The Paperless Association

Best Practices : Article

Decades after some unnamed publicist coined the term “the paperless office,” paperless association operations are at hand. At least that’s the case for many technology industry associations. For tech groups, participation by myriad stakeholders around the globe has made paperless systems for working together a necessity.

Not long after the term “paperless office” was first uttered, we all began back-peddling. References to the paperless office soon morphed into “the less-paper office.” The ultimate goal of no paper appeared to be a mirage on the far horizon.

But for at least the past five years, most of Virtual, Inc.’s client operations have been largely paper-free. Starting with communications. Just about all non-verbal communication among members, with staff and to external stakeholders is via email, discussion forum or blog. As for newsletters and surveys, they are usually all electronic too.

Same for documents. They are generally created and stored electronically. For our typical client association, this includes thousands of reference documents, many of which are fundamental to the work of the organization.

Document paperlessness also includes committee and board meeting packets and minutes, typically archived in one of the many capable web association management and collaboration solutions we deploy on behalf of our clients. Sometimes we still print single-sheet agendas for Board meetings, but this practice, too, is an unnecessary and wasteful artifact of a bygone era.

When voting takes place outside of meetings these days, it’s done with an electronic ballot. Our voting systems not only decide the measure at hand but give managers every possible statistic from quorum calculation to outcome and individual voter participation.

Look behind the scenes, and you’ll find that all membership and even most financial processes are paper-free. In finance, we encourage vendors to submit invoices electronically, as we do ourselves. We rarely, if ever, cut paper checks anymore. Most transactions are via automated clearing house or wire transfer, and authorizing officers review and approve these transactions via secure banking websites. For the few checks we do receive by mail, deposits are made via check scanner.

So what’s left? Well, we still produce name badges and signs for meetings. Haven’t figure out cost-effective replacements for these yet, but there will be some.

We took our clients paperless for the sake of higher productivity and member engagement. After all, how much faster and easier is it to find a document, ballet outcome, communique – or anything – via keyword search yourself than to have someone else trudge to a file cabinet and riffle through reams of paper?

Our paperless associations have saved a lot of trees over the past decade. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American office worker uses two pounds of paper and paper products every work day. That’s a whole lot of waste and environmental chaos that we just don’t need.

How much paper does your association produce? And how many trees could you be saving?

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