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In addition, they need to be able to annotate or mark-up meeting documents, highlight or strike-through text, and write notes or comments.

Documents should also be easy to search through and navigate. Creating a PDF is the most straightforward way to do this. PDFs even allow for some annotating and searching. But dedicated tools offer streamlined, user-friendly apps for tablets and other mobile devices that allow users to easily read and annotate documents. In fact, because so many corporate and foundation boards have begun using tablets, a lot of design work has gone into these apps, making them easier to use than desktop or web interfaces.

Sharing and viewing calendars: Board members are busy people. They want to be able to easily see their meeting schedule and RSVP for board and committee meetings.

The Latest

Shared calendar tools such as Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook do a reasonable job of this. Most board portals include built-in calendar tools. Collaborating as a board or committees: A board collaboration solution should enable members to work together on documents or committee work online. Online chat tools such as Google Chat, HipChat, or Campfire allow for real-time online conversations. More robust systems, including some project management tools and board portals, allow you to capture the work and conversations between board members alongside the documents on which they are collaborating.

More full-featured systems may even include online conferencing functionality for fully virtual meetings, although many boards make do with Skype, Google Hangouts, or another videoconferencing tool.


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Does your foundation or organization need a dedicated board portal? Or, can you make do with a combination of other systems, many of which you might already use? For smaller organizations, dedicated board collaboration tools are not likely to be practical or affordable. At the low-end of the scale for both functionality and cost, these nonprofits and smaller foundations can create their own collaboration solution using a combination of file sharing systems, Google Docs, project management tools, shared calendars, and online chat or conferencing tools.

It can also be a barrier to use for board members to have to learn and adapt to multiple tools. An online cloud storage service allows you to share files with individuals outside your office. Many organizations with multiple locations or distributed staff already use these tools. Dropbox and Box. Both systems are similar in layout and functionality, with simple interfaces and mobile support useful for organizations whose board members have a varying degrees of comfort with technology.

Both have apps that allow for easy file access from mobile devices, but Box. Dropbox integrates with Microsoft Office apps, making it possible to open and edit files on mobile devices. Both systems provide basic sharing capabilities with their free plans and more granular permissions and security controls, with paid plans that include the ability for administrators to restrict access to certain documents and folders.

Google provides a variety of tools that, used together, can meet many of the needs of board members. Documents can be shared using Google Drive , meetings and deadlines can be shared using Google Calendar , discussions can be facilitated through Google Groups , online votes and surveys can be set up through Google Forms , and all these links can be collected and accessed on a web page created in Google Sites.

A Few Good Tools: Board Portals and Other Ways to Collaborate

The Google Drive mobile app also allows for offline access of selected files, enabling board members to download documents to their devices for review. Most Google services are free and Google has an excellent program for nonprofits that provides free access to the Google Apps suite. However, this approach poses challenges. Using so many different tools means staff members have to manually create and compile all board items. Less tech-savvy users might get frustrated with the need for multiple tools, as well.

General project management tools incorporate basic project planning, document sharing, task management, shared calendars, and online discussion boards into a single system. These web-based tools are particularly useful for geographically diverse teams or teams that include members from outside the organization. They offer a lot of structure—users upload documents, and people can comment on them or build shared task lists or calendars, for example.

While some project management systems are primarily focused on workflow and scheduling, several options can function well as board collaboration tools. Admins can upload files to secure workspaces where board members can review and comment on them. The software includes a robust task management tool, workspace calendars, whiteboards for shared notes, granular sharing and privacy controls, and mobile apps for iPad, iPhone and Android devices.

This package provides access to the Workgroup edition of the software for up to 25 users. Basecamp is one of the most widely-used online project management tools and provides an intuitive interface and thoughtful email integration that allows individuals with varying levels of technological comfort to use the system. Admins can upload documents for board members to review and add comments, create calendars with meetings and due dates, assign tasks, and notify users when new content is added to the system.

Board members can choose to receive emails when updates are made to the project and can share their comments by email rather than logging in—Basecamp will automatically add those comments to the project.

Doing good, well

Pricing is based on the number of active projects, and supports unlimited users. Sharepoint inspires strong feelings among users—both positive and negative—but continues to be a popular tool for document storage and sharing. It can be put to use for board collaboration purposes as well. The tool is definitely worth considering for board collaboration purposes if it is already implemented within an organization. Admins can post documents for board members to view, edit, and download, and can share calendars as well.

Access control is very granular, and admins are able to set permissions for each user. While Central Desktop is on the expensive end of online project management and collaboration solutions, users get a great deal of bang for their buck. Granular security and access control is available to admins, as well as the ability to make content or folders viewable only to internal team members.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list. Many other project management tools can also be used to share calendars and documents with board members, capture discussions and allow for collaboration. New solutions such as Trello provide incredibly simple user interfaces, with drag and drop functionality. Other project management solutions, such as Teamwork Project and LiquidPlanner , integrate with external sites such as Dropbox, Box.

Board portals are tools designed specifically to help staff manage and create documents, and to help board members share, read, and annotate board books and other meeting documents through a user-friendly interface.

In other words, a key use of a portal server is building websites with role-based content, and the focus is on enabling end-users to interact within the website. Meanwhile, a key use of a WCMS is building rich websites while focusing on enabling developers to build and manage the content. Portal servers picked up in popularity starting in the early part of , providing a central platform for accessing web content and resources data, docs, apps, integrations, alerts, etc. This functionality was termed role-based content delivery, or RBCD, and was a main focus for portals.

These RBCD-based websites allowed an enterprise to develop a central web platform. Given portal pages included both applications portlets and widgets and web content, most portals began supporting integrations to an external WCMS allowing content to be created or managed in a WCMS but appearing in a portal page. This two-step process of adding content prompted other portals to create an embedded WCMS.

Portals additionally began to focus on end-users, allowing such users to interact with the system. Users were allowed to create their own pages or sites, to add collaboration apps to those pages and to define user access to those pages. Many portals then enabled power users with added features, such as web forms, workflows, dynamic lists and polls.

This focus on enabling the end-user, combined with RBCD, allowed a central site enabling both the formal organizational structure as well as the informal organizational structure a. A WCMS, however, can be configured to do many of the same things a portal can do and can add social collaboration either embedded or integrating with an external system. A WCMS will have many additional features for building rich websites.

While there are overlapping features between a Web CMS and a portal that includes Web CMS, the differences should be reviewed carefully when determining the focus and future of a new web project. Before Liferay, Mr. Follow him on Twitter at twitter. Tags information management , paul hinz , portals , web cms. We provide articles, research and events for sophisticated professionals driving digital customer experience strategy, evolving the digital workplace and creating intelligent information management practices.