Three real-world ways to involve your board in your nonprofit’s rebrand
This post was originally published on May 29, 2014.
When an organization is rebranding, the board’s involvement is critical, and, to be totally honest, very tricky. The board needs to feel confident that the organization’s new brand and communications materials are reflective of their point of view, which can be very different from staff’s. Staff members want to shape and direct the new brand because they have to live with it. They also know from experience what will and won’t work, in practical terms.
The culture and dynamics of board meetings can play an unexpectedly big role in how branding–or, really any–work is received and responded to. We’ve seen boards embrace the improbable, reject ideas the staff felt confident would be a slam-dunk, and surprise us in various ways over the years. The one conclusion I’ve safely drawn is that thinking about when, how, and who works with the board is often as important as the work itself.
Here are a few tips I’ve found really help keep a rebranding process focused and productive while giving the board a voice in the process.
1. Include a few key board members in the process, and expect them to promote it to the rest of the board.
When we’re helping an organization go through our brandraising process, we often collaborate with a committee that includes both staff and board members. Ideally, that committee is small but mighty, and has the authority to approve the work, too.
The ideal committee has 5-10 people on it. It includes the executive director, head of development, head of communications, board chair, and perhaps other highly respected board members (ideally ones with marketing or fundraising clout).
Board members on this committee should know that their role is a two-way street; they are the bridge between the work and the board. They will represent board members’ opinions and views to make sure work reflects the board’s unique perspective (not just their own individual perspective). Secondly, they will communicate back to the board about the work, ideally explaining it and advocating for it. When questions emerge, they might ‘workshop’ something with other board members, seeking advice or input where helpful, and reporting back to the committee.
Last year, we worked with a particularly fabulous board member during one rebrand. He not only offered useful suggestions at the committee level, but he presented the work effectively to his board colleagues, explained it, and fought for it, when needed. He was deeply engaged in the process, passionate about keeping it focused on the best ideas, and willing to fight for it. We love that guy! Much more importantly, the end result was much stronger because of him.
2. Invite the board’s honest feedback at key junctures along the way.
Nobody likes big surprises or to be told about decisions made long ago that affect them deeply. On the other hand, involving everyone everywhere is inefficient and will take much longer than necessary. Worse than that, it typically leads to everyone’s ideas getting Frankensteined together, creating a veritable monster you’ll probably regret.
Have the people involved in the process keep the board in the loop along the way by reporting at board meetings, calling people with updates, or sending emails. Ideally, look for places where the work is far enough along that you feel it’s on the right track but not totally done, and invite their feedback.
We recently presented draft vision, mission, and values statements at an organization’s board meeting. The drafts were close, but not quite done, so it was the perfect time to get a fresh perspective on them. After the strategy and process were explained to the board, the executive director and board members involved in the process added their support for the work and asked for candid feedback. Board members chimed in with what they liked and what they felt might be missing. Ideas were explored and debated. The next draft integrated the ideas the executive director supported. When the final version was presented to the full board, it felt familiar, reflective of that earlier discussion, and the board already understood the thinking behind it. After a brief discussion and thanks to the committee for their hard work on it, it was approved by the full board for adoption.
3. Tell your board where they get to offer input–and where they don’t.
I recently presented at a board meeting where my job was to update the board on a process that involved comprehensive changes to their messaging and visual identity. Before I began my presentation, the executive director did something we ask every client to do: she set me up for success. She reminded the board why they’d hired Big Duck in the first place, underscored her confidence in our expertise, and reminded the board that while they are Captains of Industry, the firm they’d hired are Captains of Nonprofit Communications. She told them the board’s role was to offer feedback and reactions, not to suggest colors or wordsmith. “We’ve hired people who do this for a living,” she reminded them, “and our conversations with you should be focused on a higher level.”
It worked like a charm. The board was focused, offered great feedback about what they liked and what concerned them. We left with a clear sense of where we had their support, where more work was needed, and what refinements should be made.
No matter who’s presenting, helping the board stay focused on when and how they get to play a role in the process is productive. Many people, especially board members who are less experienced in the ways of nonprofits, appreciate the guidance on when and how to offer input.
How do you and your board work together to ensure outcomes both staff and board can agree on and feel good about?