4 min Read
August 30, 2017

4 steps to more powerful communications

Smart, powerful communications are essential to achieving your mission. We may be biased (after all, we’re a communications firm), but it’s what we believe.

If you’re a communications-forward nonprofit leader, you share that belief. You see the potential in empowering communicators to support and amplify the efforts of your entire team, from fundraisers to programs to HR. When we describe communications as an essential utility—like technology or facilities—that is critical to your organization’s day-to-day work and big-picture goals and everything in between, you get it. It sounds right. You’re eager to get to the point where your communications team works as a powerful engine driving your mission forward across your organization.

So what do you need to do to make that vision a reality?

We see four key places to prioritize your efforts, starting with making sure you’ve got the right team in place and building up to an established leadership style that allows communications expertise to thrive within your organization.

1. Build the right team.

To be seen and respected as a strategic resource throughout your organization, your communications team has to be a strategic resource for the whole organization.

Key questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have the right people in the right roles with the right mix of skills and experience?
  • Do they know their jobs and have the time and resources they need to do them well?
  • Do you have clear communications strategies that ladder up to your organizational priorities and strategic plan, rather than an ad hoc one-project-at-a-time style?

If you realize that your team needs some investment to become the powerful asset you’d like it to be, that’s the most important place to start. Check out Big Duck’s ebook, What it Takes to be Great: The Top Five Factors of Successful Nonprofit Communications Teams, for some additional perspective on what makes great communications teams thrive.

2. Cultivate a healthy communications culture.

An expert communications team is only part of the puzzle. To do their jobs well, your communicators need to operate in an environment that values their efforts and seeks out their expertise.

Key questions:

  • Do program and other staff work collaboratively with communications, or are they more likely to think of communications and marketing as unrelated to their own work—and maybe even distracting from the mission?
  • Are your communicators viewed internally as strategic experts, or are they mainly seen as implementers?
  • Is there a healthy flow of information to and from your communications team, or are they mostly working in isolation?

A strong communications team is a vital organ—the main body of the organization can’t function without it, and it can’t do its work alone. For a helpful way to visualize how a healthy comms team fits into the big picture of your nonprofit’s structure, check out this post on different models for communications teams and the strengths and challenges of each.

3. Empower and inspire your communicators.

The day-to-day life of a typical nonprofit communications staffer is a flurry of deadlines, e-blasts, troubleshooting, and fire-fighting. There’s little opportunity for strategy and reflection, and it’s all but impossible to maintain a bigger-picture perspective.

As an inspiring leader, you can help your communicators get out of the weeds and work from the ground up to establish a powerful, effective communications function throughout the organization.

Specific ideas:

  • Share your vision directly. Take a little time with your communications team to remind them why their work is so important and what it means for your mission.
  • Lead a brainstorm: if time and money were no object, how could the communications team work with other departments and teams to take the whole organization to the next level? What resources, trainings, opportunities could you provide?
  • Create space for strategy. Work with your communications leaders to establish a rhythm of planning, measuring, and reflection (monthly, quarterly, and annually), and make sure other leadership is available to advise and consult.

An inspired team does inspired work. When you show your belief in the power of communications, you help your team make it a reality.

4. Make communications a priority at the leadership level.

While your comms team gets to work from the ground up, you can work from the top down, making sure that the road is clear and the infrastructure is in place to allow communications expertise to flow from one corner of your organization to the other.

Specific ideas:

  • Facilitate conversations at the leadership level about communications. Does everyone see its potential? Are there obstacles or beliefs to break down to make a shared, respected communications function a reality?
  • Advocate for resources for your communications function—from technology to people to special projects—every time you work on a new budget.
  • Encourage leaders across the organization to act as a model for their teams and demonstrate the way they use communications as an asset in their work.

Creating a powerful strategic communications function that’s deeply embedded in your organization’s day-to-day work calls for investment in the team and in the culture, from the top down and the bottom up.

It’s a lot to tackle—but we believe smart communications are essential to your mission, and there’s nothing we love more than watching nonprofits unlock that power in the service of great causes.