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Board Member Responsibility #8: Enhancing the Organization’s Public Standing

April 15, 2021

Part 8 of our Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards Series dives into the Board’s voice and its role in advocating for the organization in the community.

*Editor's Note: This blog has been updated as of April 15, 2021 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Our blog series continues with an exploration of the board’s role in the community. The board's role as an ambassador and advocate of the Organization in the community is a critical ingredient for a not-for-profit organization's success. There are three primary duties related to this responsibility: 1) communicating with the public, 2) advocating for your mission, and 3) facing the media.

As you know from earlier discussions in this series, the Board of a not-for-profit organization functions as the Organization's eyes and ears. Now we get to the board's voice and the essential role in linking to the community it serves and relies on for the resources needed to provide services to the community.

Communicating with the Public

As we all know, good communication strategies are essential in organizational planning. Board members should know the Organization's mission (or elevator speech). Board members who spontaneously mention the Organization's accomplishments to their friends and colleagues show their enthusiasm, pride, and commitment to the Organization's success. There is no substitute for this type of support. When the board actively promotes the Organization throughout the community, the success increases substantially.

Asking board members their “why” is key

A great exercise is to periodically ask each board member to articulate their "why" for being on the board. Hearing how others communicate the Organization's mission, activities and accomplishments can help polish up your own "elevator speech." There is no substitute for an enthusiastic, passionate supporter of the Organization.

"Communication is a two-way street."

Organizations should be open to feedback from their members, constituents, clients, and stakeholders. The board and management should welcome feedback, concerns, and suggestions for improving their programs and what they do. The Board members are vital links creating a connection to a healthy organization and the community it serves.

Remain confidential with certain matters

Being open to receiving feedback is critical, but ensuring confidential matters and information is not released is also essential. Discussion with friends, family, and colleagues may seem innocent. Still, board members must maintain their duty of loyalty to the Organization. The board must be consistent about when and what information can be discussed outside the board meetings because incorrect and inconsistent information has a significant impact on the public's perception.

Attendance at special events

When your Organization has special events, attendance by Board members is vital. First, it demonstrates support from those closest and most knowledgeable about the Organization's activities. It is also much easier to get funding from the community when the Organization has 100% support. A good distribution of board members mingling with other special event guests will also increase interest as casual guests learn more and more about its programs and services.

Advocating for the Mission

The Board members are also the ambassadors, advocates, and community representatives to government leaders, the media, current and potential funding sources, etc. Advocacy in the nonprofit sector is "any behavior or action that speaks in support of, recommends, argues for, or otherwise defends or pleads for a cause, mission, or organization that benefits others."

Advocacy as an organizational strategy relates to the whole board. However, individual board members significantly impact when they voice their support. Influencing thought leaders and decision-makers are more effective when done by someone who has nothing to gain (i.e., Board member, volunteer, etc.). A volunteer board member communicating their passion for a cause, issue, or program can be more influential than a high-paid lobbyist.

Advocating for the mission is directly connected to philanthropy and the responsibility to assist with the Organization's fundraising needs. When asking others to contribute, it is more effective if you, as the board member, also gives. If there is less than 100% support from the board, it's more challenging to convince others if those closest to the Organization do not donate

Facing the Media

The CEO is typically the representative speaking on behalf of the Organization. The board chair represents and speaks for the board and its policies. Many larger nonprofit organizations have a designated media correspondent to speak on behalf of the Organization.

As history has shown, not all media communications will be positive. Investing the time and resources to create a crisis management plan is an invaluable tool in these situations. A crisis management plan involves brainstorming and creating a plan for all crises discussed. The plan includes step-by-step procedures, designates roles for each step, the media representative, and templates for language to communicate to the media and others. These plans are priceless when you are in crisis and give everyone an idea of what to do and say when the situation occurs. Having a plan will show the public how the Organization's attention to managing the potential risks and its forethought in addressing these matters.

The board may consider engaging a public relations firm to provide training to its management team and board. The training helps to understand the "do's and don'ts of interviewing, dealing with unsolicited phone calls from journalists, or other unexpected inquiries. In these situations, the most critical information is knowing who to direct the queries to ensure a consistent, coordinated message is delivered.

The board's role as an ambassador and advocate of the Organization in the community is a critical ingredient for a not-for-profit organization's success. There are three primary duties related to this responsibility: 1) communicating with the public, 2) advocating for your mission, and 3) facing the media. As a Board member, you should embrace your ambassador role enthusiastically as it is both personally rewarding and rewarding for the Organization.

Read more on not-for-profit boards: Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards Series

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