19 Apr Communicating with Board Members
19 April 2022
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about communicating with donors.
And as I explained last week, communication has been on my mind a lot because of the Development Audit work I’ve been doing lately. One of the questions I always ask in Development Audits is how, and even whether, Board members are asked to give money.
My frame of reference is that Board service is a major gift, and major gift donors should receive thoughtful, individualized communication that is related to WHAT they want to give to, WHEN they want to give, and HOW they want to give – all culminating in a gift solicitation that is hand-tailored to their interests.
So what do you expect I have found?
Many Board members are not really solicited at all. They are simply “expected to give.”
Taken for granted.
Pro-Tip: That’s no way to treat major donors!
I have written a protocol for soliciting Board members (you can find it here), but that’s not really what I wanted to write about today.
Board members need a communications strategy just like any other specific audience. Except that with Board members, we also need to pay attention to how they will take the information and communicate it with others. We need to communicate with them, sure, but how will they tell the story from there?
We give a lot of lip service to wanting our Boards to be representative of our communities, but that’s a two-way street. We also need Board members who represent the land trust back into their communities. To share relevance, to project credibility, and to generate public support.
How are we equipping our Board members to do that?
Andy Goodman, Free-Range Thinking, says that every organization (and every Board director) should be able to tell seven different stories in a compelling way:
- Stories that showcase our organization’s identity and culture
- Stories that demonstrate the Nature of the challenge we are addressing
- The story of how we got started
- Stories that showcase our emblematic successes
- Stories that showcase our values
- Stories that demonstrate how we are striving to improve (grow)
- Stories that show where we are going – our Vision
In each case, Goodman emphasizes that these are stories that show who we are, as opposed to just telling people who we are.
So if every Board member should be able to tell these stories, how are we equipping them to do so?
In my experience – not very well.
I have some suggestions:
Let’s not minimize the learning curve for new Board members. This is a complex business we’re in, and people don’t “get it” right away. Give them longer than an hour to come up to speed. Use the Scavenger Hunt idea for onboarding. Use mentors. Remember that some learn by seeing, some by hearing, and some by doing. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work most of the time.
Capture the stories when you’ve got them about right. Use video if possible, but at least write them down. This isn’t memorized as an elevator speech, but it’s used as a baseline from which Board members can develop their own versions.
Bring Board members to the land. Got a new project? Don’t stop with maps and photos. Take them there. I am still amazed at how many Board members report that they really didn’t know much about the land trust before they came onto the Board. We can debate that practice in a different blog, but someone who doesn’t know much about the land trust also won’t know much about the preserves, the easements, how monitoring works and why it’s important, and so on. Teach them. Show them. And always with an eye toward how they might use the experience to describe this work to others. To represent the organization back into their communities.
Provide opportunities to practice. You learn something differently when you know you’ll be asked to teach it to someone else. One of the Scavenger Hunt ideas is to go on a field trip with a topical expert and then lead that same field trip playing the role of the topical expert. The same idea can be brought to bear with one of Goodman’s stories.
Have everyone stand up and tell your land trust’s origin story to someone else on the Board. Give them 60 seconds. Then have each pair reverse roles. Change partners and repeat the exercise. Change partners a third time and repeat it again. Then ask the group to reflect on what they heard that they liked and how their own story changed from the first round to the third.
Give Board members assignments at organizational events. Find this person. Introduce them to the Board President. Ask this question. Share with them a story about a project that has been completed and a project that we still need help with.
What are you doing at your organization? Are your Board members prepared to share the land trust back into their communities? Do they know what to say?
How can you help them be more prepared?
Cheers, and Have a great week!
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by John-Mark Kuznietsov courtesy of Stocksnap.io.