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2024 Boardroom Insights Survey

The OnBoard Boardroom Insights Survey, now in its fourth year, identifies critical trends and universal challenges shaping board effectiveness. Drawing from over 350 global professionals across sectors, the survey explores technology impact, concerns, and priorities. This analysis serves to reveal key patterns that affect boards in every field.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Board directors and administrators across the globe serve countless industries, organizations, communities, and vital missions. Each has its own unique structure, history, and processes. At the same time, boards face many common challenges as they seek to do their best work in executing their respective duties. Now in its fourth year, OnBoard’s Boardroom Insights Survey analyzes the various factors and trends that contribute to boardroom success, as well as shared difficulties.

This year’s survey results offer cause for both optimism and concern. While many respondents feel their boards have made significant strides toward becoming more effective, there is a growing sense of unease about the implications of rapid technological change. Such change offers both opportunities and increased risks, including the expanding threat of cybersecurity breaches, which come with an average estimated cost of $9.48 million per incident in the United States.*

Boards across North America saw improvements in board engagement and collaboration over the past year. Overall, the survey results show boards are more effective, but less confident in security. Common challenges persist, including inefficient processes, constant time constraints, and ineffective
board members.

The following report details these and other findings from the annual survey
of more than 350 board stakeholders across the U.S. and Canada.

A Growing Unease

Cybersecurity, Rapid Tech Advancements
Raise Concerns

While the 2024 survey results show many boards made gains related to effectiveness over the past year, board leaders nationwide are concerned that a confluence of factors threatens to erode that progress in the months ahead. The repercussions of fast-moving technological change are a primary concern, especially among top board leaders.

Nearly three-fourths (74%) of C-level executives, board presidents, general counsels, and corporate secretaries believe evolving technology, mounting cybersecurity threats, and expanding use of artificial intelligence (AI) will have the greatest impacts on their organizations over the next 12 months.

Other areas of concern include increasing regulatory requirements, changing workforce demographics and heightened workforce competition.

Boards Feel Less Secure as Cyber Threats Grow

Declining confidence in board security is another indicator of growing technology concerns. Just 54% of survey respondents said they became more confident in board security over the past 12 months. That is down from 71% in the 2023 survey, and down 35% from 89% who felt more confident in security two years ago.

Even as confidence in security waned, however, collaboration increased. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said their boards are more collaborative compared to 12 months ago, up from 62% in the prior year’s survey. The share of board members who said their boards were more effective was unchanged from 2023 at 71%.

Asked how they measure board effectiveness, respondents identified their top three considerations as:

Board members who are more confident in security:

What Boards Are Doing Best

Asked to identify their boards’ biggest strengths, survey respondents identified the top three as meeting participation, preparation, and onboarding.

Nearly nine in 10 directors said high levels of engagement in board meetings was their primary strength, while more than three-fourths (77%) said their boards are moderately or highly effective at preparing for meetings.

Two-thirds (66%) also said their boards are effective at onboarding new members and establishing new meetings.

Each of these are critical elements to running effective boards. They demonstrate the high levels of commitment and care boards and administrators show in supporting their organizations’ missions.

Technology Offers Opportunities for Improvement

In addition to their boards’ strengths, survey respondents also identified their key weaknesses. Not surprisingly, many see a need to bolster cybersecurity and make better use of technology.

Approximately four in 10 boards indicated there is significant room for improvement when it comes to ensuring cybersecurity relative to board information and meetings, and to facilitating effective board communication outside of meetings.

About one-third of survey respondents (32%) said their organizations are not effective at utilizing technology. In addition, 31% said their boards could do a better job of staying informed and on top of industry trends.

Areas where boards are ineffective

Gauging Effectiveness

Ineffective Board Members
Remain a Challenge

As board leaders and administrators work to navigate evolving technology, regulatory demands, and economic and social pressures, many remain frustrated about what they see as inept board members. Such individuals contribute to inefficiencies and can drag down overall board effectiveness.

More than 70% of survey respondents said they could identify at least one ineffective board member sitting on their board today, and more than half said at least 1 in 10 board members are ineffective. While still too high, that is down from two-thirds who said at least 10% of board members were ineffective in the 2023 survey.

On average, the survey results suggest that approximately 17% of board members are ineffective, down from 25% in 2023.

Asked how board members could be more effective, the top five responses were:

Keys to Recent Board Successes

Survey respondents credited numerous factors for helping to elevate the overall effectiveness and success of their boards over the past year. The results demonstrate boards’ strong dedication to continuous improvement.

Having a more engaged board was viewed as the No. 1 factor, according to 63% of survey respondents. That is up from 45% who said it was a primary driver of success in the 2023 survey.

More than one-third of respondents (37%) noted increased use of board management software as another key factor in improving board effectiveness, compared to just 13% in last year’s survey. Thirty-six percent also attributed board success to new members joining the board, and 34% credited enhanced board leadership.

Other factors that helped drive board success are:

  • Better preparedness
  • Shift to remote/hybrid
  • Strategy, governance, and accountability
  • Restructuring of committees and/or meetings
  • Training and improved industry expertise
  • In-person attendance

Insufficient Preparation Time

Even with recent successes, many survey respondents —including both board members and administrators — identified limited time as a constant challenge in effectively executing on their board responsibilities.

For administrators, the challenges center on too-tight time frames to gather board materials from various stakeholders across the organization, and to distribute those materials to directors.

1 in 5 think board directors/members are not given adequate time to prepare for meetings.

Nearly 60% of administrators said they distribute materials to board members less than a week in advance of meetings, and about half of those send them less than four days in advance.

As a result, board members often must do marathon cram sessions to prepare for meetings as many juggle board duties with careers and other responsibilities. Forty-one percent of respondents said they spend 4-6 hours prepping for meetings, while 50% said they spend more than 6 hours. Only 9% said they spend less than 2 hours preparing for meetings.

Conclusion

The results of this year’s Boardroom Insights Survey illustrate the many challenges boards face in today’s rapidly evolving environment. Boards and board leaders have a lot to contend with, from cybersecurity to time constraints, disengaged peers, technological difficulties, and other persistent pressures. At the same time, their survey responses demonstrate ongoing progress amid tremendous challenges by individuals and boards dedicated to serving our core organizations and communities.
Board management solutions, such as OnBoard, offer a number of capabilities and benefits to help organizations streamline processes and better protect vital board information and communications. The OnBoard portal, for example, provides enhanced security measures and a single access point for all board business that alleviate some of the most common board concerns.

It allows board directors and administrators to work more efficiently, more collaboratively, and more securely. It also allows organizations to more effectively manage the flow of data, documents, board communications, and other information, and thus reduce looming cybersecurity risks.

By Industry

By Industry

A Look at Who Participated

This year’s report includes findings from survey responses by more than 350 board stakeholders serving a variety of industries and organizations across the U.S. and Canada. The greatest share (34%) were from nonprofit organizations while 23% were from education. Fifteen percent came from the financial services industry, namely banks and credit unions. Examples of other industries include consulting, aviation/aerospace, energy/utilities, and tourism.

How Boards Use Technology

This year’s report features an addendum report based on more than 1,400 survey responses from board professionals who considered OnBoard in the past 18 months.

The findings, alongside the Insights Survey, indicate that the methods used to manage board meetings can significantly impact effectiveness.

There appears to be a strong link between ineffective meeting preparation and issues like poor cybersecurity confidence and subpar communication and collaboration between meetings.

For example, only 25% of surveyed board professionals utilize digital solutions or specialized board management software for preparing and distributing materials. Further, more than 13% of boards still depend on printed paper, while a significant majority (62%) primarily use email and PDF for their planning and distribution processes.

These somewhat outdated preparation methods suggest significant opportunities for boards to adopt technologies that can bolster their cybersecurity and overall effectiveness.

Which of the following would you like to achieve with a digital board management solution?

Board Technology Adoption Goals

Board professionals surveyed while considering OnBoard revealed an additional insight about how they envision technology supporting their effectiveness goals. The majority (92%) of all professionals surveyed saw centralized communication and documents as the most desired outcome, followed by improved meeting preparation (85%), and the ability to provide accurate, timely information (77%) as top goals when considering a tech solution for board meeting management.

Ineffective Board Members by Industry

Lastly, board professionals who participated in the OnBoard discovery survey shared information about their current board’s size. When combined with board member ineffectiveness estimates by industry (see p. 8), an “at-a-glance” comparison reveals the estimated number of ineffective board members in each sector. 

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