As vice chair of the board at Renewal Inc., a nonprofit that helps criminal offenders transition back into society, Laura Maines used to prep for meetings by reviewing a thick stack of documents that arrived in a large manila envelope.
If there were last-minute changes to board agenda items after the packets were sent, she received email updates with attachments she could print out.
“That was sort of a hassle,” said Ms. Maines, who has a full-time job as executive director of Every Child Inc., an Uptown agency that places at-risk children into foster families.
But since Renewal began using a board management product developed by a Mt. Lebanon startup, BoardBookit, much of the paper is gone. Ms. Maines and other directors simply log in to a portal on their desktop computers, laptops or other devices, where they can view the Renewal board’s upcoming agenda items, financial reports, minutes of prior meetings and other data they need.
While Ms. Maines acknowledged she still prints out some information she wants to highlight, some other directors set up their laptops, iPads or other tablets during meetings to access the materials and make revisions electronically.
“It saves a lot of time and resources,” she said. “Anything that can help make serving on a board easier and lower the transactional costs is really helpful.”
When BoardBookit was launched three years ago, founders Marion Lewis and Jeanette Thomas hoped nonprofits like Renewal could generate a steady stream of business for their product. But they soon realized many of those charitable organizations couldn’t afford the $7,000- to $9,500-a-year price, which is set depending on how many board members and administrators are connected to it.
Now that BoardBookit has built a portfolio of for-profit customers including Bigelow Tea, streaming service Roku, Vantage Health and women’s fashion brand St. John Knits, the company is offering its product free of charge to nonprofits that have less than $2 million in annual revenues.
The donation allows BoardBookit to give back to nonprofits that have worthy missions and also gives the product exposure among individuals connected with for-profit firms that could use it.
“Many people who sit on nonprofit boards also sit on for-profit boards,” said Ms. Lewis, who is on the board at Goodwill Industries and formerly was a director at Social Venture Partners Pittsburgh.
Ms. Lewis and Ms. Thomas, whose past ventures included online marketing and e-commerce companies, started thinking about developing a board management program when a former client was seeking a mobile application to assist with scheduling and document management for its board.
While it didn’t take long to come up with a prototype and business plan, securing funding was a huge obstacle.
“Being a woman raising money is a tough place to be in,” Ms. Lewis said.
She got some unexpected assistance when she shared her struggles with Yvonne Campos, the founder of a Downtown market research company. The two women knew each other as members of the Women Presidents’ Organization, a network of female business owners.
“We were at lunch or dinner when Marion said she just couldn’t move [the company] forward,” Ms. Campos said. “I said, ‘I have some money and I know some other women with money. Let’s see what we can do.’ ’’
After reaching out to 10 women who agreed to commit $10,000 apiece, Ms. Campos launched the Next Act Fund to invest in BoardBookit and other companies launched by women.
The fund later invested a second round of $100,000 in BoardBookit.
Other startup investment for BoardBookit included $250,000 from Innovation Works, a Pittsburgh agency that provides state and foundations funds to early-stage companies; and money raised from individuals.
Ms. Campos said she was confident about putting up capital and asking others to join her because BoardBookit’s founders had run other technology businesses, had a strong management team in place, and a marketable concept.
“It wasn’t like it was their first time at the rodeo,” she said.
She sits on BoardBookit’s board and said the company has reached break-even results in three years and is “prepared for growth at this point.”
The company is now developing a mobile phone app for its product.
Though there are much larger players in the board portal niche including Diligent and BoardPad, BoardBookit offers a “much better price point” for mid-market companies,” Ms. Campos said.
She called the idea to donate the service to small nonprofits “a fabulous offer because a board portal saves time, money and the effort in keeping board members engaged and involved. And it shows they are supporting the community and are involved in the region.”
The product is especially valuable to nonprofits because their board members are volunteers, Ms. Maines said.
“You don’t want to put too much pressure on them but the more information they can review in advance, the more robust the discussion is and the more informed your board members are.”
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.