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How are Your Board Members Telling Your Organizational Story?

How are Your Board Members Telling Your Organizational Story?

Chapter Leadership Brief 4.5.24

by Erica Joy West
Charitable Investment Counselor, Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative |
Coach and Independent Consultant

As April ushers in National Volunteer Month, it’s a time of celebration for the invaluable contributions that our volunteers make to our organizations. And the volunteers that are universally regarded as our most valuable and important are the Board of Trustees--- guiding the strategic direction of our organization, serving as ambassadors of our mission, and catalysts of philanthropic support.

For volunteers who serve such vital leadership roles, are our Board members equipped with all the resources they need to make the impact we expect from them?

Very early in my career as a fundraiser, I attended a check presentation ceremony with a Board member recognizing the amazing work of our mental health organization. We were one of a few nonprofits to receive this recognition that would be awarded on stage, in a large auditorium, at the local community center.

When it was our turn to take the stage, the funders proudly handed us one of those oversized paper checks that was graciously accepted by a highly esteemed Board member.  He enthusiastically stepped up to the microphone. And in his brief remarks I heard him refer to the consumers we served with chronic mental illness, as adults with developmental disabilities. I was stunned and confused. I remember standing there scratching my head wondering, “when did we start doing that?”  

As a completely green professional I wanted to soak in every word from the staff and volunteers who passionately advocated for our mission. And I quickly realized we took for granted that our closest champions knew how to be strong ambassadors for us. Although this was an unintentional mistake by the Board member, using the right language to educate the community on the differences between mental illness and developmental disabilities was essential for him to know and to be able to communicate to others.  

This lovely man who served on the Board, was giving his time, energy and making financial contributions for people with mental illness, he deserved to be prepared with how to be a passionate, articulate spokesperson for our organization—by using the right language, telling impactful stories, and sharing how we make a difference in peoples lives.

I wish I could tell you this was an isolated incident, and that I never saw another Board member struggle to talk about the cause they care about. But as I’m sure you know, that’s unfortunately not the reality. After my early experience, I now  take the time and energy to provide skill based workshops for Board members on fundraising, storytelling, engaging in conscious conversations, and asking for support. I’m proud that the CEO and Board Chair at the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative set aside dedicated time at every Board meeting to teach and engage Board members in discussions on their roles as ambassadors. I am a witness to this work paying dividends. The Board’s confidence and enthusiasm for sharing our mission within their networks has grown. And ultimately our patients will benefit from having a stronger team advocating for their right to access necessary medical care.

As you think about your own organization--- How are your Board members telling your story?  How can you empower your most important and valuable volunteers to be stronger ambassadors of your mission?  

Erica Joy West Is the Charitable Investment Counselor for Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative (BVMI), provides free healthcare for working uninsured adults. As a skilled fundraiser with 20 years in nonprofit and institutional advancement, Erica has shared her knowledge of community needs to help hundreds of individuals and corporations make a meaningful difference through charitable giving. Now, as the Charitable Investment Counselor with BVMI, she is dedicated to helping people realize their philanthropic ambitions, for themselves, their families, and society to affect change for healthcare in New Jersey.

In 2020, Erica began using her talents as a Master NLP transformational coach to empower female professionals to develop fierce self-confidence and make powerful shifts in their communication to transform their relationships. She is passionate about the personal and professional advancement of women by helping them amplify their impact to change the world.

Erica serves on the Board of Trustees for the AFP-NYC Chapter, sitting on several committees as Vice-Chair of Communications, Chair of Sponsorships and Partnerships, and Professional Advancement. In her spare time, Erica is a fitness instructor, Stand-Up Paddle boarder, rock climber and outdoor/fitness enthusiast. 

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