Having others compliment you always is more meaningful than saying it yourself, and there should be no better cheerleaders than your Board. So how can you leverage your Board to help with your advocacy efforts?
Start by taking a survey of your Board Members’ home and workplace addresses, compiling a list of their city councilors, MPPs and MPs. This might immediately tell you something – is your Board concentrated in one area, or does it represent a larger catchment? Does it speak to the reach and impact your company is looking to have? Perhaps this is a consideration when recruiting new Board Members. The political figures from these ridings represent your easiest audience, and most will be happy to hear from a constituent. Start with those meetings, on a regular basis, and as part of those meetings, ask them to recommend who else you should be meeting with and give you an introduction.
Find out political affiliations from your Board Members. This can be a sensitive topic, and not everyone has clear cut party connections, but have the conversation as part of their orientation. It is important to reinforce that all political view points are worthwhile, and the organization is stronger if it can demonstrate it has support from a broad base of stakeholders. Does everyone around the table align with one political viewpoint? Diversity of thought and experience might also be a priority for Board recruitment.
Where the charitable organization cannot make financial contributions to political fundraisers, individual Board Members are free to do so. Do they contribute financially to any political parties? Have they attended fundraisers in the past? Does their place of business buy tables at these events? Ask to be included as a guest.
At the start of every fiscal year I prepare an Advocacy Overview that outlines our objectives for the year. This includes an outline of granting programs (operating and project), their priorities, and our targeted ask; a summary of sector initiatives and where those efforts are at; and key figures we’ll be hoping to meet with. This holds you accountable, but often Board Members will then volunteer information that may be of assistance.
As you work through the plan, one approach is to assign Board Members as relationship managers – either of an individual or a party. This distributes the workload, and creates a manageable focused task. Encourage them to strengthen those ties, so that should the need arise, there is a relationship already in place. Encourage them to look beyond just the elected officials. Who are the policy advisors, the campaign managers, the donors that have access and are respected voices within the decision making process?
Bringing a Board Member along to meet with representatives give you a powerful ally in your corner. Don’t be afraid of making the message personal – have them share about why they believe in your company, the work you are doing to benefit the community, and why they volunteer their time for this cause. Political campaigns are powered by volunteers, and genuine passion always speaks loudest.
Most importantly, make sure your Board Members are informed. Explain the various programs and agencies and their role and function and how key figures fall within the decision making tree. There’s not much point complaining about peer jury grant results to a politician, since the process is intentionally arms length.
Finally, keep them updated. When you get good news, ask your Board to write a letter of thanks (using your template of course), and c.c. their representative. You never know who they will bump into at events, so circulate Key Messages and Elevator Pitches for them to use, especially heading into Holiday season. Encourage them to report back to you, so you can keep track and follow up with an invitation to your next performance.
Advocacy can be a big job, but with a little work, you can utilize your Board to help lighten the load.
Director of Communications