OnBoard helps Starr Breathe Its Mission by providing “Tech With a Conscience.”
OnBoard helps Starr Breathe Its Mission by providing “Tech With a Conscience.”
Board Management Goals
In 1913, a young man named Floyd Starr purchased a barn and 40 acres in Albion, Michigan to create a refuge for “homeless, dependent, neglected and delinquent boys.” His idea was simple, but powerful: Treat a child with dignity and respect, and it changes a child’s heart, and ultimately, a child’s life.
From those humble beginnings, Starr Commonwealth has grown into a nonprofit organization with a global reach across five continents, 119 countries, and all 50 states. It offers community-based programs, educational and behavioral health services, and professional training and coaching to heal trauma and build resilience in all children, adolescents, and the professionals that serve them.
With such an impactful story as its foundation, Starr Commonwealth has used the last decade to position itself for a second century of service. When current President and CEO Elizabeth Carey joined Starr Commonwealth in 2010, the tech-savvy executive noted some inefficiencies and wanted more organization around how board meetings were organized and information was managed.
Julie Voigt, Director of Corporate Logistics for Starr Commonwealth, remembers how Carey mandated a fresh start. “For Elizabeth and for all of us, it was ‘Let’s get with the century. Let’s get with the times and start doing things a little differently.’”
“Getting with the century” meant using OnBoard to resolve several challenges, including:
“OnBoard is now a one-stop shop where we all can go and find resources because it’s really easy to use. They go into OnBoard and find the board list on their own. are so much more self-sufficient.”
The Solution to Managing Documents
Before implementing OnBoard, there was no systematic organization of important documents and information. Voigt illustrated the challenges this presented with an anecdote about the time she was promoted.
“When I earned a promotion and moved into the president’s office, another person took over for my position,” she says. “So I saved everything in a particular location on a shared drive. When the new person filled my former position, she started saving everything in her own drive. When she left the organization, we were missing information because there was no organization to where she had saved everything.”
This was not a trivial problem. For a large nonprofit organization, preserving institutional memory relied on tighter organization of documents and information.
“We had no system for how we managed our documents, so we were missing a lot of information,” Voigt says. “Sometimes we had to go back and dig into the details of a transaction or a decision we had made. We would go through the minutes of a meeting and sometimes, we couldn’t find what we were looking for because we did not have a good system.”
To remedy this problem, Julie created Resource Folders in OnBoard and coordinated with other staff members to organize documents in a straightforward system that would stay the same even if a person left the organization.
“With OnBoard, what’s so beautiful now is that everything is in one place,” Voigt says. “Now, any one of us can pop into OnBoard and find the minutes whether it’s by the Board of Trustees, the Finance Committee, the Audit Committee, etc. It’s all there for us.”
Voigt is especially delighted by the way OnBoard has helped empower board members to become more self-sufficient when it comes to finding and retrieving information. She unequivocally counts this as a significant boost in the board’s productivity.
“OnBoard is now a one-stop shop where we all can find resources because it’s really easy to use,” Voigt says. “I used to have board members asking me ‘Hey, can you send me a board list? I can’t find mine.’ They don’t have to do that anymore. They go into OnBoard and find the board list on their own. Anytime they need information, they don’t have to contact Elizabeth or me. They don’t have to make sure it’s between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. They can prepare for a board meeting at 9 p.m. the night before. They’ve got everything they need all right there at their fingertips and are so much more self-sufficient. I continually appreciate Elizabeth for her guidance to seek out a better solution.”
“Before OnBoard, we would print out all the paperwork for board books and we’d have to put them into binders. We would go through a lot of time preparing for meetings because we would actually physically make a binder for every board member with dividers, the agendas, everything.”
The Solution to Spending Time Printing Cumbersome Board Books and Distributing Binders
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Starr Commonwealth’s board met in person. In addition to the somewhat unsystematic manner in which documents and information were managed, the staff also found themselves spending vast amounts of time printing cumbersome board books.
Carey collaborated on a new approach. Starr now uses OnBoard to build the board book and design the agenda digitally. “I provide Elizabeth with the minutes and she builds the agenda and accompanying documents,” Voigt says.
OnBoard not only reduces the amount of time it takes to create board books and agendas, it eliminates the need to keep multiple sets of a decade’s worth of cumbersome binders stored in our office space. With OnBoard, the staff and the board have a searchable archive of agendas and decisions at their fingertips.
“Preparing for a board meeting was very stressful,” Voigt says. “Before OnBoard, we would print out all the paperwork for board books and we’d have to put them into binders. We would go through a lot of time preparing for meetings because we would actually physically make a binder for every board member with dividers, the agendas, everything.”
“We build the approvals in OnBoard. We ask board members to go out and vote in OnBoard. This give us documentation in the system so we can see exactly who voted.”
The Solution to Having a Searchable Archive of Votes and Decisions
Starr Commonwealth has existed for more than a century. In that time, a significant amount of real estate and property has been donated to the organization. When a property can no longer be used or if real estate is donated to Starr that it does not have a program purpose, the board has had to take action such as selling it. All decisions are voted on and decisions are recorded to create documentation for those decisions.
“We build the approvals in OnBoard,” Voigt says. “Even though I still physically take minutes and we take a verbal vote that I record on the spot, we still ask board members to go out and vote in OnBoard. This give us documentation in the system, and we can see exactly who voted.”
In the past, Voigt says, votes were not always recorded clearly, and documentation would sometimes be missing. “We couldn’t always go back if a question came up about a property or some legal issue,” she says. “Sometimes we had to provide a redacted section of the minutes showing how the board approved a decision. Now we don’t have to do the needle-in-a-haystack thing to try and find the action within minutes. With OnBoard, you go right to voting actions.”
Voigt credits the board chair with making the voting system using OnBoard work.
“As soon as we take a verbal vote, our board chair will ask all board members to go out and vote in OnBoard,” she says. “That way, we have it recorded electronically, too. He is so great at prompting them. Having his buy-in has really helped bring everyone along to get in OnBoard and use it appropriately.”
“OnBoard has helped us become incredibly efficient. Our board members are two years into it now, and they’re doing a great job learning how to use it as a resource. I will say that it’s been a pretty beautiful thing.”
In Starr Commonwealth’s 2019 annual report, Carey wrote a letter to the nonprofit organization’s stakeholders. This was no dry recitation of facts and figures. Her words were a stirring call to action that brought the 107-year-old organization’s mission into passionate clarity: “We must always strive for the next step toward the vision of universal hope, boundless love, and limitless success for all children.”
Voigt has been with Starr Commonwealth for 21 of those 107 years. She represents institutional experience and expertise that can’t be replicated. Working with Carey, she has used OnBoard to help prepare the organization for service long into its second century. She has done this with Carey by:
For an organization that felt it needed to “get with the century,” OnBoard has proven to be a great boost in the right direction.
“OnBoard has helped us become incredibly efficient,” Voigt says. “Our board members are two years into OnBoard now, and they’re doing a great job learning how to use it as a resource. I will say that it’s been a pretty beautiful thing.”
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