You Against the World
I recently had someone ask me how to deal with “hate” mail they were receiving because of the sensitive topic their nonprofit addressed and as I went through their site, it was full of “my husband and I…” (they had founded the nonprofit).
My advice was to first make sure it wasn’t you (and your husband) against the world and to build up that board and then showcase it to the world – making sure your board has the right mix of people you need to help oversee the nonprofit AND has the right experts in your specific industry to build your organization’s credibility.
Which brings me to marketing. You didn’t think I was going to stray that far off topic did you? Even for larger organizations, if you don’t have the right board in place, dealing with marketing, PR and brand issues becomes really challenging and the Executive Director can still feel like they are alone trying to conquer the world.
6 Signs you have board problems that will hinder your marketing efforts
You have no communications committee.
These days you can’t afford NOT to have one; a well-developed marketing plan that integrates with your development plan and strategic plan are crucial in today’s market and you are just not as likely to have developed one if you don’t have people on your board that are comfortable overseeing it. Even a small nonprofit should be able to pull together a 3-person committee (1 board member leading and 2 volunteers).
The committee would work with staff and/or outside consultants to develop and monitor the annual marketing & communications plan, oversee significant website development and branding projects, take on smaller direct projects as needed, help “friendraise” to develop more connections that further the nonprofit’s marketing goals, and support and work with your development and event committees.
Your board only meets once or twice a year.
This to me is a very hands-off board – not that we want too much hands-on but you have to be able to address marketing & PR issues in a timely manner – some of which may require board assistance or oversight. And if you aren’t having regular board meetings, you just aren’t taking the nonprofit seriously enough and it will SHOW. How often should you meet? Here’s a great article from Butterfly Effect.
Your board has no term limits, really long term limits, or the term limits are ignored.
I know it’s not the easiest thing on the planet to find good board members AND it’s hard to kick off long-time board members (it feels really awkward and rude). But there’s no reason you can’t have board members that have served their maximum term(s) become special advisers or ambassadors for your nonprofit with different duties (non-voting) and less in-person responsibilities. Your nonprofit and your marketing and development efforts need FRESH BLOOD and a continuous flow of new ideas and perspectives to succeed in this economy.
See: Nonprofit University Blog’s Term Limits for Nonprofits
You just grab anyone who agrees to become a board member with no vetting of any kind.
That perfect mix is really important – we used to literally have a chart (from some class I had taken) in front of us to help us identify board member gaps depending on what board members we currently had, and what programs and activities that we had going on. In addition to the standard ones – someone with an accounting background, a legal background, marketing etc. look for people that fit with your programs and help build credibility, like a nurse or someone in the healthcare industry if you have a healthy living program or a representative from the city if you are collaborating with them on a program.
Having a credible team supporting the nonprofit makes it easier overall to maintain your brand image and makes it easier to market your programs. I’ve seen a lot of boards that just pull expertise from one industry only or focus on parents of clients and clients without thinking about the right mix.
See: Nonprofit Spark’s podcast – Nominating committee: The unsung hero of non-profit sustainability
See: Council on Foundation’s Board Profile Worksheet
You don’t have a written document outlining exactly what is expected of board members.
This would include general responsibilities and specific ones like a minimum dollar amount that they are expected to contribute and/or raise during their term, a minimum number of tickets they need to sell, expected number of board member or other referrals etc. And the process for getting on the board and remaining on the board, expectations for chairing committees, time commitment etc. If you don’t want to ask for a specific dollar amount to be contributed, you can word it the way the example does below!
If everything is clear up front, you can weed out board members that are not a good fit for your organization, which will contribute to a more smoothly operating board, one that can make quick decisions related to marketing and that can raise funds quickly when marketing and development budgets change unexpectedly.
You don’t have a marketing toolkit for your board.
Your board members also need all the tools to take care of those responsibilities including a messaging package so they can help you promote the organization and maintain your overall brand image.
The package should include materials they can hand out like your brochures and business cards (and letterhead as appropriate), what your key messages and key audiences are, guidelines for representing the nonprofit In public (like the 30-second elevator pitch), email guidelines (like signatures), your crisis communications policy/plan, current marketing plan (of course you have one – emphasize current community partners and potential community partners you’d like to have), any checklists and templates that will help them with their duties (like press release template), and any annual reports and/or program facts & statistics.