Friday, November 22, 2013

How to Help Your Board Help You

© 2013 Ben Delaney, CyberEdge Information Services

In a well run organization, the Board of Directors, Executive Director (ED), and staff are all on the same path, pulling in the same direction, working for the same goals, and speaking the same language. Here's some tips on how to achieve that in your organization.

As we've seen, organizations that embrace Systems Marketing™, enjoy coherent communications throughout the organization. Everyone on the Board and staff realizes that their speech and actions impact the perceptions of, performance, effectiveness, and sustainability of the organization. 

The Board and Executive Director have to work in a close partnership to create and sustain a high-functioning organization. This partnership impacts the entire staff, including the folks responsible for marketing and communications.

Strategic Planning

That close partnership starts with the strategic planning process. Strategic planning takes a lot of work, but it is essential to provide direction and to empower everyone in the organization to be working toward the same goals. I'm not going to provide a strategic planning primer here, but will mention a few key items that your strategic plan needs to include.

Obviously, any strategic plan needs to include goals and timelines, personnel assignments, and budget considerations. However it's also important that your strategic plan include communications goals and methods that will support all the other efforts. Your strategic plan should include messaging concepts, so that everyone in the organization is saying the same things about your work, mission, and impact. That's where your Board gets involved with the marketing communications (MarCom) efforts. Some Board members may have experience in marketing or communications and will be able to add useful insights and ideas to the strategic plan. The Board can be valuable thought partners in the MarCom messaging and methods conversation.

When I'm working on strategic planning I like every goal and activity to include a communications and/or marketing component, so that the Board and the staff appreciate the importance of communications in the success of the organization. Regardless of the Board's expertise, you want them to be aware of the importance of communications in the success of the organization, and of the fact that communications is being built in to all the plans. And of course, this bakes MarCom accountability into the strategic plan.

As an example, you might plan to issue a press release every quarter, add Twitter and FaceBook to your marketing mix, and post pictures of all your events on Pinterest. Your plan will include these specifics, as well as goals for impact and frequency of reporting on that impact. In addition, you may assign these duties as part of the plan. With some luck, you may get one or more Board members to agree to regular contributions, perhaps once or twice a year.

Board/Staff Interaction

Some organizations frown on having staff interact directly with the Board, but I think it's a good idea. It's especially good for the marketing people to be in touch with members of the Board who have experience in marketing. It's also important to leverage the Board's connections and contacts for marketing communications purposes, especially when it comes to fundraising, but ultimately, in many activities. It may very well be that certain Board members know people with areas of expertise that are going to help the marketing and communications of the organization. They may also have connections that can directly impact the success of a campaign or program. Having all this communication filtered through the Executive Director can be a waste of her time – but don't ever try to cut your ED out of the conversation. In addition, be aware of the value of your Directors' time. You don't want to overstay your welcome by bothering the Board members very often. And of course some are going to be more open to conversations than others.

When I've interacted with our Board members it's been with very particular questions. I always start by making sure the person I'm calling or e-mailing has time and is interested in the project that I'm asking their assistance with. If it's a phone call, I always start by asking, “do you have a minute?” In email, I am brief and to the point, and always include a subject line that is descriptive of what I'm going to be asking about.
Questions I have asked Board members are typically in these categories:

  • I have an idea for a new product/program. What you think?
  • We'd like to reach someone at this organization. Do you know someone there?
  • I'm planning a campaign and I've written up a description. Would you mind looking at it and commenting?

I found that when I'm respectful of the Board members time and expertise, they're happy to help.

Here are the best ways to make ensure that you and your Board have a good working relationship:

  1. Be brief and to the point.
  2. Be clear in your communications.
  3. Be respectful of the Board members' time.
  4. Be aware of the Board members' areas of expertise.
  5. Don't go to the Board very often.

When you do go to the Board make sure that you have your presentation or question together, that you're well-organized, and that you're actually ready to act on the advice you get.

I find that by following these simple rules, I've been able to establish and maintain great relations with Board members, even though I haven't been directly reporting to them. I found their advice incredibly valuable. I’m sure you will, too.

No comments: