Nonprofit Board Toolkit Be an Advocate
Promote a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
As the decision-making body at the highest level of organizational leadership, boards play a critical role in creating an organization that prioritizes, supports, and invests in diversity, equity, and inclusion (BoardSource). Help your organization adopt and implement practices that promote DEI efforts throughout employment practices, boardrooms, communications, and community engagement efforts. By leveraging your time, energy, and resources to encourage that all voices and perspectives are heard, you will help your nonprofit fulfill its mission in inclusive and innovative ways.
As a board leader, your actions to emphasize the importance and value of implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion practices throughout the organization will help others buy into its impact. Ask about the organization’s approach to DEI. If there is not a plan or approach, speak with fellow board members or consider forming a committee or process to:
- Evaluate how diverse, equitable, and inclusive your processes are.
- Identify strengths and weaknesses in this area.
- Build a plan to yield the vast benefits of a comprehensive DEI initiative.
- Put DEI guidelines in place to bolster your organization’s marketing, hiring, training, compensation, retention, and outreach efforts.
According to “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” by the late renowned business professor Katherine W. Phillips, the benefits of a robust DEI program are tangible—people are more creative, more diligent, and harder-working.
Diversity can mean many things, such as differences in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, power, position, and other personal identifiers. It can also encompass the experience of one’s educational pathway and professional expertise.
Board members committed to prioritizing wide-ranging diversity initiatives within their organizations help generate improved information gathering and streamlined decision-making processes. Building diverse groups can also increase productivity, according to research from University of Michigan professor Scott E. Page, as well as innovation, according to an article by Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor at Booth and academic director of university-wide entrepreneurship content.
As a board member, leverage your own experience and background to embrace fresh ideas and different perspectives, collaborate and develop workable solutions, and challenge norms and assumptions that might otherwise go unchecked.
Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups (Independent Sector). It is different from equality in that the amount of support someone receives may be different from someone else in order to achieve the same goals.
For nonprofits, the aim is to create a culture where everyone has a respected seat at the table and actively participates. It means that every board member, staff, volunteer, and stakeholder is able to access the same opportunities and resources.
Inequity drives talent out of the organization and creates a culture that sacrifices progress for the sake of power. As a board member, advocate for how power is transferred and to whom, ensure that everyone has access to opportunity, and be transparent in how you make your decisions.
Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people (Independent Sector).
Assess your organization’s inclusion approach. Are dissenting opinions welcomed? How are diversified voices given room to disagree, to have their ideas and information regarded as important and welcome?
Consider the effects of discrimination. According to an article by Kilian Huber, assistant professor of economics at Booth, when intolerance prevents individuals from exercising their talents, there tend to be widespread, long-lasting negative economic effects. Attuned board members will work to create an inclusive environment so that all stakeholders are able to fully contribute and add value to the organization.
Tell Compelling Stories
The key to advocating for your organization is your ability to tell a powerful story. Use storytelling as a mechanism for fundraising, networking, boosting volunteerism, and driving diversity and inclusion throughout your organization.
As a board member, you need to be able to convey the value of the organization in a compelling way that makes others want to learn more. Storytelling creates context for understanding and motivates your target audience to take action.
Storytelling adds depth to conversations with former, current, and potential donors, board members, staff, volunteers, and beneficiaries, and improves their ability to connect with and recall specifics. It helps these stakeholders to understand and appreciate the “so what” of your organization’s existence and efforts.
As a board member, you can inject an air of excitement and possibility into board meetings by sharing some relevant stories at board meetings. The stories can create positivity and help focus the efforts of the meeting onto the mission and vision.
Organizations often have an elevator pitch that can direct people to access more resources and make a donation. Know and own the pitch for those moments when storytelling sessions become pitch sessions.
Get to the point. It’s important to be clear and succinct in all your messaging. Be concise; insert embellishments to add flair to your story, but move quickly to why the organization exists and what you personally hope it will accomplish and for whom.
Appeal to your listener’s emotions. Keep the story focused on the “why” of your organization: the person or thing that benefits from the nonprofit’s work. Use compelling facts and figures, but only to support what you’re saying and give your story depth.
Tell a story about one person. It’s far easier for a listener or reader to empathize with the story of one person than with the story of thousands. However, you also have to know your audience, specifically what’s important to them. For example, if you know that your prospective supporter is most concerned about leaving a legacy, you could share a story about a legacy donor’s involvement, personal motivations for the donation, and the impact of the gift. It is helpful to have a handful of stories prepared, so you can tailor your story to resonate. Incorporate visuals or infographics to make your story memorable.
Look for stories. Very seldom will a story come to you. Often, you will need to do a bit of sleuthing among staff, volunteers, donors, and beneficiaries to familiarize yourself with the most compelling stories. Make it a personal priority to collect stories from all stakeholders. This insight will help you advocate for the organization and support your rationale for decisions you make as a board member.
Make it personal. Highlight how giving can benefit donors and supporters themselves—as well as the group you are trying to help. In research on donor motivations, “we found that messaging matters,” said John List, the Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at Chicago Booth. “People give in part because they feel good from the act of giving.” For example, focus on how donors helped your organization feed three meals today to a hungry child (rather than dwell on the child’s food insecurity).
Include a clear call to action. Remember, you’re telling a story and want it to be relevant to your listener or reader. Before you tell a story, determine how you can further engage with this individual. If they’re interested in learning more or getting involved, direct them to a resource or next step.
Engage in Fundraising
Board member involvement is critical to the successful direction of a nonprofit. Board members also help secure funds that ensure the organization can provide sustainable impact.
To understand how the organization intends to draw in revenue, you need to review and understand current and past fundraising plan(s). These plans provide a timeline for fundraising efforts, the type and financial goals for each initiative, and the overall annual fiscal budget. Plans may also spell out fundraising expectations for board members.
Many nonprofits encourage philanthropic giving among board members, with organizations often setting “give or get” policies that require board members to either raise an annual donation or give it personally. In some cases, these plans might be a segment of the larger marketing or communications plans.
The current plan should specify which fundraising methods and systems are in place and active, as well as the fundraising goal for the next one to three years. It may also detail how collected funds will be allocated and distributed toward the mission. It typically also shows the impact of the funds on the mission in recent years, effectively justifying goals and corresponding strategies.
A comprehensive understanding of the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts and the board members’ fundraising responsibilities will help you determine how best to support your organization.
The gift acceptance policy (GAP) is a document that outlines the nonprofit’s rules and restrictions regarding the acceptance of gifts, including which types it will accept, how it classifies conflicts of interest, and what restrictions, if any, it puts on gift acceptance.
The GAP also outlines the organization’s criteria for collecting cash and noncash gifts and endowments, and helps explain the nonprofit’s process for obtaining a donation. For example, you don’t want to end up holding a donation check made out to your personal name.
Behavioral scientists and economists are making new discoveries all the time about what inspires people to give, and to give more. According to research by Booth faculty and coauthors, making personal appeals, using moral budgets, and understanding a donor’s emotional, psychological, and social motivations for giving can help you develop effective strategies.
In recent years, nonprofits have been increasingly diligent about the development and usage of a donor bill of rights. This document is typically organized by a set of articles that highlight the rights donors are entitled to in their dealings with the organization. These rights include the rights to transparency, privacy, recognition, access to information, and an understanding of who is serving the organization.
Effective board members take the time to understand the organization’s supporters. By knowing the names of the major donors, their backstories, and their interest in the organization, you can maximize your interactions and networking activities, as you can draw from these stories in order to motivate other prospective donors.
Build a Strong Network
Networking helps raise your organization’s visibility. The act alone makes business connections stronger and provides a space in which new and fresh ideas can shed new light on old problems. Networking also provides you with new pathways and perspectives for information and learning, which you can use to make better informed decisions and provide more inspired leadership as a director.
Networking is a deliberate act. You are choosing to connect with people on behalf of your organization so that all parties can benefit. Some tips to help you start networking include:
Know your goal. Understanding why you are networking will go a long way in limiting the amount of energy and time that goes into finding the right connections. For instance, if your goal is to source new volunteers for a highly specified role, then you need to speak to someone who knows that space and the people in it. Otherwise you risk missing opportunities because you’ve chased the wrong lead. Knowing your goal and staying focused will direct you to the right people.
Strike up a conversation. Research by Nicholas Epley, the John Templeton Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and a Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow at Chicago Booth, shows that although people assume strangers are not interested in starting a conversation, the opposite is true.
Make the ask. You can always learn something new from someone else, no matter who they are. If you are looking for specific information, explore your network to identify who can most likely help you find the answer you’re looking for, or who you know that is highly resourceful and can possibly make an introduction on your behalf.
Keep the conversation going. Once you make a new connection, keep the conversation going. Connect on a regular basis. Share your gratitude. Offer to make an introduction to someone who might be a valuable connection.
Volunteers are often the lifeblood of organizational events, acting as brand ambassadors for your nonprofit. As a board member, you are in a unique position to assist with recruiting, engaging with, and retaining volunteers. In addition, working alongside other volunteers is a great way to get an understanding of how the organization delivers on some of its programming and initiatives.
Volunteer recruitment happens at all levels of the organization. As a board member, you are in a position of leadership and responsibility, which includes a commitment to mobilize volunteers. Start by drawing from your own network of personal and professional contacts. Personal, direct asks yield more conversions than simply adding their names and emails to a blanket distribution calling for recruits.
Volunteering is a great way to engage with interested supporters and create future contacts for the organization. In time, they could also become board members or donors. According to a study by Fidelity Charitable, 87 percent of volunteers say there is a relationship between their volunteer behavior and the causes they support financially.
When engaging volunteers, it’s important to match their skills and interests to corresponding roles in the organization. As a board member, you can maximize volunteer impact by advocating for opportunities where volunteers apply their skills and drive in order to meet specific needs identified by the organization. And if it’s within reason and appropriate, consider giving volunteers more prominence in the organization’s communications. Highlight them and their stories if they’re willing. A little recognition, training, and support can go a long way.
Volunteers participate as a way of giving back. Strive to make their experience meaningful as well as story-worthy. Structure volunteer opportunities that create lasting memories and foster engagement and connection.
Next to the board and staff, this group has the next-closest insider look into the heart and the impact of the organization. Build the volunteer experience so they tell good stories. Communicate with volunteers at events. Show them gratitude. Listen to their ideas. Collect their feedback. Be an advocate.
- BoardEffect: Fundraising Rules and Regulations for Nonprofit Organizations
- The Bridgespan Group: Board Members and Personal Contributions
- Chicago Booth Review: Humanity Is Carried on the Voice
- Chicago Booth Review: The Network Is an Entrepreneur’s Best Asset
- Georgetown: A Guide to Strategic and Sustainable Nonprofit Storytelling
- Nonprofit Storytelling Conference: Webinar Series
- The University of Chicago: Reflections on Race: A Multimedia Resource Guide
- YMCA Boston: Social Justice Glossary
- Harvard Business Review: Learn to Love Networking
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