Nonprofit consultant Terrie Temkin (Miami, Fla., TerrieTemkin@CoreStrategies4Nonprofits.com) believes social media can be a powerful tool for helping your board members engage more deeply with your organization.
That said, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should never be your primary method for communicating with your board.
“Facebook can be a tool to educate the board and to allow the board to see what the community is seeing and responding to,” Temkin said. “But I don’t see it as a tool for board communication.”
Social media can also be a terrific way for board members to obtain timely, current information about the nonprofit. “Yes, yes, yes, that can be a great way to use these tools,” Temkin said. “They can not only be used to seek out that information but to get it out there as a board member—for her to use her own social media to promote the organization.”
A few minutes a day or even a week spent on the board member’s personal social media on behalf of the organization can pay dividends, Temkin said.
“I believe the board use of social media can work both ways,” Temkin said. Social media can be a tool for board members to hear from the community about what it is thinking—and then using that critical information in decision-making—but also in getting the word out about the organization, she said.
One thing to keep in mind about social media, Temkin said, is that unfiltered feedback the board member receives may be uncomfortable to the executive but still very useful feedback for the board.
“In some ways, [the feedback] is fabulous,” she said. If a board member reads some comments on social media and has questions for the executive, you should pay close attention, Temkin said. “If a board member has questions, then others in your community have them as well,” she said.
This kind of interaction can give the organization an opportunity, Temkin said. “For instance, if a sensitive issue is being discussed on social media, the organization can plan on how to present it to the community,” she said. Or, clarification issues can arise. A board member may misinterpret something in the organization’s social media. If the board member interpreted wrongly, it is likely the community did too. “You have to figure out how to respond,” she said.
What may be a bit uncomfortable for some executives initially can actually have a long-term positive benefit, Temkin said, because of the nature of the board member’s job, she said.
“What is a board member’s job? Asking questions,” Temkin said. “That’s really important.”
“If someone were to ask me for the most important job of a director, I would respond that it is to ask questions, push back and challenge,” she said. Too many executive directors do not like this and operate from a fiefdom mindset, she said.
When this is the CEO’s attitude, the organization doesn’t grow and change. “In the natural world, stasis is the edge of death,” Temkin said. “If you are not continuing to grow, then you die.”
So if a board member asking questions about the organization’s social media makes the executive director squirm, she needs to change her mindset and learn to see this as a gift, Temkin said.
Temkin said that one of her colleagues, Steven Bowman, discusses the person who is constantly questioning what you are doing as a gift to the organization. “That is the board member you should be saying ‘Thank you’ to,” she said. “He is giving you an opportunity.”
If, due to the organization’s social media, board members begin to ask you for information and answers more quickly, that is another positive sign, Temkin said. “If the board is asking for more current information, that is great, because it shows that they are engaged,” she said.
“The two areas I get requests on all the time are how to recruit board members and how to engage board members,” she said. “A board member responding to the organization’s social media is engaged.”
An incident explodes on social media. How do you respond?
When news of a problem at the organization starts to spread on social media, the organization needs to act. Not too long ago, that kind of news would appear in the next day’s paper, Temkin said. “Now, the organization needs crisis management plans in place to deal with this kind of issue in a preemptive way,” she said.
Because it is often a mistake to try to bury bad news, the organization should use social media to implement its crisis management plan, Temkin said.
Another issue for the CEO to consider when bad news hits: board member liability.
“The executive needs to remember the board is equally liable for the actions of the organization, and needs to know what is going on and have a say in what will be done about it,” she said. The executive director should use the board in that type of situation to figure out how to deal with the problem in the most effective way, Temkin said. “They can help figure out how to help the organization through a difficult issue in a way that leaves you with your reputation intact,” she said.
Use the board as a sounding board in difficult developing situations, Temkin said. “It’s our world today, and you have to deal with it for better or worse,” she said. “It’s best to use it to your benefit.”