A spider web is a beautiful thing. Every string is intertwined with the next one, and each strand relies on the other to create an incredibly powerful web that is both strong and deadly.
Where am I going with this analogy? Bear with me just a little bit longer.
The spider web is a great analogy for relationships. People form connections with each other, and then those connections help them meet new people who share common values, interests, and lifestyles.
Spidering: the act of engaging via established relationships to create social proof with an individual, move an agenda forward, or get buy-in on an important topic.
If you’re working with a board of directors on a regular basis, you’ve got somewhere between 5 and 20 people to keep in touch with, connect with, and build trust with. Yikes! That’s a lot of people and a lot of time!
In a perfect world, you’d have time to really connect, and get to know every one of them. But the reality of human behavior is that there are a few people on that board that you’re going to connect with more than others.
These people become your spiders.
- Need to get an important motion passed thru at an upcoming board meeting? Work with your spiders to understand any questions they might have, or objections that they have about approving the motion. Empower them with key arguments from your perspective so they can represent your side of things in the board meeting dialogue.
- Need to add some money to your budget for a specific purpose? Work with your favorite finance spider to understand what they would need to see to approve the increase. Test out your case for the budget increase—what resonates the best with them, and then incorporate this content into your board presentation. Ask your spider to join you as an advocate of the increase at the meeting.
- Need the board to understand an important strategic decision, and their role in this new direction? Work with your favorite spider to ask them how they would like to participate, and how they think the rest of the board would like to be approached.
The board holds the strategic vision of the organization, and the staff execute that vision. But as a not-for-profit leader working daily in the trenches, there is no way that a board member can understand all the sides of a situation—he or she is not paid, he’s a volunteer, and as such will have a healthily different opinion. Spidering is an approach to bridge the gap between the staff and board divide. It’s a technique that builds on trust to deliver quality outcomes and results for the organization. And it’s super simple.
How many spiders do you need? It depends on the size of your board, but I would say three is a great number. Remember that not all board members are created equal: look for your key influencers when selecting your spiders. And hopefully you’ve got a great working relationship with your board chair or vice chair so that they are one of your spider sounding boards. After all, we all want the best for our organizations.