Inviting AI into the Association Boardroom


Over the last few years, association leaders have had to navigate the adoption of several new technologies.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many association boards to shift to virtual meetings for the first time. Whether relying on Zoom and email, or a more centralized board portal, there were growing pains across all industries as boards learned in real-time how to operate remotely.

Today, many boards have deployed tools to adapt to a post-COVID, remote reality. Directors who were originally resistant to this type of technology are now well-versed in virtual meetings and remote collaboration tools. In fact, the adoption of more basic tools, such as video-conferencing platforms to conduct virtual board meetings, often ushered in an openness to explore more sophisticated software like a board management platform or other governance tech.

Today, many association boards have transitioned back to an in-person setting or hybrid meeting environment, and still use the technologies they adopted in response to the pandemic to supplement and enhance board process and performance.

This trajectory of technology adoption post-COVID (initial distrust to full embracement) can be used as a reference for what to expect as association boards navigate the world’s newest tech—artificial intelligence (AI).

AI in the Boardroom: What to Consider

As the excitement around AI continues to grow, there will likely be some organizations who eagerly harness the power of this new tech while others keep AI at arm’s length.

No matter where your board falls in that spectrum, the prevalence of AI will only increase. As a result, your board will need to have the AI conversation sooner or later. And when that time comes, you’ll want to explore how to strategically incorporate AI into board and committee work and how to responsibly govern AI within the larger context of your association.

As the leaders of their association, association board members have the responsibility to evaluate an emerging force like AI to determine if and when to leverage it across the larger organization.

To do that, boards must understand the potential benefits and challenges of implementing AI tech. With that knowledge, each board can develop its own unique use cases for implementation at both the board and organizational level.

AI’s Potential Pros and Cons

One of the main utilities that AI models offer is the rapid analysis of enormous amounts of data. This deep, dynamic analysis stands out as a potentially huge benefit to overall board effectiveness through data processing and predictive modeling.

Some examples of those benefits are:

  • Improved Decision-Making: AI tools can provide board members with much more data and context for every decision, promoting informed decision-making at every turn.
  • Better Governance: Board members could save hours spent reviewing board materials by leveraging AI to quickly review and summarize essential information. As a result, directors could focus more on improving governance and overall board processes.
  • Efficiency Gains: Today, the most advanced boards are developing agendas and key documentation using AI, saving time for both admins and directors.
  • Data-Driven Evaluation: AI models can provide boards with fast, valuable insights into what’s working well, what could be improved, and which areas to focus on.
  • Risk Mitigation: AI foresees risk through predictive modeling and machine learning, which iterates and grows “smarter” over time.

Of course, there are potential drawbacks involved, too—specifically when an organization uses AI in the boardroom poorly or unethically:

  • Mistakes: The information AI models generate may lack validity and always needs to be verified. Association leaders must train the board on responsible AI use, which includes fact-checking to ensure accuracy.
  • Ethics: AI doesn’t have morals or values—it can’t acknowledge ethics when providing information. Boards must infuse ethics into their AI practice to avoid legal ramifications.
  • Security: Since AI chatbots like GPT aren’t secure channels, entering confidential or proprietary data can put your company at risk, potentially harming stakeholders and violating confidentiality.
  • Regulation: Since the landscape is evolving so rapidly, AI regulations will likely change frequently, so association boards must stay up to date on compliance and regulatory requirements.

AI Implementation Cost/Benefit Analysis

There is risk baked into adopting any technology that is evolving right before our eyes. However, just because there is an inherent risk doesn’t mean that boards should stay away from AI.

“One of the big obligations of any board is risk management,” says Rob Kunzler, Chief Marketing Officer at OnBoard. “It isn’t the avoidance of taking risks. In fact, it’s the opposite.”

Your board can weigh the costs and benefits of using AI with an evergreen framework offered by Kunzler:

  1. Ethics: Before bringing AI into their organizations, boards must consider its ethical implications and risks. 
  2. Bias: Responsible AI use means understanding that information may contain bias and errors. Assess information before using it.
  3. Accountability: The organization and board must clearly explain how they leveraged AI in their decision-making process. Start by appointing a leader accountable for all decisions made by AI.
  4. Responsibility: Research by the Institute of Directors (IoD) notes that more than 86% of businesses surveyed use AI without the board’s knowledge. Board members should provide clear guidelines to ensure the organization integrates AI services or products responsibly.
  5. Cybersecurity: AI is technology. Organizations must take steps to detect and assess cyber threats just as they would with other technologies. They should also put guideposts for adoption in place, like determining if new technology has an ISO certification and an encrypted board portal.

Following this framework allows your board to take a comprehensive view of any risk—and make changes and decisions accordingly.

AI’s Future in the Boardroom

AI is still a ‘known unknown’ for boards. While the technology promises to deliver unparalleled intelligence, it’s too soon to know how AI will impact all aspects of an association.

If a large-scale AI implementation feels too daunting, Rob recommends taking small actions that will familiarize you with AI’s capabilities and open the door to future use.

“There are so many aspects of board meetings that are understandably rote and administrative,” Rob says. “If not automated, they could be augmented in a smart, intelligent way through advanced technology like AI.”

He recommends that boards start with low-risk AI integrations, such as:

  • Ask ChatGPT to review a document and provide the 10 most important points
  • Create board meeting agendas or formulate meeting summaries for members
  • Review cybersecurity risks to stay ahead of threats affecting your business
  • Summarize pre-meeting materials
  • Analyze historical financial data to recommend potential courses of action
  • Automate board meeting scheduling

Welcoming AI into the Association Boardroom

The data analysis and decision-making benefits that AI can offer boards are undeniable, but AI will never replace the human element that boards inherently possess. In this way, AI should always be used as a supplemental tool whose role and impact is stewarded by the board’s sense of values, ethics, and expertise.

As with any transformative technology before it, boards shouldn’t fear or avoid the advent of AI. By embracing it as a tool and preparing for its evolution, boards won’t have to play catch up once it becomes the norm. Instead, they can evaluate and grow with AI so that the technology is always leveraged with intent and experience.

To get a sense of how AI is already being integrated into board technology, you can request a free trial of OnBoard, the ASAE-endorsed Board Management Solution that is already using AI to streamline and simplify association governance.

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