetings go well.”
“OnBoard gives us more agility and nimbleness now than we had before,” Hawk says. “In years past, we would have had to print out a thick binder for the meetings. If something had to change, we would’ve had to reprint the entire thing – sometimes hundreds of pages – for every one of our board members.”
Piper-Bach recalls having a positive feeling for OnBoard almost immediately. “I already knew I loved this product the first few times I clicked around in it,” she says. “It just made it so easy to participate, be active, and be part of the meeting.”
More than anything else, OnBoard’s ease of use has helped ASAE’s board and committee members keep meetings focused on strategic decision-making.
“OnBoard has really helped us focus on the content of our meetings and the strategic direction of the organization,” Robertson says. “It’s helped us tremendously because we don’t have to worry about it. We know that the platform will perform.”
To see OnBoard in action and learn more about how ASAE uses the platform to power its own governance, please see Rebecca Hawk’s solution spotlight session here.
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