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12 Ways to Effectively Engage an Advisory Board

People shaking hands after a meeting

By Susanne Pirone

Time. Talent. Treasure. If you lead or manage a nonprofit board of advisors, you’re likely very used to those three words. At the broadest level, these words set shared expectations for what board members are expected to bring to their board position: how much time they’re expected to spend on or in support of the organization each year, what professional talents they’ll be able to lend to the advancement of an organization’s mission, and what level of financial treasure they’re expected to give or get through fundraising efforts.

The trouble, however, is that many board leaders and executive directors don’t take the time to qualify these terms much more specifically than I just have, which can leave board members with uncertainty about their commitments, or not fully engaged with the organization—leading to much less effective boards in general.

At Mission Partners, we spend a lot of our time guiding organizational leaders in building and growing their board relationships. We know that turning friends and allies into champions and ambassadors can be the most surefire way to advance an organization’s mission.  But it takes time, talent, and sometimes a bit of treasure from the organization as well. As I’ve reflected on our experiences from this year, I wanted to share 12 important tips to make more of your board engagements in 2020:

  1. Do your research. Invite participants who have a personal, or institutional commitment to your organization or issue area.  Participants who have had involvement with the issue before, or work for organizations who have supported the issue area through volunteerism, grants, or event support in the past will be your warmest leads.
  2. Recruit for diversity. Build a group of advisors who are different from each other and bring different strengths to the table.  Think of diversity from various perspectives – industry, professional expertise, age, race, gender, background.
  3. Have end goals in mind. How will this advisory board help you advance the mission and goals of your organization?  Build your board with your end goals in mind, and ensure that you have committed people sitting around the table with the skills needed to advance your goals.
  4. Know their role. Have a very clear vision for the role of your advisory board, and be able to consistently and clearly communicate it to current and prospective members.  Draft a volunteer job description for members, and ask them to sign off on it each year.
  5. Make meetings count. Your board members are busy and their time is valuable.  Craft strategic, action oriented agendas.  Advisory board meetings should not just be “report outs” on what your organization has been doing.  Consider structuring your advisory board with sub-committees, where members are in charge of advancing the work, and reporting progress when your group gets together.
  6. Expect their involvement. Members of an advisory board are your leadership volunteers in the community.  They should be present at your events, active at your meetings, and consistently helping you advance your goals and the work of your organization.
  7. Provide visibility. Provide your advisory board members and their companies visibility in as many ways as you can.  List them on all materials, websites, and advertising supplements, as appropriate.  Engage them as spokespeople for your organization.  They can tell your story just as well as you can, and it has more weight coming from a third party than coming from a staff person.  Showcase their companies as leaders in the community, and provide a platform to elevate them as leaders within their place of business.
  8. Make clear, in-person asks. Don’t bury action items and asks for your advisory board in a blanket email.  Don’t even rely solely on mentioning your action items and asks during your meetings.  Make your requests in person, make them specific, and tie them back to your overall organizational goals.
  9. Leverage their involvement. Leverage advisory board members in other ways/roles across your organization.  Engage them at your community and fundraising events.  Let them help you with staff development goals.  Give them a clear role in identifying and recruiting their peers as corporate prospects for your organization.
  10. Seek their feedback. Set an annual time to meet individually with each advisory board member.  Find out if they feel that they are effectively contributing to the organization.  Ask what they would change about the meetings and/or the kind of work they are being asked to do.  Determine if they think they have distinctive competencies that are not being utilized that could be of benefit to the organization.  Solicit their ideas for additional people to bring onto the advisory board.
  11. Have a plan. Make sure you have a succession plan for your advisory board.  Even the most committed and engaged volunteers will eventually need to step down from your advisory board.  New members and new ideas are critical to the forward movement of an organization.  Set a term of service for members, and have a pipeline for bringing new leadership volunteers into the fold.
  12. Don’t lose key volunteers! When a member sunsets from your advisory board, make sure you have ways to keep him or her involved.  This is an opportunity to transition these key leadership volunteers into other roles within your organization.

Above all, if you want to have an effective board, take the time to show gratitude, and not just at the end of their board term.  Small acts of gratitude, such as handwritten personal notes, go a long way in recognizing someone’s contributions to your organization, especially your volunteer advisory board members. Build into your organizational goals a plan for recognition and appreciation of these leadership volunteers.  Together, with the tips above, we are certain you’ll see a more effective and impactful board of advisors in the year ahead.

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Getting More out of Giving Tuesday

By Bayonia Marshall and Amira Barre

It’s mid-November and we can tell by our incoming emails that a big day (some would say the biggest day) in philanthropy is near. 

With subject lines like “Save The Date for #GivingTuesday” and “Giving Tuesday is just around the corner,” charities across the country are gearing up for the single largest giving day of the calendar year. 

And for good reason, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

“Giving Tuesday held each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, began in 2012 as an inspirational idea to counter the consumerism of Black Friday and promote charitable giving. The one-day event has grown every year and serves as the kickoff to year-end fundraising for many groups.”  According to WholeWhale, it is predicted that $502M will be raised across participating nonprofits this GivingTuesday.  

While there’s no shortage of tips on how to fundraise on Giving Tuesday, there’s less information to be found on how to ensure your Giving Tuesday campaigns are inclusive and equitable. So, we’ve gathered insights from experts here at Mission Partners to help you center equity and increase your impact on #GivingTuesday. Good news is, these are not “one and done” tips–they’re proven strategies that can take your fundraising efforts through 2020 and beyond.

Giving Tuesday Tip 1: Center Equity

Giving Tuesday has the potential to set your organization up for great success as you head into a new year. Ultimately, the messages your organization shares on this national day of giving can and should set the tone for the rest of the charitable season and beyond. But have you stopped to consider how your messages might be including some and alienating others?  

  • Pull out your upcoming Giving Tuesday email blast and read it against the tips that Carrie Fox outlines in her recent blog, “Was it Your Mail I Opened?”, such as “Have you compensated the individual(s) featured in your appeal letter, and “how have you invited those featured in your appeals to review and edit their stories for accuracy?” Keep in mind that if you’re sharing a story other than your own, you need to ensure that the person featured has the same opportunity to review for accuracy as your Executive Director would.
  • Consider the way you speak or write about your role in the community as you create a campaign around your appeal letters. Some words can carry bias and create divides, even though they may be used with good intentions. For example, the phrase “we serve” creates a hierarchy that portrays people or organization as saviors and takes the focus away from the residents, participants or community members that use your services. Instead, use “we work alongside” to foster a sense of collaboration and togetherness. Read more about inclusive and asset-based language in Elena Hilton’s latest blog, The Words Matter.
  • Go beyond the words and take into account visuals, as well. Visual elements can help or harm how your message is not only received, but perceived, so make sure that the intended values are communicated to your audience. As our Graphic Designer, Eleni Stamoulis explains, we are all faced with inclusive and equitable design choices whether designer is in our job title or not. One way to incorporate inclusive design is by using diverse images to challenge stereotypes and bias. 

Giving Tuesday Tip 2: Put Your Community First

At Mission Partners, we acknowledge that giving monetarily is not a privilege afforded to all people. Due to the systems in place in our society, some people have easier access to upward mobility, wealth, and resources, and therefore, have the economic means and financial security to donate to the organizations and issues they care about. Create opportunities for everyone to be included in your campaign, including those who can not support financially.

  • Start by putting the focus of your organization’s campaign on people first. Our founder and CEO, Carrie Fox, suggested in this recent fundraising roundup that  “you have to think about who is delivering and who is receiving the message.  The pitfall is that many organizations talk about their community versus creating a platform for their community to tell their own story.  The best condition for success is to think about who is delivering the message and is it truly inclusive about the community you are working to advance.” 
  • Get creative in the ways people can give. Create a pledge for volunteers in your neighborhood or partner with a local organization to help spread the word about your services. If you multiple chapters or locations across the United States, gather some of your most trusted ambassadors and host a potluck dinner to raise awareness and build supporters for your cause. And be sure to create experiences that appeal to high school and college students, perhaps even creating opportunities for them to create their own experiences within their school or campus communities. Of the current Gen Z population, 30% percent have already donated to an organization, and 26% have raised money for a cause.

Giving Tuesday Tip 3. Get Specific On Digital

Beyond email, think about how you engage with your donors and prospects across digital platforms. Mission Partners’ consultant and CEO of Positive Equation, Dana Bakich, suggests that you should spend a week or two priming and educating your audience around a single issue before presenting your ask. By December 3, your current and potential donors will be able to visualize and understand where their dollars are going. “Record or use live videos to capture what your organization is trying to solve for from start to finish,” says Dana and “don’t try to cram tons of information in the content you create.” Stick to one specific area around your cause that you want to ask for, and attach a dollar amount to it. For example, Dress for Success, a global nonprofit that provides professional attire for low-income women, primed and educated their donors by breaking down the suiting process, and attaching a dollar amount to it.: such as “For $20, you can provide a woman with her first career counseling session.” When you roll out your ask, people will remember the stories they heard, better understand their impact and feel compelled to give. 

Giving Tuesday is just around the corner, so don’t let this powerful day of giving go by without getting the most out of it. As you go forth with your campaign, remember: Lead with equity, center your community and get specific on digital. 

Want to perfect your giving strategy in 2020 or create a year round action plan? Contact us at connect@mission.partners to schedule an information session or click here to learn more about our Communications Planning + Activation services

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The Promise to America’s Children and Youth

20 years ago last week, five living Presidents and Nancy Reagan were gathered together in Philadelphia at an event called the President’s Summit for America’s Future, hosted by General Colin Powell, to make a promise to our children and youth. Leaders from all sectors and all 50 states, along with young people from hundreds of communities, committed to one another and the nation that together they would provide all youth access to the critical success factors that they needed to thrive: a life filled with caring adults; safe spaces to learn, play, and grow; health and wellness for the best start in life; skills for meaningful and prosperous employment; and opportunities to share their gifts with others through service. They called these the “Five Promises,” and advancing them became the rallying cry for the America’s Promise Alliance.

I had a special seat at that Summit, even though I rarely had the chance to sit down while I was there. As a staff member of America’s Promise, I managed the logistics and much of the programming for the event. One of my fondest memories is of calling the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau to book the venue: “Hello, I’ll be bringing all the living Presidents to town for a Summit next year, and I’d like to reserve every hotel room in the city for 4 days.” There was silence on the other end of the line…then finally, “Who are you?  Where are you calling from? Presidents of what?”

That was the start to a career defining experience for me, and it has since shaped every role in my professional life.

Last week, America’s Promise celebrated its 20th anniversary in New York City, an event that inspired us all to #Recommit2Kids. Led again by Colin and Alma Powell, the event featured President Clinton and a line-up of incredible speakers, young people, and performers who passionately made the case once again that we must help guide all of our nation’s children to a life of opportunity, fulfillment, prosperity, and contribution. This time I was a guest, and yes, I was glued to my seat the entire time.

It was heartening to see that America’s Promise has maintained its relevance for a new generation of young people, and even more gratifying to see how much has been accomplished since 1997. And yet, I found myself impatient and disappointed that we haven’t yet solved so many of the root problems that continue to plague or nation’s youth – especially those living in financial, social, or spiritual poverty.

We know, in the quiet of conscience, that our children deserve better.

They deserve a life that rewards their dreams, a life of opportunity, unburdened by injustice. Equal opportunity is the defining promise of our country. It is a commitment that should unite right and left, rural and urban, rich and poor. Without equality of opportunity, economic differences harden through generations in a way that is inconsistent with our nation’s ideals.” Colin and Alma Powell

20 years later, I am still optimistic that we can expedite our progress because of the evolution of the conversation since 1997. Having participated in both events, it was evident to me that we’ve grown as a people to be more accepting, more inventive, and more precise. We’ve grown as a culture where inclusivity and equity are the expectations, and exclusion and inequity are called out for what they are. The quality of the dialogue is so much richer today than it was a generation ago in Philadelphia.

Consider these themes that resonated throughout the event:

  • Identity: Young people celebrated who they are, not what they’ve done. The amazing and talented IMPACT Rep Theater and City Kids loudly and proudly shared their truths with us in performance of song, dance, and poetry. They expressed their authentic identities in ways that wasn’t safe for them to do 20 years ago, and we, as adults in the audience, embraced them with love.

“It shouldn’t require heroism to be a child.” Tiffany Yu

  • Data: Our embrace of data in the past 20 years has shed light on problems and the solutions that can be scaled for more effective intervention. For example, Nadine Burke Harris from the Center for Youth Wellness shared research on the biological consequences of the toxic stress that is caused by childhood adversity, including increased heart disease, depression, and other health risks for children that can carry into their adult years. Her solution is to ensure that educators and pediatricians know how to screen for and intervene in adverse childhood experiences, before they become biological aftermaths.
  • Equity: Nearly every speaker spoke to the need for universal equity for our children and youth. Not just equality; equity. Not just diversity; inclusion. And not about the bad choices that kids make, but about our failure as a society to provide all kids with sanctuary so they can survive and thrive. In 1997 we talked about equality, diversity, and dare I say, the blaming of parents. We know better now, and even though we have miles to go, I was inspired by the conversation and I believe that working together, we can achieve the equity that all kids deserve.

“In order to help children at risk, we have to be able to do things that are uncomfortable.” Bryan Stevenson

  •  Reach: There were about 800 people in the room at the Marriott Marquis this week, but there were well over 1 million people following the live stream and social media conversation. As Alma Powell pointed out, this tremendous increase in reach is something that was not available to us in 1997. And since the event, the retweets and reposts have exponentially exposed people to the issues facing children and youth.

 

There is so much to be done for our kids and for our nation. We must never rest at the sight of injustice and inequity. While there are no excuses for failing to be true to the ideals we hold so dear, I see progress in the quality of the conversation and the solutions we’re advancing today. I have tremendous hope in the promise for America, and I am #Recommitted2Kids.