In his foreword to the book Other Duties as Assigned: Presidential Assistants in Higher Education, George Washington University President Emeritus described the quintessential qualities of a Presidential Assistant (PA): “A good presidential assistant is something of a chameleon or a shape-shifter, able to adapt to changing landscapes and circumstances.”
Imagine serving the needs of 500+ professionals with such a broad and varied set of roles and responsibilities. That’s exactly the job of the National Association of Presidential Assistants in Higher Education (NAPAHE), an all-volunteer association that serves presidential assistants, chiefs of staff, provost assistants, and other professionals who support higher education leaders. A 21-member volunteer Board of Directors makes the major decisions for the association, with Brittny Daubenheyer at the helm managing the business side and serving as its Executive Director.
“In my previous life, I served as an assistant to the president and secretary to the Board of Trustees,” explains Brittny. “I’ve lived the life that many who are part of our association are living every day. I think that’s really helpful for me, too, because I am able to put that hat on and remember what it was like to be that person.”
Brittny and the Board meet six to eight times per year, and the association’s six committees meet just as often or as needed. Since 2017, AGB OnBoard has been there at every step to help NAPAHE prepare, manage, and organize board and committee meetings. The platform has helped the association meet several challenges, including:
- Managing a smooth transition when Brittny joined as Executive Director
- Needing to work efficiently so board meetings are efficient, discussions are strategic, and directors time is used effectively
- Keeping all of the association’s key documents easily accessible and available anytime and on all devices
- Needing one place to centralize communications as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded right before the association’s annual conference
OnBoard’s built-in, easy-to-use tools like the Agenda Builder help the all-volunteer association increase efficiency and save time.
It all happened quite quickly. I was able to pull together the agenda and all the materials in OnBoard quickly and shoot that out to people. Even though they only had a day to prep for this meeting where they had to make some very important decisions, they had everything they needed right at their fingertips.”
OnBoard’s Resource Folder helps keep documents, reports,, and other important information just a click away.
The Solution to Needing a Smooth Transition
When Brittny was hired in September 2018, she worked with NAPAHE’s previous Executive Director to ensure a smooth transition. Even though this left little time for training and orientation with AGB OnBoard, the platform’s ease of use helped Brittny get up to speed quickly.
“I didn’t have much of an orientation process on how to use AGB OnBoard when I joined NAPAHE,” says Brittny. “I was basically just given access and had to take it from there. I’ve used other board portals in the past with prior jobs, but AGB OnBoard was much more user-friendly. It was much easier for me to go in and use immediately.”
Brittny has taken the experience she gained from this smooth transition and extended it to help other board members make their own transitions just as easy.
“I think the organizational capacity of the software helps people as they transition into their new roles, or as they start a new committee chair, leave a committee chair, etc.” Brittny says. “The resources that people are able to leave behind for their successors is really helpful.”
The Solution to Needing to Work More Efficiently
Brittny and the board use several tools within AGB OnBoard to assist with meeting preparation. When added up, these tools enable the board to become increasingly efficient and save time.
For example, Brittny uses AGB OnBoard’s Board Book Builder to put together the association’s board and committee meeting packets and distribute them five days before the meeting. She is especially enthusiastic about the time she saves building agendas. “Another cool feature is you can just import a Word document right into AGB OnBoard and it creates the agenda for you,” she says. “That’s a big time-saving tool that I’ve especially used when creating committee agendas.”
Brittny is equally enthusiastic about the ability to make edits to board books in real-time. “To have the ability to move everything around electronically, or to update a document quickly and see it updated directly in the board book, is a really nice feature,” she says. “It saves a lot of time and makes us more efficient.”
She also uses the approval functionality in an effort to carry out the recurring administrative task of approving meeting minutes before the meeting. This frees up more time for strategic conversations and decision-making during the meeting itself. With board members leading busy lives, this increased efficiency is not considered “nice to have.” It has become essential.
“We cap our meetings to an hour because we work with such busy people,” says Brittny. “These are people that assist presidents and chief administrative staff at institutions. We don’t have time to give a lot of summaries of what’s in the board book at the meeting. We just assume that you’ve reviewed the materials and you’re ready to roll. If it’s an action item, we discuss it briefly, take a vote, and move on.”
OnBoard enables NAPAHE to approve meeting minutes before meetings gavel into session. This frees up valuable time for strategic discussions.
OnBoard’s enables boards to easily maintain a historical archive of every important decision a board makes.
The Solution to Keeping Documents Organized and Accessible
When Brittny joined NAPAHE, she saw an immediate need to organize board documents and keep them accessible to all board members. Again, she turned to AGB OnBoard to meet the need.
“The feature that’s most useful to me personally is the Resources section,” Brittny says. “We have folders for each of our committees as well as the administrative things I need to reference like budgets. It’s a big, big tool for us.”
While the Resources section functions as an efficient way to share documents with all board and committee members, it’s also become an important historical archive that the board and committees often use to reference past decisions.
“It’s not like one committee chair from three years ago has the agenda on her computer, and we don’t know what we talked about anymore. It’s all there in OnBoard,” Brittny says. “You can go back historically, reference old committees, or even build agendas off old committee minutes. Maybe there’s an agenda item from last October. We can reference a discussion from that meeting and then build an agenda so we can talk about it this October. Being able to go back and reference things is incredibly helpful.”
In addition to serving as an accessible document archive for the board and committees, the Resources section serves as a backup so that documents no longer need to be saved in individual members’ computers.
“It’s nice to not only have these documents on your own computer, but also to use the Resources section as a backup tool,” Brittny explains. “If my computer crashed, I wouldn’t have to worry because I’d have the historical things already saved in OnBoard.”
The Solution for Navigating a Crisis
Ultimately, increased efficiency isn’t just about productivity.
For NAPAHE, it had an impact felt personally by every member of its board and committees. In early 2020, the association’s all-important annual conference was scheduled to start practically at the same time as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shutdown of all large gatherings. Brittny and the board needed to meet and make strategic decisions quickly. Even as the crisis unfolded, OnBoard helped keep meetings focused and centralize communications.
“When the world stopped, we were planning for our annual conference in San Diego, California,” Brittny recalls. “In the days leading up to it, we had multiple calls and several emergency meetings of the executive committee. It all happened quite quickly. I was able to pull together the agenda and all the materials in OnBoard quickly and shoot that out to people. Even though they only had a day to prep for this meeting where they had to make some very important decisions, they had everything they needed right at their fingertips.”
COVID-19 didn’t stop NAPAHE’s board from making important decisions quickly.
OnBoard helps NAPAHE’s committees like the Conference Planning Committee (seen above) save time and increase their efficiency.
NAPAHE serves presidential assistants (PAs) and other professionals supporting higher education leaders and strives to enhance the profession through programs, networking, and information resources.
It’s clear that AGB OnBoard has helped make the association more efficient by:
- Enabling a smooth transition when Brittny joined as Executive Director
- Moving administrative tasks to a time outside the meeting so as not to take up board members’ time
- Creating a historical archive of past conversations and decisions that’s easily accessible by all members and committees
- Enabling the board to make strategic decisions quickly even during the COVID-19 crisis