Right on the Money: Three Ways Boards Can Help Youth-Serving Organizations Put Their Best Face Forward

Photograph of a diverse group of young men and women looking at the camera.

When the economy soured in 2008, Barbara Mueth knew she couldn’t be complacent. As chair of the board for reStart Inc., which serves the homeless of Kansas City, MO, she watched as the need for services increased while giving to the organization held steady.

Mueth decided it was a good time to get her fellow board members to fully embrace their roles as spokespeople for the organization and its cause. Mueth’s thinking went like this: If board members made a public display of their commitment, they could make a stronger case for other people to get involved, whether by donating money or giving their time.

As advocates, she says, board members have greater credibility than staff. “We’re not paid to speak on behalf of a program. It’s the opposite, in fact: we’re volunteers for their cause.”

Mueth and Pat Corrick, board chair of Youth Homes in western Montana, shared with NCFY three ways you can prepare your board to be your organization’s public face:

1. Coordinate everyone’s elevator speeches. Mueth says until a few years ago, her fellow reStart board members had never discussed or compared their short “elevator” pitches to potential volunteers, donors and supporters. Sensing that a coordinated message would make their pitches more forceful and convincing, Mueth drafted some key talking points for everyone to use when introducing reStart.

“People have to understand the organization and your personal commitment to it before you ask them to actually donate money to it,” Mueth says. “So making our key messages more consistent seemed to be a key first step.”

2. Introduce board members to staff. Corrick stresses that open communication with frontline and administrative workers is essential if board members are going to be effective pitchmen for the cause. He says executive directors, who are most often the bridge between board and staff, should encourage board members to visit the program’s sites and learn about the work being done there daily.

At reStart, Barbara Mueth has implemented what she calls a “Minute for Mission” at each board meeting. “We take 10 minutes to have a staff member come in and educate the board about what they’re doing,” she says.

Mueth says the briefings have given board members a better understanding of what each program does, and that knowledge comes across when they promote reStart’s work to others.

3. Encourage board members to take on public events and projects. Along with his board colleagues, Corrick collaborates with Youth Homes’ director of development on events and projects that bring visibility to the organization and its cause of assisting abused and neglected children and youth. The board hosts an annual party for donors, helps organize runners in the Missoula Marathon to raise money for young people, and has overseen a major renovation to the program’s group home.

In every case, Corrick says, the board has not only helped gather sponsors and invite attendees but also volunteered their own time to work a booth at the marathon or help with construction.

“Our board members have varied skill sets including law, finance and accounting, marketing, cultural awareness, and construction and development,” Corrick says. Why not put all those talents to use?

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