Thursday, January 27, 2011

Having the right Board members can help with your PR

This week, Karen Press and I launched a new course in the Red River College Creative Communications program on communications for non-profits. One of our topics for our introductory class was the role -- and the strategic composition -- of a non-profit Board of Directors.

Non-profit Boards come in as many styles and sizes as the organizations themselves. Depending on the mandate (and work) of the non-profit, a Board can be focused on governance, or on management, or on operations -- or on a combination of all three, to varying degrees.

Picking the right people
Smart non-profits invite diverse people who bring a range of useful talents and skills to the Board: for instance, an accountant, a lawyer, an HR expert, a PR person, as well as expertise and experience in the subject areas in which the non-profit operates. For example, a non-profit that helps the homeless would be smart to have people on its Board who have worked with homelessness and homeless people in varying capacities.

Similarly, a non-profit catering to the needs of a particular cultural group would be well-served by having that group represented on its Board. You want to make sure there are voices around the boardroom table that reflect the perspectives of your key audiences and inform the Board's decisions. This isn't just good PR: it's good management.

An excellent Board candidate will also have personal or professional connections that will help the non-profit meet its objectives, either because they are philanthropically inclined, or because they have access to resources or other people who can help, or because they have an influential voice in the mainstream.

Or maybe, if the non-profit is lucky, all of the above!

Enter Jon Stewart

Screen shot of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
The Washington Post reported today that The Daily Show's Jon Stewart is joining the Board of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (whose Chairman is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg).

Stewart was an outspoken advocate for the recent passage of the 9/11 First Responders' Bill, which provides health care and compensation for first responders who became ill due to the toxins they inhaled at Ground Zero. His Comedy Central show served as his platform to raise public pressure on the government.

Stewart is a great choice to join this Board for many reasons. Among them: 
  • He is passionate about New York City.
  • He has a strong sense of what's right, and articulates it persuasively.
  • His insight and pragmatism have earned him significant respect, at least among the left and in centrist circles.
  • Through his show, his voice has an influential role in American political discourse.
On top of all that, there's another fringe benefit to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in having Stewart on its Board: both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (of which he is the Executive Producer) will be far less likely to mock anything it does... and may be more apt to mock its detractors.

Smart PR.


  1. Great post Melanie. We discussed this with Karen in class and it was an interesting topic. It hadn't occurred to me to even think about what goes into selecting a board member. Oh CreComm, always getting us thinking.

  2. Thanks Stacia! If you look at the composition of effective non-profit Boards across the city and pretty much anywhere, you'll see the same strategy at work.

  3. I'm jealous that this wasn't around when I was there! It's one of the first "new" things I learned about in my first job after CreComm! A good board can make a big difference in your events and fundraising efforts ! (So I learned)

    Great idea to include this in CreComm, especially since a lot of us start out in non-profits!