Your Board’s Role in Hiring a Marketing Agency

We’ve talked about making the case for a marketing investment to your board. So now, let’s talk about what to do when additional marketing investment gets the green light, and your next step is hiring a marketing agency. What’s the best way to engage your nonprofit board in the decision-making and firm hiring process? So much of this depends on board dynamic. It’s critical to determine how you want your board to be involved at the onset of the process. Otherwise, you may get all the way to the end, only to learn the board has different expectations for how they would be involved or what your work with a marketing agency should ultimately look like.

The following are three ways nonprofit boards are typically involved in hiring a marketing agency that you might want to suggest to your own board.

Internal staff hires the marketing agency

In this decision-making scenario, the board agrees a marketing initiative is necessary and that hiring a marketing agency is the way to go. They’ve also approved and allocated budget for the project. This may even happen as part of the annual budget review and approval process at your nonprofit. With this information in-hand, the board then leaves it to staff and the internal team to identify and hire a marketing agency that best meets their needs.

Let’s be honest, this is the decision-making process that most nonprofit marketing leaders prefer. If this is how your organization’s board makes decisions, just ensure that when you engage a firm, the board is aware of the marketing agency you selected and why. You’ll still want to provide board members with ongoing updates about the success of your nonprofit’s marketing efforts.

A board subcommittee hires the marketing agency

If your nonprofit board wants to take a more hands-on role, there is another decision-making scenario where a sub-committee of board members is actively involved in creating the project plan, determining the budget and providing inputs throughout the agency hiring process. This is a great way to engage your board in decision-making and get the insights you need from their perspective, without overcomplicating the process or the outcomes you’re aiming to achieve. It’s also a perfect time to bring nonprofit board members with subject matter expertise into the process for hiring a marketing agency. 

If this is the decision-making process at your nonprofit, you’ll just want to make sure that the subcommittee can be engaged at every phase in the process of hiring a marketing agency. Otherwise you run the same risk as when you don’t establish a decision-making process at all, which is that you get to the end and one of the subcommittee members has different expectations for the project or the agency.

The board hires the marketing agency

Nonprofit boards are made up of busy people, but it doesn’t mean they all want to take the hands-off approach described above. In this third decision-making scenario, the board asks leadership and staff to determine the project scope and to gather proposals or quotes from agencies that they can review. Sometimes they even agree to meet with a handful of agencies. Following this information gathering and these meetings, the board, along with staff, selects the marketing agency your nonprofit is going to work with.

This is the most challenging approach to hiring a marketing agency. If your board comes in at the end of the decision-making process, it’s almost certain they will be comparing apples to oranges. Good agencies by nature are creative, and all will approach projects differently. In this scenario, consider presenting the board with your own review of the agencies, along with a recommendation as to the one you think is the best fit for your nonprofit’s needs.

If your nonprofit board really wants to make the final decision, rather than taking a recommendation, either all or a subcommittee of members should be involved in every step of vetting potential partners and understanding their capabilities. 

The marketing agency hiring process you choose for your nonprofit is important for setting the relationship with your agency up for success. Boards are dynamic and so is decision-making. I hope this post sheds some light on various processes your organization can consider when hiring a marketing firm.

Every marketing goal you set should align with a strategic, organization-wide goal


Use this framework to guide a brainstorm with key team leaders and identify how marketing can serve each of your organization’s goals.