4 min Read
November 8, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-changes! Five tips for managing updates to your communications

Big Duck

Change is hard. And we don’t just mean big, societal, eradicate-poverty-and-hunger kind of change. Making changes to your organization’s communications is difficult, too.

Even seemingly small changes (like creating a new brochure) and positive changes (like developing a new brand that will help your nonprofit raise money and visibility more effectively) can be tricky and frustrating.

Just when you’re putting the finishing touches to that brochure, a chorus of voices asks whether it’s actually necessary. You roll out your new brand but people keep producing materials using the old one.

So what can you do to avoid those situations and make your efforts as high-impact as possible?

The following strategies work no matter what kind of change you’re involved in–whether it’s a shift in your communications culture, a relocation, or something even bigger, like a change in your nonprofit’s mission.

  1. Be clear about what it is you’re really trying to change.
    Before you start to make changes, think carefully about what you’re hoping to achieve and whether the change you’re about to make really is the right way to get there.

    For example, if you’re struggling to explain your organization clearly to your audiences, it’s tempting to create new materials that explain things better. But if you’re having a hard time explaining yourself, chances are you need to change your messaging, not just your materials.

    Focus on why you need to change things before thinking about what you need to change. Start by writing a project brief that identifies your goals, the audiences you’re trying to reach, and the measurable results you want to achieve. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start thinking about what you need to change to get there.

  2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
    Don’t change things just for the sake of change. Before you embark on any project to change your communications, big or small, make sure you have solid strategic reasons for doing so. Take a step back and ask yourself whether the change you’re proposing will really help you achieve your communication goals.

    Conduct some informal research–like an online survey, interviews, or informal focus groups with your supporters–to find out whether your communications are doing what they need to. If the answer’s no, it’s probably time for a change. But if the answer’s yes, you might be better off directing your time, energy, and budget elsewhere.

  1. Involve people early on.
    Most people don’t like change–particularly when they feel it’s being imposed on them. So we Ducks recommend that our clients involve key staff–usually people who will be most affected by the change–early on in each project we work on.

    Letting people have a say at the start helps them feel part of the change, which builds buy-in and is critical to the success of any change effort. As the project progresses, you probably won’t need to hear from all of those key people at every stage. But it’s important to update them on progress every once in a while, to keep them engaged and to avoid any nasty surprises.

    Use regular existing meetings–like department, staff, and board meetings–to share progress with people without clogging up their calendar.

  2. Make sure everyone’s on the same page.
    Does everyone agree that the changes you want to make are necessary? It’s important to make sure that everyone’s aligned on the need for change before you start making any adjustments to your communications.

The positive momentum you get when everyone’s on board helps you ride out any bumps that might pop up along the way. Consensus on the need for change also allows you to devote more of your energy to pushing the project forward instead of trying to convince the skeptics that you’re doing the right thing.

Our brandraising scorecard can help you understand if people agree about where your communications could be improved. Ask a few key people to take the scorecard, then sit down together to compare results. If your scores are similar, now might be a good time to consider making some changes.

  1. Expect the unexpected.
    Change of any kind almost always takes longer than you think it will and involves unexpected pauses and changes in direction. If you go into a project expecting to make unplanned adjustments and knowing where you can and can’t be flexible, those adjustments will be much less disruptive.

    A good project brief and detailed calendar that lay out all the essentials and key dates for a project are great tools for keeping things on track in the face of the unexpected.

Do you have any favorite strategies for managing changes in your organization? We’d love to hear them. Go ahead, share them in the comments.