Using Social Media in the Nonprofit Board Development Process

Marian Casey, CharityChannel Contributor
By Marian Casey
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Originally published at Charity Channel – http://www.charitychannel.com

Finding and maintaining a skilled and diverse board is an ongoing and important challenge for nonprofit organizations—particularly if you acknowledge that the success of a nonprofit organization is often linked to the effectiveness of its board of directors. Depending upon its size, mission, and finances, a nonprofit organization may have a wide variety of methods it can use for recruiting and developing its board members. In this series of articles I will focus on the role that social media tools can play in board development.

I have served on a several nonprofit boards, which led me in my most recent board position to create a framework that addresses three distinct stages of board development where social media can be helpful:

  • Stage One: Identify and Recruit Potential Board Members
  • Stage Two: Orient New Board Members
  • Stage Three: Ongoing Board Member Education

This article focuses on stage one. The second article in this series will cover the other two stages.

For many nonprofits, social media is regularly used as a tool to connect with constituents, share information, fundraise, and recruit volunteers. With social media, nonprofits have a new communication channel to share their message on a much larger scale. According to the 2011 NPO social network benchmark report , the top five commercial social networks used by nonprofits are Facebook (89 percent), Twitter (57 percent), YouTube (47 percent) LinkedIn (30 percent) and Flickr (19 percent).

As you plan to integrate social media tools into your board development process,

Don’t take a board member’s familiarity with social media for granted. Many board members have limited experience with or don’t fully appreciate the benefit of using such tools and thus may also have limited interest in using social media in their board work. However, many board members may already use LinkedIn in their professional life and are familiar with its features. Learn what is true for your board members. Educate all board members and clearly communicate the benefits of using social media in board development. It is helpful for the board, with key staff, to develop a plan for the use of social media tools that includes expected outcomes for its use in board development, the specific tools to be used to achieve those outcomes and guidelines for their use.

Stage 1 – Identify and Recruit Potential Board Members

Social media is a great tool for recruiting board members. But your first step is to focus on being clear about your needs. The skills needed on a board are a key factor in establishing criteria for new board members and may be driven by current organizational needs or a requirement for expertise in a specific industry (e.g., marketing, human resources, law, business, etc.). New or early-stage boards will also have a different skill set need than boards governing a mature and fully-functioning organization.

LinkedIn

Of the many possible social media tools for board recruiting — specifically, identifying prospects — I like LinkedIn. Three particularly useful LinkedIn tools are: LinkedIn Profile, LinkedIn Board Connect for Nonprofits, and LinkedIn Groups.

LinkedIn Profile. I encourage all nonprofit board members to create a LinkedIn profile that includes their current board service (and their nonprofit organization’s website) and then invite all fellow board members to connect. In this way, the board develops a built-in network with lots of prospects with very little effort and many opportunities for expansion.

With the list of qualities and skills being sought, the member or members accompanied by others (think “review party”) can review their contacts to identify prospects. Current board members should also post status updates on their LinkedIn accounts with information about the organization or even a request that interested parties contact them about serving on the board.

LinkedIn Board Connect for Nonprofits. LinkedIn recently launched a new tool for identifying board members called Board Connect for Nonprofits, a board-recruiting program that allows nonprofits access to LinkedIn’s 175+ million professionals in order to search for board members. Instructions on how nonprofit organizations (must be a registered 501 (c)(3) based in the United States) can sign-up and benefit from LinkedIn Board Connect are provided at LinkedIn’s Nonprofit Page ( http://nonprofits.linkedin.com ). I also recommend you join the Board Connect LinkedIn Group ( http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=4617528 ) for updates and networking opportunities with other nonprofit boards.

LinkedIn Groups. Joining LinkedIn Groups is another way to identify potential board members. There are over one million LinkedIn groups across several industries and subject matters, including nonprofit board governance. To search for groups on LinkedIn, click on the Groups icon at the top of your profile page and click on the “Group Directory” pull-down tab. On the Group Directory page is a search box where you can list your search terms. You can search for terms related to your organization’s mission or program area, or groups that are experts in a specific skill area you need on your board.

Once potential board members are identified, the next step in the recruitment process is ensuring that the board candidate becomes familiar with your organization’s mission, programs, and strategy, as well as the board’s expectations, processes, finances, bylaws, and goals. There are multiple social media resources a nonprofit can use to introduce and prepare a prospect for board service including its website, Facebook page, Twitter or blog. Another is Google Drive (formerly called Google Docs).

Google Docs ( http://docs.google.com ) now known as Google Drive ( http://drive.google.com ), is a social media resource nonprofit boards can use to store, organize and share board documents. Google Drive offers the same document storage and editing features as Google docs as well as increased cloud storage, picture uploads, smart tagging and image recognition. Those organizations currently using Google Docs will be directed to Google Drive when they log into their Google Docs site.

Many types of documents can be stored on Google Drive including text documents, presentations, images, audio files, and spreadsheets. The creator or owner of a document in Google Drive can share the document with one or many people by setting specific access rights. A nice feature of Google Drive is the ability to collaborate in real-time, which allows multiple parties to edit and view a document simultaneously and on different devices (iPad, mobile phone, computer). This is especially helpful when board committees are working together on a document but find themselves in different locations.

Documents stored in Google Drive can be organized by collection or topic. In the Google Drive site I created for one nonprofit board, I organized the board documents into collections around board orientation, board meetings, and board committees. We also created a separate topic folder for marketing materials, which made it easier for board members to access and review these materials before meeting with prospective board members. We found this to be an invaluable tool since many of our board documents had previously been available only in paper form. Uploading our documents to Google Drive allowed new and current board members easy access to material they needed and also assured that only the most recent version of documents were being used or distributed.

Stage 2: Orient New Board Members

Board members come to a nonprofit board with different levels of knowledge about nonprofit board functions. All new board members can benefit from an orientation regarding your organization and board processes, especially if you expect them to be fully prepared and ready to participate in board meetings. Orientation can be a one-time event or can occur over a series of sessions as you introduce different materials about your nonprofit and nonprofit board roles. Some boards orient new members by assigning a senior board member as a mentor.

Webinars and YouTube videos are wonderful social media tools to use in the orientation stage, both for their ability to provide board education on demand (i.e., when and where it is convenient for a board member) and to do that in a format that engages learners. Creating a YouTube video or webinar is not complicated and requires only a computer with a camera and microphone. Nonprofit organizations can create a branded YouTubechannel to store videos, including board development videos. The process for creating a branded YouTube channel can be found at the “Creating a Brand Channel” ( http://bit.ly/Vxbj0c ).

A webinar can be created using different types of approaches; for example, a PowerPoint of your orientation materials or a narrator walking a viewer through a shared screen of orientation materials on a computer. You can enlist a board member to narrate the webinar, which, once recorded, can be stored on your board’s Google Drive site. The webinar can be used to orient subsequent new board members or even as a refresher course for current board members.

Free or paid webinar platforms are available to create your webinars, including WiZiQ ( http://www.wiziq.com ) andReadyTalk. TechSoup, http://techsoup.org , is an organization that provides information on how to create webinars and donates certain webinar tools.

Stage 3: Ongoing Board Member Education

Board development doesn’t end after orientation and should include a strategy for continuous learning.

Board development should be structured like the professional development conducted by other industries, which includes an ongoing education component. Continuing education is good practice and provides learning opportunities that help board members hone their skills and remain engaged.

In addition to instruction on basic nonprofit board duties, which are described and available from many resources, board members need instruction in what are referred to as “soft skills.” Soft skills that are important to board members include collaboration, being part of a team, listening skills, conflict resolution, and other meeting practices. Learning these “soft skills” helps board members operate in an effective manner and deal with transitions.

A good way to identify the specific training needs for your board is to have members complete individual board assessments on a regular basis. These assessments offer board development or governance committees a good idea of where they can focus their continuing learning efforts.

Time is a precious commodity for everyone these days and can be a barrier to implementing ongoing board education. Most nonprofit board members participate on a volunteer basis while also leading busy professional and personal lives. Boards meet on a regular basis but are often reluctant to extend their regular board meetings for board development sessions.

Social media tools offer flexibility in how and when board training can be delivered. Social media tools such as blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and webinars can be accessed from a computer at any time. These tools can be added as a resource for training in governance or for educating board members in other subject areas such as fundraising, strategic planning, or decision-making. A great feature of these social media tools is their ability to connect people from different geographies and cultures—bringing a broader collective knowledge about board development issues.

Many individuals are familiar with Facebook, one of the most used of the social media tools. Depending on your board members’ comfort level with Facebook, it can be used as a forum for board members to collaborate or share information. Boards can create their own Facebook page and set privacy settings that restrict access to only board members. Facebook is easy to use and allows participants to upload information in different formats such as videos, pictures, documents, and text. One caveat is that board members should be cautious about discussing specific board issues on their Facebook site, since doing so may violate so-called open meetings act laws.

How could you begin using blogs, Twitter, and webinars as part of your ongoing board education? Begin with the “end in mind” by creating your board development goals and then developing a strategy around how you can use one or all of these tools to achieve them.

First, identify your board’s education needs, which can be accomplished through formal board assessment, short survey, or in a board discussion. Once you determine the areas on which you’d like to focus, do a search for that topic on Google.

If you want to search specifically for blogs by subject, you can use Technorati ( http://technorati.com ), a search engine dedicated to the blogosphere. It is limited to searches for blogs and is currently tracking over 20 million blog sites.

Since the focus of this article is on board development, I searched for blogs in this topic area. Here are a few that I found helpful:

Twitter is another potentially useful resource for board education. A user can follow others who tweet about specific subjects; you can also participate in “tweetchats,” in which a group of twitter users connect for a certain time to discuss a specific topic or question. They connect with each other by referencing a specific hashtag or Twitter handle in their tweets such, as “#boarded.” You can find people to follow at Twitter Search ( http://www.twitter.com/search ). Here are some tweeters that tweet about nonprofit board topics:

  • Foundation Center DC ‏ @ FCWashington
  • BoardSource @BoardSource
  • Chronicle @Chronicle
  • 1h NonprofitOrgs ‏ @ nonprofitorgs

Webinars and videos are social media tools that also can play an important role in board learning. I like webinars as a learning tool since they have both a visual and audio component, and can be watched at any time on many different devices. They are usually recorded so you can start and stop them as needed. I found some very informative webinars on board governance and development at NonProfit Webinars ( http://nonprofitwebinars.com ) and did I mention they are free. Nonprofit webinars are led by industry experts and cover a great deal of topics that are relevant to new and seasoned board members. It’s easy to add these webinars to your ongoing board education through simple email invitations to board members. Wild Apricot ( http://www.wildapricot.com ) is another site that offers free webinars on nonprofit topics, including nonprofit fundraising. Get on their email list and they will notify you of monthly free nonprofit webinars.

YouTubeis also a great resource for board development. In fact, I was surprised by how many videos I found in the area of board development including one from the Stanford University

Graduate School of Business entitled Effective Nonprofit Boards – Tools of the Trade ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMkLgZl3CgM&feature=channel) and a series of YouTube videos on the Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards by BoardSource ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eohH4oiF-x0&feature=related) . Although these videos are sometimes a little out of date, they provide an excellent overview of nonprofit board responsibilities that can be included in any of the three stages of Board Development.

LinkedIn can also be used in the board education stage of development. I found it to be a helpful learning resource in my role as board member of a Chicago Charter School. Despite extensive research in the area, I found little information on organizational and board issues related to charter schools. I wanted a forum to discuss charter school issues on a national level and decided to create a LinkedIn group that focused on this topic. The LinkedIn group is called Charter School Board Connection and has been a valuable resource for learning more about how other charter school boards address organizational and board issues.

Here are some LinkedIn groups related to board governance and development:

Nonprofit board members have important duties and responsibilities requiring particular skills and talents. Creating an effective board development process that equips board members to perform more effectively is good for the organization and helps the board achieve their strategic objectives. Social media tools provide nonprofit boards with additional options for creating and implementing board development objectives.