Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Board competency 7: Advocating for your nonprofit's mission, programs

This is the seventh in a 10-part weekly series expanding upon the core nonprofit board competencies that I laid out in a recent post.

Core board competency 7: The capacity to advocate for your mission and programs with others, from one-one-one to group settings.

Two of the greatest and most unique gifts that members contribute when they join a nonprofit board are access to their individual networks and their credibility as community leaders. 

How we ask our board members to engage their networks and others - and  how we enable their success in that advocacy - can mean the difference between muddling through and moving more quickly and effectively toward our mission.

The connection to networks advantage is clear: each individual board member brings with her/him a unique set of friendships, peer groups, networks and other relationships. (One of the compelling reasons for boardroom diversity: offering credible access to a wider set of community networks.) Each relationship, each organizational and peer group membership, introduces unique opportunities to engage others and identify links between individual interests and organizational needs. 

Meaningful engagement of a wider pool of potential donors, volunteers, citizen lobbyists, recruiters, and even clients becomes possible when board members accept their advocacy roles. The board's boundary-spanning responsibilities are real, and they are powerful. They may even be transformative.

Credibility cannot be finessed. It cannot be bought. It cannot be delegated to others. It is a priceless, intangible gift that members bring to the boardroom table when they join.  Board members have a different kind of credibility. Unlike staff, their commitment is completely voluntary. They have no personal or financial stake in the organization's success. As trusted peers and community leaders, board members' word comes uncolored by the hint of personal benefit. It inherently has more power with several of the stakeholders our nonprofits need to not just survive but thrive.

Board members must expect that advocating for the organization and mission, in ways that are purposeful and personally comfortable (or a reasonable stretch), are part of the job. What that looks like will vary, from individual to individual and from contact to contact.

It could be speaking before community groups, businesses and other live audiences. It might be one-on-one - or pair-on-one - visits with donors, legislators or other key decision makers. It could be sharing information in other settings where the organization or its mission area comes up in discussion. It might be an informal sharing of detail with a friend or family.

Whatever the setting and context, board members should be knowledgeable and confident about sharing information and stories that illuminate the nonprofit's work and mission impact. They need information and stories to share, to appeal to the varied needs and interests of those with whom they will be interacting. (They also need to be able to identify what they need, and in what formats, to feel prepared.) They need opportunities to observe and/or practice in safe settings, so that they can feel poised and ready.

They need clear expectations that provide context for their advocacy and boundary-spanning work, as well as feedback and recognition for their efforts.

For more information/resources related to boards' boundary-spanning role, please visit my curated bookmarks on the topic. For bookmarks related to boards' advocacy roles, click here.

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