A Board Member’s PR Responsibilities

Share this article

I recently spoke with the Masters Leadership Program of Greater San Antonio. Their cohort is made up of industry professionals preparing for nonprofit board leadership. What they wanted to learn about surprised me.  

We held a fireside-style chat where I was interviewed about what board members should know about crisis communication. I reviewed crisis communication principles and intersected them with research about what board members are charged to do for organizations. 

Statistics show that boards are typically not diverse enough, which can cause issues. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times shared how, while Latinos are the nation’s largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority group in the United States, they remain less likely than Black or Asian professionals to be found in the boardroom. In fact, an analysis by SpencerStuart shows that Latinos make up only 5% of S&P 500 boards. 

As communicators, we can share how boards work, and how to become part of them, with all types of people.

If you or a client is interested in serving on a board, here are four points I made for your consideration. 

What’s the first step I should take as a potential or current board member?

Ask the nonprofit you’re interested in serving if they have prepared for a crisis. At best, the nonprofit has worked with an emergency management professional to develop a crisis communication plan that they keep updated. 

At the minimum, having a list of the most likely crisis situations, a staff phone tree, and drafting some sample statements is important to establish right away.

What is a board member’s role when there is a crisis?

Board members should be prepared to support the leadership as a professional ally. Logic can decrease when emotions increase, so acting as a grounded, calming resource is best. The board chair(s) should be prepared to act as a spokesperson if top leadership is affected by the situation. Support the communication staff by advocating for fast, operational actions and an empathic communication response. Also, champion investing in crisis planning (if there wasn’t any) for a better response in the future. 

One organization in my area has plans for over 200 scenarios they are likely to face. What a resource (and a relief) for their communication team and their stakeholders.

What should a board member do during a communications-related issue?

First, keep confidential information confidential. Be prepared to sign a nondisclosure agreement if needed to get inside information that could help with the situation. Offer professional expertise without offering a conflict-of-interest solution. 

Board members should take direction from the organization’s communications team and leadership and not contact the media proactively or provide unauthorized comments. However, make sure the organization’s top leadership is media trained and invite the board chair to partake as well.

How can we prevent becoming aligned with a nonprofit that’s on the wrong path? 

Consider your reputation first before aligning with an organization as a board member. Don’t sign up with a shaky organization if you’re unprepared to manage any potential issues. Do research on the organization you’re interested in to assess its reputation with clients, journalists and staff. If you’re already in a negative situation and the nonprofit is not willing to change, consider resigning sooner rather than later. 

Share this article