Several years ago, I was invited to join the board of directors of our regional food bank. At the first board meeting I attended, I didn’t have a clear understanding of the cause or my role. I didn’t fully understand the focus or the mission of the organization.
I did not understand that my role was to be an ambassador for the organization and an advocate for the cause.
Yet over the last few years, I’ve learned an effective board is as enthusiastic about the cause as it is about providing effective business leadership of the organization. A well-led board understands strategy, governance, and oversight. A forward-thinking board empowers the executive leadership with resources to effectively communicate its strategic objectives and outcomes.
While board members often serve enthusiastically and provide excellent governance and oversight, the forward-thinking aspect of their role — empowering for effective communications — doesn’t always happen. There needs to be a focus on developing a board of ambassadors, advocates and fans.
Face paint and Fantasy Leagues
Imagine for a moment the particular nonprofit you have in mind is like a sports team: You want people on the team who desire — more than anything — for your team to win.
Teams are made up of coaches and managers, cheerleaders, players, and support staff—and, of course, the fans.
Like coaches and managers, the board and executive staff work together to ensure the success of the team. They represent the team on the field, off the field, in the media, and at social and business events.
First and foremost, each member of the board of directors is an advocate for the cause and an ambassador of the organization. They must be fluent in the purpose, mission, key talking points (the story), and be able to speak with one voice for the cause.
Engaged sports fans refer to the team as “my team.”
They wear face paint; they sport the team colors; fans attend every game (some will travel hundreds of miles to attend games); they give of their time (“volunteering” time for game attendance or viewing); they buy tickets and merchandise (in effect, they donate); and they spend time, even at work (but not you of course) playing fantasy league games.
These are more than fans — they are believers. Believers don’t just participate in team culture, they contribute sacrificially to the culture. The team is a priority in many aspects of their lives.
What would it take to inspire your board to become the sacrificial ambassadors of your nonprofit culture? And what would it take to create a legion of fans that support not just the organization, but also the cause — fervently and sacrificially?
One strategy is focus: Nonprofits need fewer individuals who serve on multiple boards and more individuals committed to serving effectively on one or two boards. Your participation on a board should not be based solely on your title, circles of influence or income, but also on your commitment to the cause.
Another strategy is clarity: Inspiration follows when there is clarity in a nonprofit’s communications—when the board, staff, and volunteers are clear about the strategic plan, its objectives, and how they are going to be achieved.
This clarity is especially critical for organizations that are run by the board (those without paid staff), who need a guiding plan to keep them on track while they are busy fulfilling the nonprofit’s mission.
It’s even more important for the board that is charged with governance and oversight.
When members of the board and the executive staff have the same goals and are in agreement with regard to design and communication strategy, powerful results are possible.
Communicating well assures that the board, the staff, and the external stakeholders know what the mission is, how it’s going to be achieved, and what it will be like when it becomes reality.
This article is excerpted and edited from Amazon’s top-rated “Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto,” by Brian Sooy, a guide for leaders who desire to foster a culture of communication through brand, narrative, design, and purpose. It is a key resource for developing a board.