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3 min Read
September 12, 2019

Creating a shared vision for your next Director of Communications

Whether your nonprofit is hiring its first-ever Director of Communications, rethinking that role, or filling an empty seat, first building alignment internally around what success will look like for the new hire and your communications function overall will go a long way in finding and retaining a great fit.

As more nonprofits seek to tap into the power of strategic communications, there’s an increasing demand for great communications leaders to head up the work. A quick search for “Director of Communications” on generates thousands of active job listings.

What makes a great communicators leader? While there may be some common threads, a great nonprofit leader at one organization may not translate well to another. That means a strategic hiring process is grounded in clarity about what your nonprofit is uniquely looking for from this individual and why. 

If you have a job description already written for your next Director of Communications, put it aside for a little bit. If you don’t have one drafted yet, try looking at the position from some different perspectives first before putting it together to ensure the job description is tailored to your organization’s situation.

Hear from the right voices

Before you start your search, give people who will be working directly with this individual a chance to weigh in. This might include existing communications staff, colleagues on your senior leadership team, and others connected to the communications function like development, programs, and advocacy staff, for example. While this may slow down your hiring process, it will allow you to develop a stronger sense of past challenges and future opportunities while building a common vision for the new role. You can set up individual meetings or facilitate a group discussion (and be sure to reference tips for effective group facilitation from this blog).

See the big picture

Be clear on what the purpose of communications at your organization is before you hire someone. What is the mission of your communications team and what are the goals you must achieve? Does your communications lean more towards advocacy and narrative change? Is it more about education? Community engagement? Fundraising? A hybrid?

While your new director can and should play a role in crystallizing this thinking, an unclear perspective on this could lead you to prospects that are highly skilled in an area that isn’t relevant for your nonprofit. 

Look ahead a few years

Take a look at your nonprofit’s strategic plan (if you have one), and other organization-wide strategy notes. Where does your organization see itself in the next three to five years? What strategies will it undertake to get there? How will this affect the work of your communications team?

For example, if you know that a primary organization undertaking is diversifying your revenue base away from a reliance on a couple big funders, you might consider elevating donor communications as a skillset critical for the new role. 

Learn from the past

The ability to reflect and learn from past successes and challenges is critical for any search. What communications strategies and tactics have been your team’s biggest strengths and weaknesses? What have been your greatest wins? How has your staff in the past contributed to these wins and losses? How has the structure of your communications team hindered or fostered progress? Take stock of these lessons and use them to inform your hiring plan. You could even bring a real-life communications scenario to an interview and ask the prospect how they would have tackled the situation. 

Apply your organizational values

Values are the glue that hold nonprofits together. They are the key beliefs and philosophies that guide your work internally and externally. If your organization has a stated set of organizational values that you actively use, intentionally bring them to your hiring process as a guide to assess whether your prospects will gel smoothly with the organization overall.

Your next Director of Communications is out there. But to find them, resist the urge to do a ‘save-as’ from a previous job description draft. Take a step back and be sure you’re approaching your search clearly and deliberately so your organization can make the most of strategic communications.

Looking for more tips for hiring your next Director of Communications? Sarah Durham, Big Duck’s CEO, wrote about the three ways to hire and retain the best nonprofit communicators. You can also email us at [email protected]. We might be able to help.

Ally Dommu

Ally Dommu is the Director of Service Development, Worker-Owner at Big Duck

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