All board members come to your organization with their own deeply held beliefs, so how does one get everyone on the same page? This responsibility falls largely within the roles of the executive director and board chair. Board communication between these two roles is critical.
Executive directors often fall into the practice of providing reports to the board. You talk about how your staff is achieving the organization’s objectives and how much money you made in the last fundraiser. This is all appropriate and necessary, but it can also mean that you are overlooking what the board is really trying to understand. Your board is diverse. There are different stakeholders and each one will focus on different information. Are you really meeting each person’s needs?
As you are preparing for your next board meeting, ask yourself this simple question: “Why am I here to present?” It may seem silly, but it can actually help you better define what you want to communicate to the board. You may do a stellar job on the report, but if you don’t have board member buy-in, your strategy is not really working.
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The way in which you communicate with your board plays a major role in their approval and support of your initiatives. While your board is diverse, they also have sizable real-world experience. The best rule of thumb is to keep your board communications short and sweet. A 15-minute presentation with very engaging slides is perfect. Remember that the board is predominantly interested in your outcomes, so don’t bog down your presentation with details regarding how you will achieve those. Supporting documentation can be supplied in an addendum.
If you are only communicating with your board during formal board meetings, it is not enough. Have intentional conversations around initiatives. Sit down with individual board members and find out what is working and what is not. Ask them about strengths you have built on and any weaknesses they see in the initiative or organization. Ask them to be forward-looking and identify both opportunities and threats on the path ahead. You are in service to the board, just as they are in service to you. These intentional conversations go a long way in getting everyone on the same page and working together.
If something negative has happened, talk about it. Not doing so diminishes your credibility as a director and undermines the board’s trust in you. Board communication is you tool to clear up any misunderstandings.
Communications are not a one-way street. Decide what you want the board to communicate to you. This will likely vary for each individual board member. Think about the best ways to leverage the depth and breadth of each of your board members’ experience and insight to achieve the goals of the organization. Your board communication is building relationships, which are developed over time through trust and mutual experiences. In addition to the above conversations, think about team building time, retreats, and social events to spend time together.
Building better relationships and board dynamics is a work in progress, but improving your board communication is a great way to accomplish some real wins.
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