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"How Can A Board Member Be A Strategic Advocate For Your Nonprofit?"

Adapted from Boards Members Rule: How to Be a Strategic Advocate for Your Nonprofit.

Zimmerman Lehman promotes framing your role on the board as a strategic advocate. We believe this approach helps board members to contribute more effectively to their organization and invites them to enjoy higher levels of engagement. As board members develop the skills to ask thoughtful, strategic questions and take smart, tactical actions that promote positive results, they can help organizations better accomplish their missions-which is the purpose of the organization in the first place.

A strategic advocacy perspective embraces bold inquiry, strategic thinking, collaborative problem-solving, and decisive action. Advocacy emboldens you to think critically and act in the best interest of your agency. As an "advocate," a key ingredient is to "speak out, speak up, or take action" intentionally and effectively on issues of concern to your agency.

If speaking up in meetings or public speaking is not your cup of tea, you can always put things in writing or have a private conversation with the board or committee chair or executive director. Your job as a board member requires this critical and creative thinking to govern the organization effectively. The more you can use a strategic advocacy approach, the more responsible a board member you will be.

The traditional role of a nonprofit board member is essential for the sustainability and credibility of the organization. Responsibilities include governance (oversight of operations and finances), support (fundraising, public relations and providing individual expertise), and policy development (mission and vision statements, and planning efforts). Reframing the traditional role to include a strategic advocacy perspective will assist you in ensuring that your agency will enjoy long-term sustainability directed by an engaged, active board of directors.

Board members who have been involved with advocacy will tell you how energizing it is, because it invites a broader perspective, increases the ability to be actively engaged rather than passively reactive, and results in more effective actions and interactions.

As a board member and an advocate, you represent a number of "clients" zealously. You must take the following into consideration when you make decisions:

The organization: the agency on whose board you sit, its members, staff, and volunteers (you should be its strongest backer)

The community: defined by the locale your organization serves (your city, county, nation, or the world) and/or the ethnic/cultural/religious group

Your constituencies: who have a strong interest in your nonprofit-those who use your services or programs (clients, customers, patrons and/or residents)

By suggesting an advocacy perspective, we are asking board members to reframe the issues they consider-to promote the mission and vision of the organization at all times. This broader perspective proposes that board members examine the social, cultural, political, and economic landscapes in which their agencies (and they, as board members) are operating and that they consistently assess (and reassess) whether the current way their nonprofits are 'doing business' is the best way.

To get the best results, you need to know where you want to end up, be it the vision you have for the agency five years from now or the result you want tomorrow. It starts with asking deliberate questions about the results you are looking for and engaging the entire board in lively discussions about options and actions, then developing policies and actions that further the mission and vision of the organization.

Using the creative process to think tactically and intentionally about options, and analyzing those options to choose the best action, are the keys to an advocacy perspective. Taking the most pragmatic approach is strategic. This method is critical to building the motivation for board members to stay well-informed, to hold the nonprofit organization accountable, and to act on the nonprofit's behalf in the community.

Copyright 2007 Zimmerman Lehman.

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Copyright © 2005, Zimmerman Lehman