There are several elements of connection to cause board members should understand. Developing a deeper knowledge of your nonprofit’s work, including the causal relationships that create the need for your organization, makes the space to connect your mission to the larger cause, builds intentional communications, and embraces advocacy as a powerful tool.
Connecting mission to cause
Connecting mission to cause is important since the work of nonprofits is affected by and exists within a larger context of circumstances, individuals, organizations, and agencies. Board members should be able to convey the connection between the organization’s mission and the cause the organization is working to advance. There are actions you can take to explore the connection between your organization’s mission and cause.
- Think specifically about why your organization exists, the changes you hope to make, and the items you believe to be true and related to your mission. Take your nonprofit’s mission and ask yourself, “Why?” or “So what?” three times to help express a clear organizational purpose.
- Develop a shared vision for the future that includes what the world would look like if your nonprofit fully achieved its mission.
- Thinking across sectors, map the people who have a role in shaping this envisioned world. These individuals may include community leaders, elected officials, nonprofit leaders, private sector leaders, etc.
- Identify other organizations working within the same cause as your nonprofit. Consider if the organizations do similar or different work than your nonprofit. Determine if there are gaps not met or addressed by the organizations identified.
Complete this purpose map activity to identify a clear purpose for your organization and the key elements needed to successfully execute that purpose. Download the worksheet or draw your own purpose map.
Purpose Map Activity
Purpose is where the cause your organization is working to advance meets your mission. Start this activity by taking your organization’s mission and asking three times – “Why?” or “So what?” – to help express a clear organizational purpose. Capture that purpose statement in the center circle. Next, map the key elements needed to move your purpose forward. Key elements are individuals, organizations, and agencies that care about your purpose and larger cause. There is an example on the second page of this document.Download
Intentional communications elevate the compelling voice of board members, connecting the organization to larger causes of focus for key decision-makers and community leaders. Board members serve as ambassadors for your organization, building connections with the community, decision-makers, and potential supporters.
As board members deepen their understanding of the organization’s work, weave new perspectives of the issues and opportunities into stories that show the impact your nonprofit is making. Board members should be able to describe the organization’s mission, purpose, and values, as well as talk about specific program and service examples. Having materials like handouts and digital content (for sharing by email and social media) helps board members and others with intentional communication and community engagement work.
Advocacy as a tool
By partnering with policymakers, advocacy can be a powerful tool to advance your organization’s cause. Knowing how to engage with advocacy and lobbying will help your organization be effective and compliant with applicable laws. Lobbying is allowed in an “insubstantial amount” of the organization’s overall activity and must be reported on the IRS Form 990. There is no clear definition of “insubstantial amount,” and Bolder Advocacy a program of Alliance for Justice notes a general best practice is that 3 – 5% of a nonprofit’s overall activities may go towards lobbying.
Embed discussions in board meetings around bigger issues related to the cause your organization is working to advance. Include time to talk about public policy, and how policies affect your organization and the community members your serve. Also, provide space to discuss the opportunities and risks that exist outside your organization like funding shifts, policy climate, and trends, which could affect your work.