Last month’s Angle provided a Wyoming nonprofit sector overview and a promise of diving deeper into charitable nonprofit governance. Let’s talk about board members and passion this month.

Here at Align, we spend a great deal of time talking about the knowledge, skills and abilities that people need to serve on a board. This includes responsibilities such as thinking strategically about the organization and understanding and monitoring the finances. However, what we sometimes fail to remember is that most people serve on boards because of the passion they have for the organization and its cause. That passion is just as important a tool as any other tool that a board member might bring with them.

Using the passion you have to be an advocate for your organization is crucial. Advocacy is one of the key roles that Align has identified as necessary for a board member to fulfill while serving an organization. However, advocacy is frequently the responsibility that gets the least attention or where we focus the least amount of time. Maybe that is because we believe that if a board member has enough passion to be on the board, they are already advocating? Or perhaps we confuse advocacy with lobbying? Ultimately, it is the board’s role to be organizational promoters and community connection-makers.

This type of advocacy can be done in any number of way, but should typically accomplish the following things:

  • Be able to clearly articulate the organization’s purpose and importance to the community.
  • Influence the broader political and economic environment in which the organization operates.
    • Note – this does not mean lobbying, but being aware of the political environment and helping educate those that need to know more.
  • Promote understanding of the organization’s direction and operations to the public.
  • Seek out opportunities to talk about the organization’s mission and services.

When asked, many of the board members that we work with indicate that they have not talked about the organization outside of board meetings or immediate organizational activities. Align encourages boards to develop a plan for helping members fully understand the mission of the organization and share that mission with the community. Ideas for engaging board members in advocacy efforts include:

  • Create “business cards” that state the mission and core functions of the organization for board members to distribute.
  • Work with board members to schedule speaking engagements at civic organizations and other organizations with which they are involved.
  • Ask board members to think of one or two people that they think need to know more about what the organization does and schedule coffee just to chat (not asking for money or time, just chatting).
  • Leverage connections, both personal and electronic (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), that board members have in the community to build the organization’s own network.