Selling the Sizzle: Taking Board Member Participation to the Next Level
You say your nonprofit board members are unenthused about everything? For some members, their lack of enthusiasm is so profound, they fail to attend board and committee meetings. And many more members are so unenthused that they are not inclined to play an active role to support the nonprofit in achieving success.
I have heard many executives and board chairs express their struggle with this problem.
In this column, I will discuss the storytelling mission moment as a possible solution for moving your board members to take their caring and participation to the next level.
Which of any of the following visuals from fundraising pitches is more likely to move you to action (e.g. make and ask for donations), advocate legislatively and even volunteer?
• “Cured” or ill kids, or a big shiny hospital?
• Smiling or sometimes sad kids, or the big shiny orphanage?
• Clean or dirty water, or the waste removal system?
“Sell the sizzle, not the steak” was a marketing adage coined by Elmer Wheeler in the mid-1920s. Wheeler believed that what customers really want and value is not a product per se, but what that product or service does for that customer. So Wheeler directed his sales folks to promote the benefits of his products, not as much the physical product. Other examples include promoting the hole as a benefit of a drill or the independent luxurious comfort for traveling as the benefits of an automobile.
In human-service terms, this could mean promoting mental wellness (ease of mind or soul) versus mental-health counseling. Or friendly, intimate, safe and thorough care versus promoting a health center. Or promoting warm loving dogs or cats without homes versus the animal shelter. Likely by now, you get the picture that using the “sizzle not steak” benefits message, and “buyers” can better identify what offering will best meet their needs and wants.
So what about this alternative messaging has to do with motivating board members to action (and satisfying the reasons they joined the board in the first place)?
Over the years in my consulting practice, I have observed that board members are told a lot about the “steak” or the mechanics and activities of their nonprofits. Members hear about agency financials, staff stuff and program changes, and all the “data” shared in a monthly or quarterly dashboard that numerically and maybe graphically illustrates the progress a nonprofit has making against its annual and strategic goals and strategies. And of course, as a part of a board’s fiduciary, strategic and generative work, being fully informed is critical. But, data alone cannot provide the “juice” a board member needs to be moved to do for their nonprofit.
Evidence suggests that nonprofit board members who have the “sizzle” as offered through mission-moment stories about the nonprofit’s customers, patients, consumers or members will engage at a level well beyond being informed and making decisions.
The board member who will do for their nonprofit is the board member who learns through stories that because of their nonprofit: Lilith is free from the fear of a bad domestic situation; Fernandes’ new legs provides incredible mobility; Muller’s drinking water is lead-free; and Pham has the right to vote and have her voice heard.
Nonprofit board members, it’s up to you. To ensure your board service is truly satisfying and motivating place an order for the sizzle. At every board meeting ask that your “plate” be filled with numbers and stories. And between meetings, ask for more stories.
Only the “sizzle,’ the mission-moment stories, will help you realize your passions and gain the motivation that will propel you to do and not just sit.