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Tell the Whole Story

A nonprofit executive, among other things, is the interface between the staff and the board.  Ensuring messages pass accurately between the two is hard work.

The gap would be a trivial issue if it was just a communications issue.  However, it is also a trust and understanding issue.  The board must make decisions periodically that seem rash, harsh, uncompromising, and unjust.

For practical reasons, the board is unable to explain every decision it makes.  Therefore, it is up to the executive to explain to the staff and others.  This burden can be eased some by working with the board on the wording of each decision.  If the goals and priorities are explained along with the decision, it is usually easier to understand why a decision was made.  It is also easier to gather support for the decision if the higher purpose is understood.

A good example is the TSA crackdown after 9/11.  The TSA announced the restrictive and inconvenient procedures for passenger screening by reminding everyone of the goals (increase safety and reduce hijackings).  The public understood how they would benefit so they were willing to cooperate.

The same is true for the board.  They need to know why the staff is recommending X.  Without knowing what the staff considered before making the recommendation, the board may choose to disagree.  The lack of information may lead the board feel the staff’s recommendation is ill considered or self-serving.  If so, its trust and respect for the staff will decline.

With a trusting relationship, there is good teamwork, increasing sustainability, better client results, and increased donor and community support.  Understanding builds trust.

Next Step:

Ensure every decision or recommendation is preceded by announcing the justification, goals, and benefits

Ensure every announcement is carefully worded to build understanding

Use the increase in trust and teamwork as the success measures for the communications flow between the groups

Teach the staff and board members how to share board decisions with the clients, public, and donors

The board members and the staff are the public face of your nonprofit.  How they present decisions to the public shapes the public’s perception of your nonprofit and the relevance of your mission.  A consistent message across both groups increases the public’s trust and confidence.

Take It Further:

Use your model for managing the communications between the board and staff as the model for managing the fundraising team’s communications with the donors

Remind the board that their actions must echo their words if they want to be trusted and enthusiastically supported

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