February 21, 2020
You’re a tireless advocate for your cause—the Executive Director on the front lines, overseeing countless projects and deadlines, or the Director of Development, committed to raising the funds to accomplish your mission. You’re doing all the right things, making the right connections, spreading the word far and wide, but you also know that your organization needs to level up—with professional, nonprofit digital marketing.
You know you need a new website, or that you need to invest in paid social media. Maybe it’s overhauling an archaic donor management system or building that mobile app to improve volunteer coordination. You see the need, clear as day. But there’s something stopping you. Is it time? The right team? Funding? No. We both know what it is, so let’s just come out and say it. It’s…
Okay, I’m being dramatic. Your board acts as a steward, providing experience and oversight. If they’re doing their job, they should be thoroughly questioning major expenditures of all sorts. But when it comes to making investments in digital marketing and technology, we’ve seen some nonprofit boards delay or even entirely put off necessary investments. And that holds everyone back.
Based on our experience working with non-profit leadership, here are the three most commonly cited board concerns we’ve heard—and that you might now be facing—and how you can address them:
Why do we even need this?
What’s the ROI?
Why does this cost so much?
Each of these concerns requires its own discussion, and I’ll be dedicating a post to each as part of a series. Today I’ll be talking about persuading reluctant board members to make the investment in a nonprofit digital marketing agency in the first place.
Why do we even need this?
Even though we’re living in a digital-first world, you will likely encounter board members that still might not see the need to invest seriously in digital infrastructure. There are multiple reasons for this pushback:
These are all different challenges, and your first step is to discover which one (or combination) is driving resistance. In our experience, it only takes a conversation to understand what the worries are.
In any of these situations, you’ll need to consider the individuals involved before making your case. Acknowledging concerns and ensuring that board members are heard and understood is a critical first step in order for these conversations to happen. If you’re not able to show that you relate to the board member(s)—even if you don’t fully agree with them—you’ll be at a disadvantage.
In persuading a complacent board to adopt digital tools and practices, you’ll by definition be rocking the boat—introducing a new and perhaps strange tool or program into what was a safe and comfortable space. Accordingly, your approach will need to provide reassurance and emphasize that everything will be okay.
Your job here will be to establish how this tool or program is mission-critical; i.e., that if the organization doesn’t proceed down this path, it will be left behind. There are many ways to establish this position, and your specific approach will depend upon your needs, but here are a few directions to consider:
If you’ve identified a fear of technology as the factor that’s preventing board members from embracing a digital investment, exposure is the key. By gently introducing the individuals in question to the proposed tool or initiative, you can begin to allay their fears.
This last form of resistance is gaining in relevance, as the need for paid social media becomes necessary to counter declining organic reach. We’ve found that organizations that have grown organically in the past, without the support of marketing campaigns or online positioning efforts are most susceptible to this concern, worrying that a reputation that has been built over decades might be now be sullied by “advertising.”
Making the case that your storied organization needs a foothold in an increasingly competitive market, you can help sway reluctant board members by:
As you hold these interactions with your board, it’s important to strike a gentle, optimistic and reassuring tone. Yes, many of the approaches I cite above focus on the opportunity cost of not doing something, but all are rooted in education and guidance. Throughout your discussions, it’s important to keep an open mind; recall that the board just wants what it feels is best for the organization. You can meet that concern by underscoring that the “old ways” don’t necessarily need to end. Rather, they can be supported and supplemented through the latest technology and nonprofit digital marketing strategy.
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