3 min Read
October 19, 2018

How to be CALM not BUSY: for nonprofit communications directors

Kivi Leroux Miller

Many nonprofit communications directors feel like they work in a constant state of chaos. Odds are you don’t have enough time to think or plan, so you just do, do, do.

And the to-dos don’t stop coming. If you feel like your desk is the dumping ground for every “good idea” in the office, you aren’t alone. You likely have too many choices and too many decisions to make on each item on your to-do list, compounding the chaos.

When and why busyness is the norm

Confronting all this busyness openly and honestly is hard in the nonprofit sector. We often feel like we are supposed to go above and beyond for the sake of the causes we serve. We lose sight of normal boundaries and feel guilted into working long, hard hours and putting up with the chaos. After all, isn’t that what everyone else is doing?   

But when we get more explicit about our busyness and perceived lack of time, what we are really saying is:

  • We have too many competing priorities.
  • There are too many interruptions in our work days.
  • Urgent tasks take precedence over important tasks.

These three problems—not time, per se—are what nonprofit communications directors say is stopping them from getting their best work done.

The source of BUSY

The more you reflect on what busyness really means, the more likely you are to see it for what it really is. Busyness is a lack of strategy and leadership in your organization, bad organizational culture around communications, and bad work habits.  Specifically, I define BUSY as Bogus, Unrealistic, Sidestepping and Yoked behavior.

But you can’t just lay this at the feet of others; you are responsible too. If you want your BUSY communications culture to change, that likely needs to start with you.

CALM is the antidote to BUSY

Our research and experience at Nonprofit Marketing Guide makes it very clear that communications directors can, in fact, lead their organizations to more thoughtful and strategic communications:  In other words, to a place of CALM.

CALM stands for Collaborative, Agile, Logical, and Methodical. Communications staff who adopt these approaches say they feel more confident, that their workload is more manageable, and that they are creating more effective work products for their causes.

C is for Collaborative.  It’s the WHO. Communications work should always be collaborative in its creation, and in how it is used by your nonprofit to achieve bigger goals.  Being collaborative means connecting the dots between your work and everything else in the organization. It means collectively managing ideas, decisions, and communications responsibilities, often with you in the lead.

A is for Agile. It’s the WHEN and WHERE. Communications work requires you to be nimble and constantly adapting the pace and location of communications as needed. To do that, you must first build trust in your team. It’s that trust that allows you to make faster decisions, to expect the unexpected, and to take advantage of timely opportunities.

L is for Logical. It’s the WHAT and WHY. Communications work, even in its most creative forms, should always be clear in purpose and backed by reason. Being logical is about reestablishing boundaries so that you focus on priorities and best practices.

M is for Methodical.  It’s the HOW. Communications work should follow clear processes and use tools that improve efficiency. Being methodical includes adopting standard content creation, review, and approval processes. It’s also about creating routines and simple rules that others can follow. Methodical nonprofits maintain an editorial calendar and work hard to create an office culture that respects deadlines.

Where should you begin on your quest for CALM not BUSY?

In my book, CALM not BUSY: How to Manage Your Nonprofit’s Communications for Great Results, you’ll find a 20-question quiz that helps you assess your CALM strengths. Based on your results, the book provides suggestions for your next steps.

No one decides to be BUSY. But that’s what happens in nonprofit communications work by default. It’s time to make the conscious decision to be CALM.

Kivi Leroux Miller is founder and CEO of Nonprofit Marketing Guide, which helps nonprofit communications directors learn their jobs AND love their jobs. Nonprofit Marketing Guide offers a daily blog, a weekly e-newsletter, training, mentoring programs, and private coaching.