How Can Your Nonprofit Build a Culture of Communications?
“Communications is everyone’s job,” says Jeff Clarke, interim president and CEO of the Council on Foundations’ in this video* where he talks about creating a communications culture at foundations and nonprofits. Couldn’t agree more. Meanwhile, last week, a program staff person asked me what communications tips they should keep in mind as they went about their work.
This isn’t the first time I’m hearing that times have changed and nonprofits need to be ready for “everyone, all the time” communications, while also hearing that many nonprofit staff aren’t equipped for this rapidly-evolving environment.
So how can your nonprofit bridge this divide?
1) Embrace change: In making the cultural shift to integrating communications in all aspects of their work, the biggest hurdle that many nonprofits face is resistance from leadership. Many executive directors, Board members, and even senior staff are wary of social media – possibly because they’ve never tried it or don’t understand it. This fear makes it possible to leave communications to the ‘experts’ and get on with business as usual. Let’s face it: technology can be scary. So maybe its time to have a session of your Board meeting where everyone explores Facebook together? As people get more comfortable with these new communications tools, the fear will fall away and maybe Twitter won’t feel like Darth Vader.
2) Be realistic: We live in a culture of “bigger, faster, more = better”. Yes, high expectations can yield big results. But a measured pace might be best for long-term sustainability. Certainly your nonprofit should have a social media presence. But with limited staff, what outcomes should you realistically expect? Take stock of your organization’s capacity, realize that change takes time, and then set clear benchmarks that everyone on staff can achieve.
3) Identify and invest in your early adopters: Just as with all humans, no two staff members are exactly alike. Some rush out and buy the latest X-Box, others are still playing PacMan. Identify those among your staff who are eager to experiment with new technologies and ideas and help them find their comfort level through training, skill development, and opportunities to shine. For those who are more cautious, show the benefits of using new communications: skills gained, time saved (sometimes), and well, just being part of the cool crowd.
4) Leave room for error: This weekend, a senior manager at a government agency asked Facebook friends for a “rockin’ margarita recipe”. Unfortunately, he posted it as the agency, not himself. This will happen. Again and again. Especially when your non-communications staff are Tweeting, posting, commenting, liking, sharing, essentially engaging with the world on your organization’s behalf. Accept it, prepare for it, apologize when it happens, and then move on. One of the biggest changes resulting from this new culture of communications is the world now sees the humans who are your organization – warts, tattoos, and all.
* Thank you to Nancy Schwartz for sharing this!