Capital Bible Seminary in the Washington suburb of Lanham, Maryland entered the campus network world three years ago. Since we were now communicating across campus via e-mail, I was anxious to begin interacting electronically with the board of directors as well.
My first challenge was that only half of our members had e-mail. We got copies of an e-mail communication software program, distributed one to each member, and urged its use. After some time and encouragement, all of our members except one were on e-mail. The one holdout did not have a computer, so we took one of our older computers that was no longer being used and gave it to him. It wasn’t the fastest computer, but it was certainly good enough for e-mail. Until we were able to deliver the computer and get him up to speed, we continued to send him the various pieces of information by U.S. mail.
We use e-mail for regular communication and specific business. I am in constant contact with my board chair through e-mail, very frequent contact with the executive committee, and monthly contact with the entire board. The monthly communication is a statement of the income requirements for the month and how much has come in. For those who want to pursue it, we attach a spreadsheet so that they can see the details. I write, usually once a month, just to communicate things that are happening around the school.
As to business, our bylaws allow us to vote on issues between meetings (on a limited basis) via e-mail. For the most part, such votes are essentially pro forma and do not require discussion. In one recent case, however, the seminary needed board approval for a new M.A. program. I did not want to wait until the next quarterly meeting. We e-mailed a copy of the program, received and tabulated the votes, notified everyone of the results (the names of the board members were listed under “yes,” “no,” or “abstain”), and filed the information until the next board meeting. The minutes of that meeting will reflect the results of the vote. One board member who voted “no” communicated his reasoning to the other members. They, in turn, e-mailed me that they were in agreement with some of the points raised, although that did not change their votes. Those concerns will be addressed as we proceed with the program.
Another instance where e-mail clearly improved productivity was when our board development committee was working on the development of a board policy manual. Gerald Small, our board chair, described the process this way, “A few dozen pages of rough draft were composed and distributed to members of a policy writing team by e-mail attachment. Each team member edited the material and returned it to the sender by the same means until the document was completed to everyone’s mutual satisfaction. This large project required original composition by one member, one face-to-face team meeting, several e-mail transmissions for editing, no postage, and just a few long-distance phone calls.”
Small was elected to his term as chair shortly after we had inaugurated the e-mail process. As he has become more comfortable with it, he has discovered some advantages. One is that, unlike a phone call or group meeting, an immediate answer isn’t necessary. “E-mail enables us to have at least a few, unpressured moments to reflect on a matter before giving our best response,” he said. “Having time to think about something can be very helpful. I like that better than having to talk off the top of my head.”
As Small has pointed out, e-mail is not a substitute for regular meetings, but important issues that can’t wait do come up between meetings. E-mail is a good tool for handling such matters.