Is your rural hospital board "on board" with marketing?

7 guidelines to turn your healthcare board members into your strongest marketing advocates.

Posted on February 27, 2018

By: Mike Milligan, President


As a rural healthcare leader, you fully realize the importance of engaging and involving your board of directors.  The role of your board is to provide the appropriate level of strategic oversight and not cross the line into operations.  They must understand the vision and the direction, and then help break down any barriers that may be impeding your hospital's success.

Being involved with rural healthcare organizations around the country has given me the opportunity to work with many types of boards.  Sometimes it's leading a strategic planning session on growth, or presenting their organization's marketing plan. Overall, these are honest, hard-working people who are donating their time. They come from all kinds of backgrounds: farmers, ranchers, bankers, nursing, non-profit, home makers, lawyers, government.  One thing they have in common is their commitment to your hospital and community.  Many grew up in your town, and generations of their family have received care at your facility.

Board engagement and education

Even though they hold a genuine passion for your organization, I've found that they sometimes lack the knowledge of what's required to survive the tumultuous world of rural health. Board members may not fully appreciate the nuances of healthcare, especially when it comes to marketing. They may have a limited view that successful marketing is defined by having a pretty ad in the local paper once a week.

My point here is that they don't need to be marketing experts.  In fact, as board members, you really don't want them in the details.  What you do need is their support and understanding of the need for effective marketing in a competitive world. This starts with board engagement and education.

Every situation is different. This includes the composition of your board, their level of experience, and whether you have a healthy agreement between governance and operations.  Having said that, I offer the following guidelines for turning your board members into the strongest marketing advocates in your organization:

  1. Involve them in the marketing planning process - including your work and thoughts on service line prioritization.  Review recommendations on priorities based on defined criteria such as revenue, reimbursement, downstream revenue, community goodwill, competitive advantage and contribution margin.  Receive their feedback on your direction, but don't present specific marketing techniques or ask for their approval on messaging.
  2. Hold a separate strategic planning session dedicated only to the growth initiative of your goals.  Present potential ways to grow existing and to introduce new service lines, and receive their feedback and input.  Together, establish specific and measurable goals in terms of volumes and market share.
  3. Introduce them to successful techniques used by others, which may include unique alliances or partnerships.  Even if your organization plans to remain independent, there are often creative ways to explore market share growth with other organizations such as joint ventures or other partnerships.
  4. Provide periodic updates on the progress toward assigned goals and strategy. This should be more in the forms of specific results and feedback.  Be transparent in terms of what went well, and what efforts fell short of your expectations.
  5. Identify barriers and let them know what you're doing to solve them.  Receive their input or suggestions on how to overcome these barriers.  Examples could be insurance or provider issues.
  6. Take opportunities to educate board members on successful trends in marketing. Share key articles on industry trends and successful efforts of similar organizations.
  7. Invite and encourage them to attend conferences, especially around topics that cover marketing or governance.

An engaged, informed and educated board member is your advocate and cheerleader.  Provide board members with the tools and knowledge to support you in your efforts, and you'll even further strengthen trust and rapport essential for effective leadership.  Please feel free to reach out to me anytime for specific examples on these tips, and how you could apply them to your organization, at, or 920-544-8102.

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