By Regenia Bailey / Guest Editorial
I recently spoke at a monthly meeting of the Eastern Iowa Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals about encouraging board members to tell the story of their organizations. A robust conversation followed my presentation, and I’ve continued to think about organizational storytelling and its efficacy.
Enhancing the public standing and promoting an understanding of an organization are fundamental responsibilities of board members, but beyond inviting friends and colleagues to the organization’s activities, it can be challenging to know how to do this consistently. In fact, board members are ambassadors for the organization – they can (and should) have a powerful impact on its profile in the community.
Make your affiliation public
A simple way to serve as an ambassador is to make your connection to the organization visible. Including board affiliations on your LinkedIn profile or mentioning your role with an organization in conversations with colleagues helps others recognize your connection. This will encourage friends and colleagues to talk with you (and others) about the organization, potentially sharing questions, comments and ideas.
Being public about your affiliation signals to others that you support its work and its role in the community. It encourages others to extend the trust and support they have for you to the organization. By publicly associating yourself with the organization, you lend it your credibility. This can help shape the opinions your friends and colleagues have of the organization.
Talk about your connection
Talking about the organization from a personal perspective is a much more effective way of promoting understanding of its impact in the community than reciting information that can be found on its website.
Consider what motivated you to serve on the board. Be prepared to discuss why you became involved with the organization and why you are excited about its work. Incorporate these motivations into your personal elevator speech about the organization. If someone is interested in the organization’s metrics, you can always provide those details as a follow-up to your conversation.
Talking comfortably about your connection to the organization may require a little practice. Taking some time during board meetings for members to develop and practice their personal elevator speeches can be a good way to get to know your colleagues better. It also provides the opportunity to share ideas about promoting the organization and talking authentically about its work.
Prepare for opportunities
Networking events and social gatherings provide good opportunities to let colleagues and friends know more about your organization. A little preparation before attending these types of events will enable you to talk about current activities of the organization when someone asks, “what’s new?” Mentioning upcoming events, such as a performance or an educational opportunity, or discussing a recent success story allows you to shine a light on the organization’s work, and can provide a refreshing shift from the more typical work-focused conversations that often occur at these types of events.
It’s a two-way street
Enhancing the public standing of the organization is about telling your story and listening to others as they describe their understanding of and experience with the organization. Listening and taking these messages back to the other leaders can help enhance programs and communication.
Positive information provides an opportunity for the board and staff to reflect on what’s going well. Negative information can help the board and staff make improvements. If you discover that your friends and colleagues simply don’t have any opinions or knowledge about your organization’s work, it may indicate a need to improve its communication and marketing efforts.
As you think about your role as an ambassador, consider what you are doing – and what more you can do – to increase understanding of your organization within your own networks. As each member of your board does this, the connections your organization has throughout the community will be strengthened. This will enhance all other aspects of the organization’s work.
Regenia Bailey is a consultant and coach to nonprofits and small businesses at her firm, the Bailey Leadership Initiative. She teaches business courses at Kirkwood Community College. For more information, visit www.baileyleadershipinitiative.com.