Nonprofit Directors Can Be Effective Ambassadors
By: Eugene Fram
Directors are definitively not rock stars! Yet business boards are suggesting greater visibility for those individuals whose names are on their letterhead, according to a recent article in a Canadian magazine. * The commercial rationale behind this growing trend is that well regarded and knowledgeable directors can make the best ambassadors to a wide variety of stakeholders, the most important group being stockholders.
The nonprofit board, in my opinion, is uniquely qualified to emulate this new corporate board focus. The “power level” on many boards is huge—the directors are well-known in the community, and their oversight roles in the organization are independent of management; they are volunteers who serve pro bono thus having no personal financial stakes in the organization. What they do have, presumably, is a strong belief in the work and goals of the organization and, if amenable, can add important verbal support to its cause. As such they can be viewed as offering relatively impartial endorsements. Such potential can be captured in a number of ways:
Website Recognition: highlight directors’ photos, videos and bios; offer verbal video endorsements by articulate directors. It’s smart to make constituents aware of your leaders and what experiences they bring to the board.
Keep the Board Current via reports at meetings at meeting and via email. The best communicators are well informed and updated on new developments. Repetitions of important key information must consistently take place, because directors , unlike management and staff, have other job obligations.
Telling the Right Story—directors must be presented with the facts, or “talking points.” Whatever the topic of that narrative is, it should always be reported in the context of the nonprofit’s mission statement and repeated verbally at board meetings. Also clarifications need to be posted and communicated quickly.
Breaking The News : a $10 million expansion of a health center has been announced. An informed director is able to explain the promise of the new wing to the person on the next treadmill who has consistently complained about the crowding of the facility. By the same token, he/she can deal with a crisis at a summer camp. Or broadly cover a cutback that might impact a popular program. Initially the new announcement will come from the CEO. Then the directors step in to explain and clarify, forwarding more difficult questions or comments to the CEO.
Communicating with Whom?… with stakeholders such as clients, volunteers, members, supporters, funders and a wide swath of the public. How and when? They can occur in both everyday conversations, in more formal meetings with, for example, foundations and potential donors, when requested by the CEO or board chair.
Everyone Benefits: the directors have a new more targeted opportunity to make a contribution. The organization has a cadre of current ambassadors whose job, if they are willing and able, is to communicate the state of the nonprofit.. Directors are traditionally told that they are “the eyes and ears” of the organization. I cautiously propose the addition of “the voice” to those roles. If appropriately managed, it could be a win-win proposition!
More Transparency: All types of governance boards are being asked to become more transparent. The move to have directors become more involved with stakeholders appears to be coming from those who want to know more about the people who are involved with operating for-profits or shepherding tax /charitable dollars in the nonprofit or governmental environments. As an embryo movement, only experimentation will determine whether or not it will be effective.
* Celia Milne (2013) “Directors: ready for their close-up,” Listed – The Magazine for Canadian Listed Companies, August 29th.