We have all fallen into the seduction of a simple email to present a motion and potentially vote on it. Its a problem that only recently became practical, but it is a problem that more and more non-profit boards are falling into than before. Time is a critical element for any board, but particularly a non-profit board. Often board members are volunteering their time to help guide your organization, and the more you ask of that time, or less efficient you are, the more difficult it becomes to attract quality board members. That being said you must ensure that your board meets legal requirements for your state and requirements outlined in your organization’s by-laws.
Benefits to Email Voting
The benefits to email voting are pretty simple. Email voting saves time (at least in theory), and helps reduce the amount of in-person meetings that have to be scheduled. It also helps expedite tasks, particularly the ordinary ones, that your board has to complete for business to continue.
Downsides to Email Voting
There are potentially a lot of negatives that can come along with email voting, and the first and most important are that it might be illegal. Several states have laws regarding how non-profits in their state are governed, and some of those laws either explicitly or in practice prohibit email voting. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to provide an overview of each state’s law in an article like this, but you should consult an attorney licensed in your state for more specifics about legal concerns specific to your organization.
Organizations might not be set up well for email voting either. Do you have the infrastructure, is that infrastructure secure, do you know that the person “voting” is actually your board member? Do all of your board members have access to email to participate in the time period items are being presented for discussion? These are all questions to consider. Along with these issues it is important to consider whether your organizing documents allow it. If your by-laws define a quorum as people meeting in person or by phone, then an email vote will potentially violate your bylaws.
Outside of legal and organizational concerns, there are other concerns that should be considered before you make email voting a part of your board’s operations. Another concern is that it potentially limits the discussion that might occur on an item the board is considering. Email discussions are great, but they are sometimes difficult to follow, and we have all been in email conversations that just didn’t come across the way they were intended. So vital information might not be passed to other members of the board. You may also have members who aren’t comfortable participating in these email discussions, and in that case, their views aren’t being heard at all. It is important to remember that to a board’s the discussion is often just as important as a vote. Every one of your board members brings a unique perspective to the conversation. The value in your board is more than just their vote, but what they bring to the decision-making process.
Final Considerations for Email voting
If you are going to implement an email voting protocol into your board’s operations, and there can be value in doing just that, here are some final considerations to make before taking the leap.
- Review your by-laws and even consider revising or adding specific protocols to email voting procedures. How is a quorum met, how long is the vote open, what happens if a quorum isn’t met, what happens if the vote fails? There are a lot of things to consider, so have your board review their operations and build a policy.
- Consult an attorney licensed to practice in your state. Find out if there are legal barriers that you need to consider
- Determine what you want to accomplish by email voting. Is it really appropriate for what you are trying to do?
- Is your entire board ok with email voting? Take their input seriously. If someone on your board isn’t on board with this approach, you should consider the impact that will have on its effectiveness.