Use these email tips to keep your data safe. Your future board members will thank you.
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
A lot of board members for family child care associations use their personal email addresses for association business. There are several seemingly good reasons for that.
First, it’s easy, you don’t have to do anything different regarding sending and receiving email. Two, when you have an account just for the association’s business, it’s another email/password account you need to keep track of. Three, most FCC associations don’t have access to the technology staff or skills to set up unique email addresses for board members as they cycle on and off the board.
And four, often board members have limited tech skills so setting up new accounts on their personal devices can be confusing at best, high pulling impossible at worst. Switching between accounts to send emails can also be confusing for board members with limited tech experience.
All good reasons for the short term, but bad ones of the long-term health of your association.
Here’s why: when board members use personal email for association business, all of their association communications can and often do, disappear when they leave the board. When your conference committee chair leaves, all her contacts, and records of communication with vendors, sponsors, and potential attendees goes with her. Same thing with your advocacy chair, your membership chair, and so on.
Worse still is when personal accounts are used to setup/access business-related accounts for the association, such as bank accounts, logins to the website, social media, etc. Hopefully, those board members leave on good terms and changes the email to whoever is now in charge of those accounts. But if there is a personality conflict and she leaves in a huff, you could be in trouble.
While not as bad as losing access to your bank account, one of the most overlooked but critical accounts is the email address used to register your association’s web domain name. If a board member responsible for your domain registration leaves and that account isn’t transferred to someone else, one day you could get a panicked email from another board member letting you know that your domain name no longer works. You can hopefully buy it back, but at what cost?
What to do? You have a lot of options, but it breaks down into two different approaches.
First, you can use free email services such as Gmail and Outlook to set up personal accounts for board members and/or role accounts for officers and committees.
Say, for example, the name of my association is My Town Family Child Care Association. I can set up an email address for each board member using their initials and an abbreviation for my association: bh_MTFCCA@gmail.com or BH.MTFCCA@gmail.com. (I haven’t verified this but I think most email systems will let you use the underscore or the period to separate parts of the name in the address.)
I can also do the same thing with officer or role accounts: President_MTFCCA@outlook.com, Treasurer.MTFCCA@outlook.com or Membership.MTFCCA@outlook.com. All major free email systems today are accessible via the web so when a board member leaves, you can give the role accounts to the new officeholder. That way you keep all the contacts and conversations the previous officer had intact for institutional memory. This allows the new officer to see what’s been done in the past and get up to speed a lot quicker.
The second option is to set up email addresses with the same domain as your website, assuming you have one of course.
If My Town Family Child Care Association has a website called www.mtfcca.org, then my email addresses would be President@mtfcca.org, firstname.lastname@example.org and so on. This is what businesses and established nonprofits typically do, and it says to the outside world that you have achieved a certain level of business success/professionalism. Because the association owns the email account, this solution eliminates the problem of keeping the association’s communications history intact. In addition, it provides another level of security in case there is a problem with the departing board member. The association controls the email box so if someone changes the password and leaves, the association’s email manager can take control of the email box anyway.
There are some caveats to this approach, however.
First, it requires a higher level of expertise because someone needs to manage the setup and transfer of email addresses. That’s not a task for someone that has basic tech skills. It can, however, be outsourced to a volunteer techie or contracted with a local tech support company.
Second, it can cost money for email addresses depending on what email system you use. Web hosting services like GoDaddy and others will charge you as much as $70.00 a year (or more) for EACH email address. But there are free alternatives for nonprofits.
Google’s G Suite for Nonprofits gives you free access to all the email addresses you need and allows you to use your domain name. Microsoft offers something similar in Office 365 for Nonprofits. In addition to email, your board members get free online access to other Microsoft products including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, document storage and Skype for videoconferencing. (We’ll look at the G Suite and Office 365 products in a future blog post.)
As you consider your choices, keep in mind that every time a board member leaves with all your communications in her personal email, you lose a bit of institutional knowledge and resource access each time. This can have a significant impact on future board members and their ability to advance the organization’s mission.
Has your association found a different way to address this? Please post a comment below and share your solutions.
If you want to have a free consultation call about your tech challenges, don’t hesitate to contact me.