Establishing Effective Board Communication

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Establishing Effective Board Communication

Effective board communication is a central tenet of good board leadership and functioning, as it fosters value-added interactions between the board and your organization, accountability and transparency, whilst helping your organization remain in service of its goals.

Board communication can be divided into three categories: intra-board communication, board/staff communication, and external communication from board members to those outside the organization.

Intra-Board Communication

For the sake of effective decision-making, every organization should work to foster positive relationships between board members. In order to develop constructive intra-board relations:

  • Be inclusive & open: Executive leadership, and the board chair, should ensure an inclusive culture that encourages full participation and contribution in the most respectful environment. Effective boards welcome the chance for questions, clarifications, airing of concerns, and informative debates where diverse perspectives are the norm. Multiple opinions are important for laying the foundation for meaningful conversations.
  • Don’t get personal: Board communication that is negative or too focused on personal differences will stifle progress. Addressing negative styles of communication as it occurs will lead to better outcomes. Laying the foundation for positive forms of communication should begin during recruitment. Keep an eye out for board members who have a demonstrated ability towards teamwork.
  • Mix it up: Instead of conducting meetings in the same manner each time or only focusing on administrative matters, you can encourage better and more robust communication between board members by adding some variety to the proceedings. Motivate board members into action by getting them to discuss strategy and provide honest opinions; make discussions more manageable with breakout groups; employ various aids to synthesize and present information in a more interesting way.

Board/Staff Communication

The board and organizational staff are not separate entities. Effective communication between them is important if each is to fulfill their responsibilities adequately. Here are a few recommendations to maximize communication between board members and staff:

  • Onboarding: Before board members begin their appointments, staff should provide a clear and concise overview of the organization’s goals, what is expected of each board member, and training for each role. This will make their transition much easier. Following up with board members regularly is also important to ensure they are comfortable in their positions and not falling behind.
  • Information is key: Board members cannot do their jobs if they are misinformed. Past decisions, current obstacles, organizational strategy, industry trends, and any other key information should be communicated to the board to prevent any surprises and support quality decision-making.
  • No two board members are the same: People process information differently. Some may like spreadsheets and charts while others may prefer people-centered stories and images. Accommodating board members may be time consuming initially but it is worth it in the long run.
  • Two-way street: Just as staff must share information at the board level, the board must also share information with staff, where appropriate. Staff may be more likely to view the work environment as cohesive and collaborative as a result.
  • Be mindful: It is important to foster board/staff communications in the proper way. Given the power imbalance between board and staff, it is preferable that executive leadership acts as the conduit through which information is passed in either direction, and they must approve of all communications, especially from staff to board. Situations where board members may need to engage directly with staff are limited, especially within large organizations. However, instances where this may be required include seeking staff input if the board needs to hire new leadership.

External Communication

Board members are charged with being ambassadors for the organization to the community they serve and their own professional networks. To maximize board members’ external communication, here are a few things for executive leadership and organizational staff to consider:

  • Elevator pitch: Board members should be able to effectively discuss an organization’s mandate with a variety of audiences. Support them in understanding the most important aspects of your organization, so they can deliver a valuable pitch to whomever they are speaking to.
  • Information is (again) key: As discussed above, information is key for board members to fulfil their responsibilities. This is not just in terms of supporting organizational strategy and decision-making, but it also extends to how board members communicate with external actors. Board members must be informed about key messages, updates on programming, and any changes the organization is undergoing so they can present the best and most up-to-date picture.

What else?

Sharing important and relevant information in the most accessible way, reflecting on which communication strategies have led to meaningful change and which have not, and ensuring an environment of transparency, accountability, and where board members and staff feel comfortable in airing concerns–these are all key aspects to consider. Investing in effective board communication is not something that happens on its own. We have seen organizations benefit from designating someone in the office of the President/CEO (such as the Chief of Staff, Executive Assistant, or other high-level professional) to manage board-level communication. Board communication doesn’t happen instantaneously. Rather, it is an ongoing process requiring flexibility and honesty. Choosing to prioritize good board communication will go a long way in promoting successful decision-making at all levels, and enabling your organization to benefit fully from the expertise of your board members.

If you are interested in learning more about effective board communication, please contact Robin Heller, President of RHI, at  robin@rhifundraising.com.

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