April 4, 2018

What’s the board’s role in branding?

Figuring out the right people to have in the rebranding process at the right time is a real struggle. In this episode of the Smart Communications Podcast, Big Duck’s VP, Farra Trompeter, and Big Duck’s CEO, share their experiences leading nonprofit rebrands and serving as nonprofit board members, plus provide expert recommendations for defining the board’s role in branding.


Sarah Durham: Okay, hello everybody and hello Farra Trompeter.

Farra Trompeter: Hello, Sarah Durham.

Sarah Durham:
Very excited to have you here again on our podcast. And we though we’d dig into a conversation today that we like to talk about which is the board’s role in the brand process. Or rebranding or brand raising as we like to say here at Big Duck. And this is a thing that Farra and I both work on separately and together with clients and we actually haven’t talked about it in a while so it will be interesting to see where we get. I know this is a project you’re particularly passionate about, why is that?

Farra Trompeter:
I think because, I mean I always want what’s best for all the organizations we work with and I think sometimes we have a moment of too many cooks in the kitchen and that can be too many ducks sometimes, too many staff people, too many board members and I think figuring out the right people to have in the process at the right time, not only in making decision but also in making sure the brand sticks and stays alive is really critical.

Because the branding process, as you well know, is not just about coming up with a new name or a beautiful new logo it’s really about all the pieces but then what happens once launched. How do you keep that brand alive and I think board members can be great ambassadors and can be really used as a wonderful tool to keeping that brand out there and keeping increase the reach, raise more money, whatever the goals were for the branding process and I think sometimes the role of the board just seems to get confused and conflated with that of the staff. And I have, you know, just done a lot of thinking and reading around governance generally, and obviously working here, thinking about how that relates to branding.

Sarah Durham:
So we could maybe draw a spectrum and one end of the spectrum might be a board who has kind of no voice in a branding process or some sort of evolution of communications and maybe their only exposed to the recommendations that are made by the staff, maybe when something’s got to change if it’s brought to them for a vote or even just as a kind of, “Hey, we’ve just changed this”. That would be one end of the spectrum, the other would be what, a board member who is deeply involved or even a board member who maybe did the work. We’ve had that happen.

Farra Trompeter:
I was on a board where there was no communication staff so our communications committee, in essence, was the communications team. So we worked with a staff who only was doing communications part-time but in essence, the role of the communications’ committee was like an extension of the staff. So there are sometimes where boards or committees are actually doing the work.

Sarah Durham:
Right, and my experience if the board has no involvement at all, that end of the spectrum, often that doesn’t go well because they do need to be effective ambassadors and they do have strong feelings and opinions about the organization so they will often not use or rebel against things they had no voice in creating. The other end of the spectrum, I’ve experienced is not the one you have, it’s where a board member, maybe like me or you, with a lot of communications background volunteers to do a lot of stuff pro bono. They volunteer maybe to rebrand the organization, and actually I’ve seen that go badly a number of times too, unfortunately.

I think the reason that goes badly is actually in those processes sometimes the staff feels they have no voice so the board member, at least the ones who are involved in that process, they’re excited to shape the voice of the organization. But, the staff doesn’t feel, because it’s a board member leading the process they can really effectively steer the work. So to me the sweet spot is kind of in the middle. Right, it’s not all or nothing. How about for you?

Farra Trompeter:
Yeah, again I think I’ve seen all different flavors and things that have worked well and haven’t to your point. Yes, I think, you know, the staff needs to own it and the staff need to really be leading the charge and the board should be consulted. Where I have a lot of opinions as to when and how you bring the board in, or what points in the process.

Sarah Durham:
So tell us about that. What are the best points in the process that you think optimally the board should come in to rebrand?

Farra Trompeter:
I think first, we need the board to be on the same page as to why we’re even thinking about changing our brand and we usually think the best time to look at that is during a strategic planning process. Sometimes we’ll see a strategic plan where something very particular to branding or visibility is listed as a goal or a pillar of the strategic plan. Obviously then the boards talked about it. Other times, the strategic plan doesn’t mention branding or communications explicitly but it’s clear that we’re [going to] need to be better known or be clearer about who we are if we are going to accomplish those pillars. So I think talking about communications in the strategic planning process, which usually all the board or members of the board are involved in is important. And making sure people realize there are communications implications.

From there, I think in defining, if you’re going to look at your brand strategy and either change it or define it having board members, at the very least, sharing with them, what that is and seeing if they have any concerns about the direction before you move forward on making any changes, if not involved in the process some way. For us here with our clients, usually some board members are interviewed before we start creating that strategy. Some of whom might even be in our strategy setting process, we call it intensive, not always.

But I think it’s important to say, here’s where we are, here’s again the goal we’re trying to do, here’s the brand strategy we’re trying to create. Any concerns any feedback? And then from there being really clear with the board as to what the staff plans to do. Go through a naming process, look at new logo’s, edit our mission statement. Where I think the board really needs to approve?

I think if you’re going to change your name the board should approve it. I think if you’re going to rewrite your mission statement, because that mission statement shows up everywhere, the board should approve it. Probably the vision statement as well, but I think when we get into things like tag line, logo’s, even those things, board members will have lots of opinion. I actually think if you’re going to have a new logo or tag line, I don’t think the board needs to approve that. I think it could be helpful to share it with the board for feedback, show them two options you’re debating, but I honestly think the logo, tag line, messaging, all of that should just be done with the staff and the staff can approve it. But I’m curious if you feel differently.

Sarah Durham:
No, I agree with that. I mean I think those are functional operational tools. You know I think the challenge with the board’s role in those elements really comes down to buy-in and the confidence that the board will feel using them and being an ambassador with them if they don’t like them or didn’t have a voice in the process. And, I always think it’s really useful when you’re going through a rebrand, very early on, to think about the board members who either are just going to be passionate opinionated people for better or for worse, you know they’re just people who have a lot of ideas and if their ideas aren’t heard, might, maybe create some challenges downstream.

And also, if you’re lucky, you’ve also got board members who have some communications background. They might have marketing experience or media relations experience and they might actually come to this process with some useful insights or resources. So I think sometimes we see staff members feel reticent about involving the board because they are concerned it will get a little out of control or too many people, but actually waiting too long can be a liability because those people will feel like they didn’t have a voice and they might have had resources or expertise to bring to the table. So a lot of it I think, in terms of what the board should see, and how the board should see it depends a lot on the culture and dynamics on that board.

We’ve definitely had clients where the board could care less and they trust the staff and they’re just not that focused on the communications and they don’t really want to be that involved in the process but they do want to see two options at the end for approval or a strong staff recommendation. And then we have other clients where they’re really passionate and hands on with this stuff and they really need to be working side by side with staff in order to feel that they’ve been adequately involved. And so, to me, the biggest opportunity is to ask those questions early on and proactively design the process to embrace what’s going to give you a win at the end not just sort of dodge the challenges you think you might have.

Farra Trompeter:
Yeah, as you were talking I thought of two things that we often talk about. One is having a decision making tool up front and being really clear about whose going to be involved when, whether the whole board, a communication’s committee, the executive committee, members of the staff. We often use either RACI or DARCI or MOCHA, all these are tools that you can Google that help you decide whose basically in charge of making the decision and who else do we need to consult. Whose going to make sure the work gets done? And that can be really helpful to do right at the beginning of the process.

Sarah Durham:
Before you go on I just want to say, I’m a fan of DARCI. For those of you who don’t know RACI, DARI and MOCHA. DARCI for instance is Decision maker, Accountable, Responsible Consulted and Informed. I think that’s what, that’s an acronym. And having an acronym like that and saying okay, so who is the decision maker here? Who is accountable here, that’s what useful about those tools. Proactively having that conversion. What was your second thought?

Farra Trompeter:
You and I have often talked about a great fundraiser, Kaye Sprinkel Grace, she talks about how boards should be triple A. Ambassadors, Advocates and Askers, and I’ve used that model with some of our clients and with the boards I’m on and I think that as you’re designing the process in the beginning, ask yourself what do I need to do to really equip my board and empower my board to be an asker, to be an advocate, and to be an ambassador. It’s easy to think about ambassadors, again we think about that all the time. But what else is going to give your board members the passion and the tools so that they can advocate for you and they can also ask for you and raise money on your behalf and if you really want your board to be more actively involved in supporting you as you try and grow, thinking about how and when to involve the, I should mention also, at the end of the process we always do a messaging training, we want to make sure the board knows how to speak about you, but what else beyond that do you need to do?

Sarah Durham:
To empower them. That’s great, okay so. One parting piece of advice for nonprofit communicators who are now thinking about the board’s role in a rebrand process?

Farra Trompeter:
I think just to think about all the tools we were just saying. Ask in the beginning how can I best empower my board to really be excited and involved and try not to see it as a barrier.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, and my parting piece of advice is similar and it’s really just to open up a candid discussion with people beforehand. Sometimes if you just sat down with that board member and said, “Hey, I’m going through this process, how would you like to be involved? Let’s talk about how to have you constructively in the process”, You’ll just get out on the table everything you need to know and save a lot of time and effort later. Alright.

Thanks for joining me. We’ve got, I think, some related articles we’re going to link to in the show notes for this one and keep us posted if you’re listening to this and you have any experiences you want to share, we’d love to hear them.

The Smart Communications Podcast is hosted by Sarah Durham, CEO of Big Duck and produced by Marcus DePaula. Our music is by Broke for Free.

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