The stories we tell.
In our efforts to give our boards the whole picture, are we shrouding the truth? Are we showering them with minutiae, ensuring their attention is fixed on the weeds?
How many numbers blur the fiscal trends?
What amount of donation data hides the full picture?
How many program factors obscure the real impact?
How much detail is too much? MORE
It’s an art form, communicating with board members so they understand enough to engage in meaningful dialogue about the organization’s trajectory.
They need to know the environment in which the organization functions – the political and economic context – but if you give them too many acronyms, their heads spin. Staff lives with this information every day, sees it play out in multiple spheres – but board members drop in, once a month or even just once a quarter.
What do they need to know to be meaningful board members? To do their duty to the mission?
Fiduciary is actually the easiest of the board duties to communicate about, but even there too much detail invites board members to ask why postage is going up instead of whether staff salaries are competitive enough to recruit and retain the best personnel.
Fundraising, too, is not hard for board members to grasp – but if they’re asked to look at the entire donation list, they’ll fixate on donor A or donor B, not the overall trends of why people give and how we can boost the activity of our star askers.
Program, ah, there’s the hard one. Give board members every program stat and watch their eyes glaze over. But the other extreme, of parading clients at board meetings to hear their individual stories and explaining impact by anecdotes, doesn’t help board members make the right judgment calls about meeting mission effectively given the resources at hand.
And finally – governance. What should the board be looking at to assess if it’s doing its job? How many times the board meetings meet quorum matters, of course, but that’s a bottom line measure, not a best practice to strive for.
As with all communication, the primary question is not “What do I have to tell them?” – it’s “What do I want them to do with this information?”
That determines what information is needed, and at what level.