High-performing association board members are busy enough. Volunteer boards put trust into their association staff to maximize efficiencies and make the best use of their time, skills, and knowledge as an expert in their field. The second piece of the puzzle, and how these efficiencies come full circle, involves board members embracing new technologies and change for the better. To stay relevant and demonstrate value to members, maximizing efficiencies and systems are at the core of measurable results. Not-for-profit associations naturally operate on limited resources; it’s the board and association staff’s mandate to perform, be proactive, and be prepared to evolve with our everchanging world.

Microsoft SharePoint is an excellent tool to maximize board efficiencies. SharePoint is a web-based document storage and management system that encourages collaboration and teamwork. It can be used either through the online web portal (or “your site”) or by downloading the desktop application. These mediums have different appearances, one looking like your classic File Explorer while your site has more features and acts as a hub for the association’s backend work and information – both are simple and user-friendly. It’s more of a matter of preference and/or available disk space for which medium is preferred. To optimize your file structures, read my colleague’s article, “Where Did I Save That? – Increase Efficiency with A Standardized File Structure“.

One of the huge benefits of using a system like SharePoint with association boards is the simplicity of real-time collaboration. National boards do not have the luxury of frequent in-person meetings, and rarely do they get the opportunity to work collectively on a document in the same room at the same time. Therefore, having the option to work together online is crucial to the success of the association. Learn more about making the most of your time as a board member in “Work Balance—How to Work Hard and Avoid Burning Out as an Association Volunteer Leader“.

Cloud systems like SharePoint allow for real-time updates to be made to live documents by multiple collaborators at the same time. This real-time technology discourages and removes many challenges groups run into when sharing documents, such as version history and collecting input from all board members. SharePoint uses live links instead of attaching copies of documents through email to negate any version history mishaps, so say goodbye to emailing different versions back and forth, losing track of who has responded, or leaving a comment out for good!

By housing, a collaborative document in SharePoint, a board member in Ontario can simply click on a link in an email to make additions, leave comments, and track changes to a policy from their tablet application. At the same time, a board member in Alberta can accept the changes or suggest alternatives from their browser at home. Each collaborator’s cursor identifies them, and anyone with the document open can see the changes as they happen live.

The freedom of using live documents with association boards is efficient and effective! By creating small efficiencies with an association, board member’s time is freed up to accomplish tasks instead of scouring emails to find the file that may not even be the current version.

Additionally, an association’s SharePoint website is a helpful hub for all quick-access information such as board contact info, your board binder, your standard operating procedures, external links, recently used documents, and site analytics – be sure to bookmark your site. You’ll be visiting it a lot!

Another useful feature of a system like SharePoint is managing accesses and permissions. Access can be restricted and granted down to the level of a specific file or by folder. Sharing and receiving board meeting documents no longer looks like a mess of attachments in an email. It’s a simple link to a folder that contains everything for the meeting. Having access to a folder makes it simple to add, remove or swap out files without needing to find an email with the updated file. Folder and document permissions can be further given by allowing collaborators to either view or edit the content within the folder/shared link. These permissions ensure that board members can navigate the association’s business in an efficient manner without the unnecessary pressures of confidential files looming in the cloud.

All in all, it’s important for association board members to keep an open mind and embrace the cloud. Programs like SharePoint improve communication, encourage collaboration, and accelerate efficiencies. With a quick tutorial, your board can reach for the cloud (stars)!