As a veteran board member for a variety of nonprofits over the decades, I can find myself becoming complacent and thinking that I know it all (and no one likes a know-it-all). So this year I decided to select two basic board responsibilities and discover ways to focus my efforts to accomplish these tasks better in the coming year:
- Understand the mission of the nonprofit and make sure that all programs are designed to achieve that mission.
- Enhance the organization’s public image
“Mission Driven” is the title of a workshop that I teach so I reviewed the class materials to re-focus my energy. First, they reminded me that board members need to be very clear about the mission of their nonprofit. If your organization has a lengthy mission statement filled with jargon that no one can remember, it is time to revise it. Until the board does this, let me suggest a way that you can understand your mission better. Ask yourself this question: what are three key words in the mission statement that you feel best describe the purpose of your nonprofit? You can then use these words when talking about the organization to family, friends and colleagues and you can also use them as a guideline to evaluate your programs.
Let me give you an example. A hypothetical nonprofit has this mission statement: “Our mission is to countenance the appreciation of symphonic music in congruous venues that inspires, captivates and enchants an age diverse population “. If I were on that board, the first thing I would do is strongly suggest the members revisit that statement! In the meanwhile, when someone asked me about the organization, I would tell them that it is an orchestra which presents live music to inspire, entertain and engage people of all ages. Not only would this brief statement help me review current and proposed programs and projects; it also would help me promote the nonprofit more effectively.
The second board responsibility that I will focus on this year is to enhance the organization’s public image. As board members, we enhance the image of our organization in two ways: directly and indirectly. Let me begin with the second way. Simply by serving on the board, your personal and professional credibility reflects on the organization. For example, I was recently asked to serve on the board of an animal-focused nonprofit. It is an excellent emerging organization. However, I have never been particularly fond of animals (to put it mildly) and this fact is known widely among my friends and colleagues. Not only do I lack the passion to serve on such a board; the organization could suffer from having a board member widely known for her lack of enthusiasm for its stated mission.
Assuming that you have a passion for the mission, there are many ways that you can directly enhance the public image of your nonprofit. First, you can spread the word about upcoming events that you are attending. Post a flyer in your office, invite friends to attend the event with you, share it on Twitter and Facebook. If you belong to a group that has networking events where members can donate prizes, you could offer two tickets to an upcoming event that your nonprofit is sponsoring. When something exciting happens (such as a special award, a significant grant, or impressive program achievements), make sure all your friends, family members and colleagues hear about it. If you have media contacts, work with the designated board or staff member to help them spread the good news far and wide.
I challenge you to join me in focusing on these two responsibilities in the coming year to help you become a more effective board member who can help make your nonprofit even more inspiring.
©Jane B. Ford 2011