What Is Your Nonprofit Board Hiding?
The board meeting has ended. The results included discussion and action around program results, finances, strategy, compliance, risk reduction and board development. The results also included: 43 likes, 12 comments, 4 shares.
“What?” you say. “Likes, comments and shares? What is going on here?” What is conceivably going on is what I propose to call the “new tech age of nonprofit governance”: governance not hidden in the boardroom, but governance where what goes on in the boardroom becomes as part of a community conversation — in a good way.
Board members in the new nonprofit tech age are not just doing their fiduciary “thing,” but can take the opportunity to be accountable, transparent and engaged with their constituents using social
As advocates, educators and, possibly, resource generators, board members have new and increased opportunities today to use social media to tell their nonprofit’s story and learn from their constituents. These new opportunities also provide the opportunity to expand how a nonprofit engages with its community — sharing and listening. Yes, it might feel strange to encourage board members to not put their smartphones and tablets down during board meetings (as though this is possible).
Instead, technology and social media use by board members can be redirected to engage, not just with each other, but with their own connections — (tentatively) your nonprofit’s constituents.
So imagine your board members at your board meeting using social media tools, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, to share a “mission moment” and good news about folks (not their names, of course) who have benefitted from services and activities, a successful fundraiser or a new grant.
Board members might even use Instagram or Pinterest to share a selfie of joyful or even contemplative moments! Yes, there are many, many stories and items that can be shared to connect, which result in deeper relationships with your nonprofit. And as is commonly understood, deeper relationships can lead to greater knowledge, understanding, demand and support.
Engaging board members in social media activities during board meetings could have positive results, but nightmares are possible. I acknowledge that social media does have its downsides with erroneous or misunderstood messaging. Equally challenging, though, is the recognition of resistance by boards in general to adopt technology tools that can improve board effectiveness.
Board management software, like BoardEffect, Boardable and BoardBookit, all serve this purpose. While the trend for adoption of these tools is just now turning the corner upward (as is evidenced by an increase in marketplace options, more aggressive sales pitches and more affordable pricing), the same is certainly not true for the use of social media tools by nonprofits. No, adopting social media tools for use in the boardroom will likely be as big a leap.
That said, the board’s adoption and “appropriate” use of any new technology — specifically social media tools — does require planning, policy, protocol and training. Board members will very much need support, as well as clearness about “when” to pick up their smartphones and tablets to make use of these tools to share their boardroom
Certainly, there will be matters that are not yet ready for prime time as they have not yet been fully informed or vetted. But there should also be plenty of time for sharing as well as seeking feedback (full circle engagement). The governance committee and the board chair must be ready to manage. And yes, while constituents may think this new level of transparency and accountability is a call-for-action versus just being informed, that may be OK.
I, for one, firmly believe that constituent engagement beyond information-sharing has the potential to be a win-win for all — the board and the constituents. Nonprofits that are organized to address, neither the needs of the government or a for-profit, benefit in multiple ways from fully informing and engaging current and prospective constituents. The use of social media tools in a board meeting has the potential for increasing constituent understanding and engagement, but execution will require careful planning, policy, protocol, training and evaluation.
Before wrapping up, let’s do a test. Following the next mission moment and discussion about what was shared, ask members to sign-in to their Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts and write a few words about the moment. Toward the end of your meeting or at the next meeting, ask members to share how many likes and what kind of comments they received.
Do this and your board will be on its way to broadening your nonprofit’s relationship with its constituents and opening the door to integrating social media tools into the life of the mission. Oh, remember to post a few selfies and to use hashtags, too!
Editor's Note: This Leading the Board column was originally published in the November/December 2019 print edition of NonProfit PRO. Click here to read the full article.