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Board Members: Engage Your Networks!

Financial resources scarce? Nonprofit organizations can engage an underutilized precious asset—their networks—to strengthen their capacity to deliver on their mission.
Energizing networks is a great way to prepare for growth as this recession lets up.
The goodwill, future financial support, and contacts that come from networking during this stormy financial period will be your silver lining when the clouds of recession lift.
Networking is the art of identifying, cultivating, and engaging friends of your organization. These friendships ultimately may yield monetary support, sources of non-financial support, and ambassadors who can, in turn, cultivate more friends. Now is the time to identify these potential friends, hone your messaging, and plan how to best deliver those messages. By getting your staff, board of directors, and other volunteers ready for brighter days, you’ll build your capacity to thrive when recovery comes.
The best place to start is at a meeting of the board of directors, who must stay mindful of their critical role as emissaries for the mission of your organization. They know the mission, they know the goals, they know the good that the organization brings to the community. How do they communicate this value? How do they spread the good news with people they work with, play with, pray with?
Start with a conversation. Take some time at a staff meeting and the next board meeting to talk about reaching out to friends to share your mission. There may be members who are doing this now. Identify them before the next meeting. Ask them to share their techniques with the group. Use their experiences to kick off the discussion. Listen for the ideas that have been most successful. Share a summary of the results with all who can benefit from these experiences.
Continue the conversation. Be sure to put the discussion on the agenda for subsequent meetings. Find out in advance who is trying the new techniques. Ask one or two of the new practitioners to report on what they’re doing.
Engage communications experts to share advice. Do you have a director of communications on your staff? If not, does one of your board members or volunteers have communication expertise? Strategize with this person about your approach to engaging networks. Incorporate messages that are consistent with your brand so your staff and volunteers are talking about your work in a unified and consistent way.
Twitter? Facebook? Blogs? Is someone on your team familiar with social media and willing to show others how to effectively use these tools? It’s likely that this person will be younger than most of the team. If so, this is an excellent opportunity to let an up-and-comer show his or her stuff. An effective plan for social media can engage people you otherwise might miss who will support your mission once they learn what the organization is about.
What’s your story? Nonprofit organizations have numerous stories about your clients’ great experience with your services. Incorporate telling of stories as part of “conversation time.” A program staff person or a volunteer probably has more than one such story to share. Let your group hear a story or two each time you meet, and encourage your board, staff, and volunteers to retell these stories when they are out engaging their networks.
There is a reservoir of good will out there, ready to hear about the good you do. And every day, your volunteers and staff talk with many people who will want to help bring the “good” you deliver to more people. Your organization’s job is to forge links through staff, board, and volunteer networks so you can grow the circle of friends and supporters. When you take time to apply creative approaches to communication through networks, you engage and energize people for your mission. It takes commitment and work. But it will put your organization in a stronger position when the economy inevitably begins to grow.

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