Your nonprofit does a lot of good in the community. You and your staff live that reality every day!
But do people outside your organization understand the extent of your effort and your good work?
To spread the word about your cause and your support of it, you need ambassadors.
Luckily, those people are right under your nose! Your board members make the best ambassadors for your cause if you choose and train them well.
Here are 7 strategies you can use to turn your board members into effective ambassadors for your cause:
- Consider your board as a whole.
- Formalize your onboarding process.
- Provide engaging talking points.
- Create opportunities for outreach.
- Coordinate efficient logistics.
- Make time to celebrate successes.
- Follow up and check in regularly.
Ready to transform your board members into your best spokespersons? Let’s go!
The process of turning your board members into ambassadors begins at the beginning: recruitment.
Your nonprofit needs the right people on the team in the first place before you can start strategizing about spreading your message through your community.
You could engage a nonprofit consulting firm to help you find the right people, or you could do it yourself!
The trick is to look at your board as a whole. What skills and personality types do you need to create a well-rounded team?
Here are some skills or characteristics common on effective nonprofit boards:
- Communication: To get your point across well, you’ll need excellent verbal communication skills represented on your team. Look for people who are comfortable and experienced with written and oral communication, like educators or political figures.
- Sales: People with a history in sales understand how to turn any conversation into a conversation about the benefits of your organization. You need people on your team who can sell your cause to anyone.
- Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers — they have to be to be successful! You want to send out ambassadors who can be flexible and improvisational in any conversation.
Once you’ve identified what you need, look at what you have. Where are the gaps in your current board? This is where your recruitment efforts should focus.
When recruiting, keep in mind that an individual’s passion matters more than their qualifications. So once you’ve narrowed down people who are technically qualified to work with you, make sure you’re reaching out to people who have a demonstrated interest in your nonprofit or your cause. You’ll make the most of the time and effort you spend on your search.
One way you can be sure to contact people who want to work with nonprofits is by searching through a nonprofit-specific job board, like those on Aly Sterling’s list of the best nonprofit job boards.
Once you’ve got your team assembled, you need to make sure every member on your board has enough information about your organization to speak intelligently about it.
The best way to ensure your board’s familiarity with your nonprofit is to establish a standard onboarding process for board members.
Your onboarding process could include several useful elements, such as:
- Written materials detailing your mission, your past work, and your daily operations.
- A mentor system so your newcomer benefits from a veteran’s experience.
Opportunities to shadow other board members at meetings or other engagements.
Check-in meetings with the leadership team to answer questions that arise.
Besides basic information about your nonprofit, you also need to make sure your board members all know how you want to talk about your organization. The way your nonprofit is represented is just as important as the content presented.
Make sure you set standards for your board members’ public appearances and meetings.
You probably don’t need to coach adult professionals on how to dress, but they might appreciate direction on certain words or topics they should emphasize and which they should avoid. Don’t overdo it, but provide some guidance for the important points.
The goal of an organized, informational onboarding process is to bring board members into your nonprofit and keep them engaged, just like you would with staff members or volunteers.
We all remember studying for a test in school and then feeling all our knowledge disappear from our brain when we sat down to take it.
The same thing can (and will!) sometimes happen when you send your board members out into the world to spread the news about your nonprofit, no matter how effective your onboarding process is.
To make sure your board members can always be effective ambassadors for your cause, you need to provide them with physical documents that they can take with them to remind them what to talk about.
The materials you provide for your board members should be:
- Succinct: There’s no need to send your board members into the field with your full manifesto. Keep things short and actionable. If you can print your mission statement on the back of a business card (which isn’t a bad idea!), you’re in good shape.
- Plentiful: Print plenty of copies, and ask your board members to stick a handful of materials in their glove compartments or briefcases in case they forget one day to take some with them.
- Accessible: Produce printed materials, mobile-friendly websites, and images that can be stored offline so your board members can access them no matter where they are.
- Legible: Use simple, action-based language that’s easy to read and comprehend. Include keywords that would roll off your board members’ tongues and exclude words with too many syllables or tongue-twisters that would leave them stammering.
The last thing you want is your ambassadors scrambling or uncomfortable because of the materials you’ve provided them. Give them enough to prompt a conversation, and let them handle the rest!
Your board members are prepared with the knowledge in their brains and their marketing materials. Now you need to send them somewhere that they can use them!
While your board members will be attending some industry events of their own accord, it’s on your nonprofit’s leadership team to explore other places they could go.
A few of the most common places or forums for nonprofit board members to spread the word about your cause:
- Press releases
- Press conferences
- Industry conventions
- Business lunches
- Community events
- Your own fundraising events
You can find out about events and networking opportunities from industry publications, the local business journal, and mailing lists, so make sure that you keep your eyes out when you get those newsletters or magazines in the mail.
It’s not always big events that provide the best forum for your outreach efforts. Sometimes, one-on-one meetings between your board member and another industry professional or local businessperson can go a long way.
Take advantage of the relationships your nonprofit has in the area to set up these productive meetings, then let your well-trained ambassadors do their thing!
Chances are, your board members are very busy people. They want to be engaged ambassadors for your cause, but they also have other matters to attend to that take up their valuable time.
Always show your board members that you respect their time and energy when asking them to represent your organization. If you make it easy for them, they’ll continue to serve as amazing ambassadors for your cause!
You should ask for access to board members’ calendars, or another way to find out when they’re available. A personal assistant or secretary might be your best point of contact.
When coordinating logistics, don’t forget about:
- Contact information for the people your board member will be meeting.
- Transportation for your board member or other people.
- Housing if someone is traveling out of town.
- Reimbursement for your board member’s expenses.
- Technology at the venue if your board member is giving a presentation.
Logistics can seem daunting, but you can set up any successful meeting or event with a little attention to detail.
You ask a lot from your board members, especially if they’re putting their all passion into their work.
To make sure your board members don’t burn out from their ambassador duties, make a habit of congratulating them on successes.
It’s not hard to show that you care!
- A handwritten thank-you note is a classic, effective way to show your board member that you appreciate their time and effort.
- Any small gift, like flowers or chocolate, is appropriate to celebrate a new partnership or sponsorship secured by your board member.
- Making a public announcement in a meeting, an email, a newsletter, or a bulletin board ensures that other members of your nonprofit know about board members’ success.
- Hosting a celebratory cocktail party or gala gives everyone a chance to have fun and toast to their hard work.
- Organizing a board retreat can accomplish two goals: you get to repay your board for their hard work, and team activities will bring them closer together!
You don’t have to invest much time and money into your stewardship. The point is to show your board how much you appreciate them and to show off their hard work.
When your board members know they’re making a difference and they’re recognized for it, they’ll be more energized to get back out there, representing your organization!
Establishing effective ambassadors isn’t a one-time effort. Make sure that you’re investing in your long-term relationship with board members by following up with them regularly to see how they’re doing.
Setting regular check-ins ensures that you always know what’s happening with your board members. Plus, these meetings are opportunities for your board members to get their questions answered.
To ensure that the scheduling never falls through, consider incorporating these board check-ins into your membership management software solution. You can’t forget a meeting that’s automatically scheduled, and membership management software make it easy to send surveys and emails as well as track your communication history.
Don’t think of board check-ins as one-sided meetings — your board members-turned-ambassadors are great sources of feedback.
Ambassadors talk to a lot of people about your nonprofit. There’s valuable feedback they can offer you about how you’re perceived in the community or how you run your organization.
Paying attention to your follow-up will make you a better leader, and there’s no downside to that.
You might not have thought of it this way before, but your board members are some of the best marketing materials your nonprofit has. If they’re happy with their position and the work they get to do, they’ll represent you well to the outside world!
And if you’re looking to streamline other elements of your marketing process, consider a nonprofit marketing software solution like Salsa Labs!