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Helping Your Board Connect and Communicate

Resource Center - Foundation

(March 8, 2011) Having board members who can speak passionately about your organization is crucial, but it doesn't happen automatically. Here's how to turn a passionate board into a group of passionate spokespeople for your organization.

"It is one thing to hear the success story of a survivor, student or young person, but it is even more powerful to hear that story told by a colleague or friend," says Wendy McCown, CFRE. If you help board members and volunteers connect personally with the mission of your organization, they can spread the message of your mission in a way no one else can.

McCown will present a session at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in Chicago this month titled "The Power of Passion: Creating Spokespeople Who Shine." Here she offers a sneak peek at what she will discuss at her session.

"People are often quick to think that they are not good at public speaking, but the truth is, we are all public speakers," she explains. "We all speak to people in the elevator, the grocery store, or to small groups in meetings. No one is a ‘private speaker.'"

Aside from making them more comfortable speaking in public, the real key to turning your board into spokespeople is making sure they feel like they have something to say in the first place.

Forming a Connection

McCown says that she leads board members through a simple, but rewarding, exercise. She asks them to create an "I" story. In other words, she asks board members to gather as a group and identify and share with one another why the organization's mission is important to them personally.

"We all wish our boards would be more engaged and would do more," she says. "An ‘I' story paints a leader into the organization's picture in a deeply personal way...which gives them permission and a foundation to do great things."

This exercise accomplishes many things. First of all, board members identify why they are passionate and committed to the organization. Second, it gives them a chance to practice putting this passion to words and explaining it to others in a safe environment--with their fellow volunteers. Finally, it gives staff members new ways to understand and articulate the organization's work.

"Fundraisers are good at building relationships, but board members often do not have the benefit of understanding their role in building those relationships," McCown says. "Taking board members through this exercise allows them to see the ‘soft side' of the organization, to see beyond numbers and budgets and really connect."

While it says a lot to serve on a board in the first place, having the right words and the right perspective allows board members to say so much more.

And don't underestimate the value of helping your board members find their voices, McCown says. You'll learn a lot from what they say. Your message can become more rich and "three-dimensional" by hearing how volunteers and the community perceive the value of what you do.

A good spokesperson instills a sense of hope that something can be accomplished, that something can be done--rather than just conveying a need. Turning your board into effective spokespeople allows a great message to spread--the message that donations count, and that getting involved with the organization is rewarding for its donors and volunteers.

Wendy McCown, CFRE, is president of Open Window Communications in Lincoln, Neb., a messaging and outreach consulting firm dedicated to maximizing the strengths and talents of volunteer led organizations (  Attend her session in Chicago for a hands-on look at how to help board members and leaders connect personally with your organization and communicate their passion to others.

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