Board directors have a strong responsibility to serve your nonprofit and ensure it has the resources it needs to succeed. The decisions they make guide your organization’s work and can either propel you toward fulfilling your mission or set your efforts back. With the level of responsibility that your board holds, a failure in communication can lead to a major crisis.
Overall, good communication powers your cause and can go a long way in keeping members engaged. We have shifted to working from home during the pandemic. And a lack of consistent face-to-face interaction has put major strains on communication. Because of this, nonprofit board leaders must have to be much more intentional about communication while working remotely.
If your board of directors needs a bit of guidance in being efficient and working well together, it may be time to brush up on basic communication skills. To help, we’ll explore the following four practices for improving board member communication:
- Run efficient and collaborative meetings.
- Encourage interaction outside the boardroom.
- Evaluate your communication strategy.
- Invest in the right board management tools.
By implementing these best practices, you’ll empower your organization’s board to work together and further your cause. And in no time, you’ll find your nonprofit on the path to success. Let’s dive in!
1. Run efficient and collaborative meetings.
Your nonprofit’s board meetings are where the majority of your board’s communications will occur, whether virtual or in person. The purpose behind these meetings is to check in on the health and financial sustainability of your organization and to make decisions that will contribute to your success. However, if your conversations are unfocused, you won’t cover the necessary topics in the allotted time. That leaves your organization without proper guidance.
To avoid unproductive board meetings, there are several steps you can take that will put you on the path toward more effective communications moving forward. Let’s walk through three of these options:
- Stick to a clear, focused agenda. Your board meeting agendas guide your meetings and ensure each topic is touched on. A good rule of thumb is to list your most important agenda items first. Then, provide time limits for each to keep your meetings focused. Once you’ve created your agenda, share it well in advance of your meeting, giving attendees sufficient time to prepare. Explore in-depth tips for developing dynamic agendas with this guide.
- Maintain good boardroom dynamics. Especially with conflicting personalities and varying visions for your organization, it’s crucial for the boardroom to remain collaborative. While all board members are responsible for creating an inclusive culture, this starts with the chairperson. This individual must set the tone for solid communication and exchanging ideas, and others will likely follow suit.
- Record effective minutes. Minutes memorialize your board meetings and detail future plans. Ensure your minute-taker provides enough detail that members who weren’t able to attend the meeting understand key decisions but not so much that every second is documented. Explore the components of effective minutes with Boardable’s complete board meeting minutes guide to learn more about what you should include.
When it comes to board meetings, there’s no time to waste. By implementing these suggestions, you’ll improve communication and make your meetings much more focused. This way, every second of your board members’ time will be put to good use.
2. Encourage interaction outside the boardroom.
Board members develop connections over time through mutual experiences and effective conversations. Only communicating during formal meetings won’t cut it. Instead, you’ll need to go beyond your routine meetings in order to cultivate meaningful connections.
The success of initiatives often depends on work that happens outside of regular board meetings. So let’s explore three opportunities your board can leverage:
- Offer informal conversation opportunities. Informal get-togethers will allow your board members to get to know each other on a personal level, which also serves as an effective member engagement strategy. Consider providing virtual hangouts and social events to get to know one another better.
- Communicate between meetings. Instead of pushing off important discussions until your monthly board meeting, encourage your board leadership to collaborate on a regular basis using a communication platform. To make the most of your resources, ensure your board management software comes equipped with a discussion feature. This will ensure time-sensitive decisions are made quickly and efficiently.
- Schedule check-ins. Executive directors and other nonprofit leaders often develop relationships by checking in with their board leadership. A quick call or email allows board members to share progress toward your organization’s goals and express any concerns or roadblocks they may be experiencing.
Establishing relationships involves a more intentional approach that goes beyond regularly-scheduled board meetings. The options above will serve as a solid starting point for forming stronger connections. Find out what works best for your team and go from there!
3. Evaluate your communication strategy.
No two boards have the same strengths or weaknesses. While some organizations may find success in certain tactics, these same strategies may not work as efficiently for others. Because of this, you’ll need to take extra steps to evaluate your approach to communication on an individual level.
As you get started, here are some key ways to measure the success of your board’s communications:
- Measure progress toward goals. Document any changes in communication procedures and tools your team makes. Then, take a look at the progress you’ve made since implementing these updates to determine if they were effective.
- Ask for feedback. Just like you’d ask your donors for feedback, you’ll want to ask board members for their input on your board communication tactics. Not only will this help you determine where your efforts are falling short, but opening the door for board members to express their opinions will boost their engagement.
- Keep track of miscommunications. Miscommunication is inevitable, but you can certainly minimize it. Take note of any mix-ups and determine how your board members can avoid these obstacles in the future.
These are effective evaluation options. But depending on how much room your board has for improvement, you’ll want to go well beyond this. Solidifying communications isn’t a one-and-done sort of deal. Instead, it’s an ongoing process that involves constantly seeking improvement.
You’ll need to consistently evaluate your board to determine if the quality of your communication is on target. In time, being a good communicator will lead to enhanced relationships with board members and increased productivity altogether.
4. Invest in the right board management tools.
The communication channels your team uses can make or break your board’s effectiveness. That’s especially true now, with many nonprofits relying heavily on technology and virtual meetings during social distancing recommendations. Using collaborative board software will enable you to overcome this barrier and streamline communication altogether.
If you’re unsure what software will help centralize your communications, here’s a brief look into three tools your board members should have access to:
- Messaging capabilities. Keep conversations going between your meetings with a discussion board where members can discuss key initiatives. This will allow your board to interact conveniently without relying on email or playing a frustrating game of phone tag.
- Assign tasks. Productive board meetings often result in a number of follow-up tasks. Make sure your board management tools offer task delegation capabilities, so no one’s confused as to who’s responsible for which tasks. This will add an extra layer of accountability and will enable your leadership to follow up on any incomplete tasks leading up to meetings.
- Store and share documents. Quick access to important documents will allow members to reference them the moment they need them. A document center will house all the files your board needs in one convenient location. Plus, access restrictions will protect any confidential information by making sure only designated users have access.
Investing in the right board portal will supercharge your team’s communications, so take the time to select the platform that best fits your members’ needs. Kick off your research with Double the Donation’s membership software guide as a solid starting point. Comparing available options with your needs will pay off significantly in the long run as your board continues making timely decisions to promote your work.
Without strong communication methods, your nonprofit’s strategy will likely dissolve into a series of miscommunications and missed opportunities. Remember, the bulk of your communication may occur during board meetings, but it goes well beyond the boardroom. It involves intentional and ongoing interaction to drive productivity, develop strong relationships, and continue providing your organization with valuable guidance.
Your strategies are only as strong as the communication platforms you employ. So take the time needed to select the right tools that suit your leadership’s needs. In no time, you’ll develop a much more actionable board that’s able to work together and make measurable progress toward your nonprofit’s goals.
Guest Author: Jeb Banner
Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He also founded SmallBox, a creative agency for mission-driven organizations, and is co-founder of The Speak Easy and founder of Musical Family Tree, both 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Jeb is passionate about community nonprofits and entrepreneurship and is a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.