Online planning: How to engage your whole board when you have to meet online

Sarah Brooks and I co-host the Nonprofit Radio Show, a podcast centered on the topics that matter most to small, rural nonprofits. In early February 2021, we shared an episode on Purposeful Gatherings, a topic that is particularly relevant to nonprofit leaders as they try to make progress in online meetings. This episode led a listener to write to us for advice. Here’s the question, our answer, and how you can hear more of our conversations.

Side note: These are the kind of questions we’ll be answering at Nonprofit Radio Show Live on Friday, February 19. We have received a lot of fundraising questions… can’t wait to dig in! Now back to the question.


An email from a wonderful nonprofit leader in Eastern Washington:

Nancy and Sarah,

Our organization is looking to finish up the strategic planning we started last year.  We are jumping back in to finish where we left off, with new information and strategies we’ve identified during COVID to add to our documentation. Our Education Committee met via Zoom and went through the Education Plan line by line. That was doable but challenging! Now how to relate this to the whole board?! I am looking for advice on how to address strategic planning documents via Zoom, without the big write-erase boards, without the group conversations and breakout sessions, and without the printed materials. I’d love to hear how you have done this.


Great question! I have two online facilitation tricks in my online pocket that may help here:

1. I use the annotations feature in Zoom often and in several ways. Zoom gives you stamping options, which is great for “voting” or opinion expressing. I use the text aspect of annotations to gather word information, or to take notes on the screen. I have used a totally blank white slide in my slide deck purely to be able to write on it like a white board. What works nicely is to do that …. capture information… and then if you need to get feedback about it, have people stamp what they like. 

2. I use editable slides as a different kind of white board. This is a little tricky at first– you can only write on it when your presentation is running. Once you get the hang of it, it is really helpful. 

So all of these tools depend on what exactly you want to accomplish in your session. The tools here are great for note-taking and feedback. You can toggle between have screenshare on and off so you can have discussion in between.


Just so you have options, we had a sort of mini-strategic planning session with our staff via Zoom and realized that for our very familiar-with-each-other group, using Zoom’ screenshare meant we were looking at mostly writing, which actually made discussion harder.  People stopped looking at each other, and it felt like more of a brainstorm dump than a discussion about what we wanted to prioritize.  Based on that experience, you might consider this idea:

1. Send out materials ahead of time and provide a written worksheet with the questions you want people to think through and encourage them to write their answers out before the meeting.

2. At the meeting, lead a discussion without sharing your screen — and remind everyone to be in Gallery View so you see everyone (and so no one feels like they can be doing email or texting in the conversation!).  Assign one person to be the notetaker and assure everyone that you are capturing all that is said. 

3.  Then, either at the end of each question or at the end of the discussion, have the notetaker share their notes on the screen.  That way, only the last part of the conversation happens when there are words on the screen. 


That’s a great idea. And Sarah reminded me that I have seen a regular paper flip chart or white board directly behind the speaker being used with no screen sharing. It can work well if you have a good camera.

What works for you? Let us know! And you would like to hear more conversations about meetings, listen to our October 2020 episode about online meetings. During Nonprofit Radio Show LIVE on February 19, 2021, we’ll be talking with small, rural nonprofit leaders about what is most on their mind. Click here to learn more.

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

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