Three Strategies for Effective Communication Between Your Board and Members
One association CEO shares how his organization has created opportunities for board members to better understand member needs. Doing so has helped promote transparency and allowed the broader community to be heard.
Every board wants to feel like they understand the association’s members and their needs. But that’s not always easy, especially since every organization is composed of members with different viewpoints and backgrounds.
“The board wants to understand the wishes of the membership and feel like they are connected,” said John Segota, CAE, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). “The board feels it’s part of their stewardship responsibility to be responsive to members.”
Though the board might believe it knows what members want, associations can often do more to help board members gather direct feedback from different voices and outlets, instead of relying on anecdotal information.
Segota shared how NAGC uses a variety of platforms, holds virtual town halls, and encourages conversation during in-person events to help its board better understand the needs of the broader membership and promote transparency.
Segota recommends associations take a holistic approach to communication and use multiple tools to listen and collect feedback.
“We have some members who are very engaged online but may not come to our convention regularly and vice versa,” he said. “You want to gather input from different voices and diverse audiences.”
For example, an online community can be a great space to initiate communication between the board and members. It will also help board members learn about member concerns.
“Boards can lead by example by actively engaging in discussions,” Segota said. “This can enhance their visibility among the membership and demonstrate that the board is making efforts to connect with members.”
A blog can also help boards share information and gain insight from members. When Segota’s former association was undergoing a governance review, a taskforce that was collecting information and reporting to the board also posted information on the association’s blog and encouraged members to share feedback in the comments.
“We did this to create transparency and interaction, so all members had a chance to see what was going on and give feedback that everyone could see,” Segota said.
Virtual Town Halls
Having the board host a virtual town hall can help members feel like they are being seen and heard.
“[Virtual town halls] had a significant impact culturally on NAGC,” Segota said. “It helped us confront some feelings of mistrust and perceptions of opaqueness among some sectors in the membership.”
If an association decides to host a town hall, Segota recommends framing it around a specific issue and kicking it off with a short, scripted presentation that addresses key points before opening the floor to comments. Town halls without a focus can be challenging for the board and staff if they aren’t prepared to respond to questions and concerns.
Segota also suggests having a structured format for comments. NAGC asks participants to raise their hand to speak, gives them a two-minute time limit, and assigns roles to staff and board members to keep time and monitor the queue of participants who want to speak.
“We have had members express gratitude for the opportunity and support for a particular issue, which is great for boards to hear, especially if it is unexpected,” Segota said. “The format also enables members who aren’t connected to the traditional leadership circles in an association to have their voices heard.”
In addition, in-person meetings are opportunities for intentional face-to-face conversations between the board and members. Segota recommends giving talking points to board members on key issues that they may get asked about.
“The talking points are a resource to support board members in their role as ambassadors for the association,” Segota said. “They include relevant information on key questions and topics, so they can be better equipped to respond to questions and also stay on message.”
While your annual conference can be a good space to hold these face-to-face meetings, any of your association’s in-person events can be occasions for your board to engage with the community.
“NAGC has a network of state-based affiliates, and most of our board members attend their local state conferences,” Segota said. “These can be great listening opportunities for board members to engage with members.”