June 1, 2020

The Nonprofit Communications Engine online workshop session 4: momentum

To watch or listen to this webinar, please complete the form at the bottom of this page.

In this final session of the four-part series, Sarah focused on how your organization can grow its capacity to communicate clearly and effectively while reducing its reliance on individuals who may be your primary communicators and spokespeople. We talked about how to leverage volunteers, freelancers, and staff and get creative when times are tough.

To learn more about how to leverage communications, enjoy the full series of workshops based on The Nonprofit Communications Engine: A Leader’s Guide to Managing Mission-driven Marketing and Communications by Sarah Durham. In these workshops, Sarah breaks down the key elements of her book, and how your nonprofit can apply them.

This series is sponsored by Mailchimp and all times are Eastern Daylight Time.


Sarah Durham: Hello, hello, hello. And happy Wednesday. We have about a hundred people on the call with us right now and more people logging in every minute. So we’re going to gradually roll into this topic. Before we begin, I’ve asked those of you who are willing and able to chat into me where you are and your organization. So far we’ve got people here from Madrid, Spain, welcome. There’s people from Brooklyn, which is where I live and work. Sophia from Philadelphia, people from Neighborhood Health in Alexandria, Virginia, Salvation Army in San Diego, Portland, Maine. The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra is here. So lots of great people coming in from all over America and all over the world. Long Island, Seattle, Kansas, Hawaii, got somebody here from Honolulu. So I’m delighted you’re all taking time to join me for the fourth in our series of nonprofit communications engine webinars.

Sarah Durham: I am Sarah Durham. And if you have been playing along so far with the other webinars in this series, you probably have the gist by now. For those of you who might just be joining us for the first time with this one, I want to just, you share a little bit of housekeeping to make sure that you have a good experience. First of all, we are recording today’s session. We will send that out with a followup note. You’ll get a copy of the recording. And also my colleague Olivia is in the room with us virtually. She is monitoring the email address [email protected]. If you’re having any technical problems with GoTo webinar, you can reach out to Olivia at [email protected].

Sarah Durham: A couple of you are asking where the chat is. You should see in GoTo webinar, either a section that says Q & A or a section that says chat. Hopefully you can chat in some questions. They pop up on my screen as questions in some of our past webinars in this series that my colleague Farra Trompeter has joined me in too. Unfortunately Farra cannot be with us here today. So Olivia is going to try to assist. Also, if I mention a resource or something, Olivia, will try to chat it out. We’ll also put those things in the followup email so you’ll get links to any eBooks or articles or anything we mentioned along the way. I think that that’s about it. So let’s get this party started. I’m going to take you through a bit of theory just in the way I have in the past sessions and I’m going to try to leave at least 10 minutes, maybe longer. I might even aim for 15 to 20 to entertain your questions and comments.

Sarah Durham: And since this is the last in the series really, today it’s grab bag. Feel free to chat in questions that are not necessarily directly about this topic, but are relevant to your organization’s communications. And when we get to the end, I will go through the questions and I will try to address as many as I can. Alright. So Big Duck is a communications firm that I started in 1994. I’m the CEO of the firm today and we work exclusively with nonprofits, particularly during times of significant growth and change to help organizations develop strong brands, strong campaigns and strong communications teams. Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofits through Big Duck and also more recently through Advomatic, which is a web development firm that builds and maintains technically excellent websites for nonprofits in WordPress and Drupal.

Sarah Durham: I took over Advomatic about a year ago, and Big Duck and Advomatic are sister agencies. So what I’m sharing with you today is sort of collective expertise working across both companies, and also based on research I did specifically for this book with organizations who are not Big Duck or Advomatic clients. This series of webinars has been sponsored by MailChimp. MailChimp is really awesome. We use it at Advomatic. You can find out more about [email protected]. In the earlier webinars we covered an overview, the theory behind the nonprofit communications engine. We had a session about how you build engagement, and last week was about voice. Today we’re focusing on momentum, but if you missed any of the earlier sessions and you would like to watch them or read the transcript, they are all online at

Sarah Durham: The Nonprofit Communications Engine is a book that I wrote that just came out in January. It was a project that took a few years worth of research. And my intention in writing this book was to come up with a piece of theory that could be useful for nonprofits of any mission and any size to help them think about what communications should achieve in their organization. And how to build an engine around communications, that kind of a machine that could hum along regardless of their mission, regardless of their size, regardless of how old they are. And in the research that I did, I found that sometimes organizations that were very large or very small had more in common than you would think. And one of the common things that surfaced in the research was the fact that in a lot of organizations and not necessarily through any particular pattern, there are these people that came up, and I’ve seen this in my work too, these kinds of juggler personalities. They’re like one person who holds communications together.

Sarah Durham: In smaller organizations, that person is more likely to be an executive director or maybe a founding member of the organization. In mid-sized organizations, it’s often a communications person and maybe somebody who has been there a while, the person who set it all up to begin with who knows how to do everything and if they go on vacation or if they left, people would really scratch their heads and look around in wonder and not know how to get that day to day communications done, like social media, passwords or email sent out. People would not know how to do it. And this is a problem because when one person is essential to the survival of your organization’s communications, your organization lacks sustainability. It’s not able to survive when, when something shifts. So we’re going to talk about that today. We’re going to talk about why that is and we’re going to see what you can do to change it.

Sarah Durham: So nonprofit communications, if you ask 10 different people what it is, you get 10 different answers. My answer is that nonprofit communications is the practice of creating and sustaining mind share and engagement that advances the mission. I keep coming back to these ideas of mind share and engagement in all these webinars. I hope that’s not boring for you. I hope what it does is it reinforces those ideas. If you want to dig in more deeply to them, they are covered more deeply in the first a couple of webinars. But I think it’s really important to ground ourselves in that definition and to ground ourselves again in the three things that a healthy communications engine can achieve, and that’s engagement, clear voice for your organization, and sustainable momentum.

Sarah Durham: That’s what we’re going to dig into today. The sustainable momentum part. But first, who cares? Why is this a problem? Well, it’s a problem if a lot of people in your organization have different talents but are unable to manage communications. It’s especially problematic because communications supports every department. So when you have a communications team problem, it actually impacts your programs. It impacts your fundraising, it impacts your operations. But there are two places that we see sustainable momentum crop up and become problematic. So if you want sort of self-diagnosed, this is a good place to start. One area where we see sustainable momentum challenges emerge from leadership. Maybe you’ve got a founder or an executive director who is synonymous with the organization. When they speak, they speak on behalf of the organization and if the organization is asked to speak, they’re the person who represents it publicly and they control all the communications, maybe even down to wanting to edit tweets or micro communications before they go out.

Sarah Durham: Right? That’s very hard to sustain. Very hard to scale and very hard to survive. Whoever that leader is, if they are out of the picture for some reason, the other area that sustainable momentum can crop up as a problem is with staff. When you’ve got that one person, that juggler, who knows how to do everything or that person is the only person who knows all the passwords, right? Or the converse of that is such distributed communications that there’s lots of people in your organization who know how to do different things.But there’s no one person who knows it all. Who’s got the big picture or who is accountable. That’s a challenge. Particularly if there’s no shared password system, no shared documentation and no backup plan. If people are unable to work for some reason.

Sarah Durham: So what is sustainable momentum? Sustainable momentum is key to building mindshare and engagement because without it, things kind of fall apart. Mindshare, as we’ve talked about, is the level of, of awareness and understanding that a product, program, service or your organization has in people’s minds. So we have to be constantly building it because if we don’t maintain some sort of momentum, we are going to lose the shelf life of mindshare. People are gonna forget about your organization if they haven’t heard from you in awhile. So you’ve got to keep sending out all those communications. Keep staying top of mind. And that means you’ve got to build a machine with momentum to do that. And that mind share is important because it gets people to take action. People are more likely to donate or sign up or take an action on your issue’s behalf.

Sarah Durham: Okay. If they’ve heard of you, if they’re familiar with you and your issues. So mindshare is critical to building engagement and engagement moves the needle forward. So where do things go wrong? Why do so many organizations have a sustainable momentum problem? There are a couple of things that we hear from organizations that are kind of clues to a sustainable momentum problem. One thing I regularly hear, and I have to say, sometimes I feel this way myself is, you know, I don’t have time to write it down. If you were a communications person and you are, you know, doing that job, even if you’re doing it on full time. But particularly if you’re it part time, you’re probably spread very thin and taking the time that you have to to administer to the machine to manage the processes and systems and tools that you need to build.

Sarah Durham: Sustainable momentum feels like it’s not always the best use of your time, but actually it’s really essential to the sustainability of your organization. It’s a bit like getting your teeth cleaned. It’s never fun, right? But it’s good maintenance and you’re happy you did it afterwards because you’re setting yourself up for success in the future. What if you feel you can’t get your peers to play along? This is another thing I hear. I hear people say, well, you know, I’d love to, to share, uh, the keys to the car with my communications engine, right? But my peers aren’t interested. They don’t want to help. I can’t really get them to contribute. So why bother setting all those things up when nobody’s going to pay attention to it. Well, we’ll talk about this more in a minute, but essentially this is a clue that you have a culture problem.

Sarah Durham: That communications is viewed as resting solely on the head of maybe one person with no shared responsibility or no shared participation in it. So how can you show your team that they play a critical role in communications too? Can you celebrate wins with the folks who do great work with you? Can you open up frank conversations with the folks who don’t? About why they are unable to help in communications. Sometimes, very rarely we hear this too. We hear communications people who say, well, I don’t really want others to get too involved. They’ll muck up the work. They’ll do something that will cause a problem later on and what they don’t say. But what is sometimes clear is that there’s also a little bit of turf-iness. In some organizations there’s aa culture of being kind of siloed where departments don’t necessarily collaborate and don’t really want to get too far into the sort of shared vernacular or dirty laundry of each other’s departments.

Sarah Durham: Some of you are chatting into me, Yes, this is us! Well that’s also a challenge. And sometimes very occasionally, I have seen a communications person or people who try to hang on to the cards because they’re actually afraid their job might get lost or will be undervalued, right? If they do too much collaborative work or let people into the process too much. Although actually in my experience, the converse is true. When people don’t see your work, they don’t really understand the depth and complexity of it and they can’t actually celebrate your victories with you. So sometimes the best way to ensure your job security right, is to reveal to people, to leadership, to people who run departments exactly what it takes to keep that machine going and to get them involved so that they appreciate the value of the work and they appreciate the importance of the work that’s going on.

Sarah Durham: So in all of the webinars in this series and in my book, the Nonprofit Communications Engine, I have started by trying to map out a specific goal or outcome. In this case, the goal is creating sustainable momentum. And then to define the ingredients that help you achieve that goal. There are six elements. And in the book, each of these six elements has a chapter. So if you’ve been playing along with the whole series, I’m delighted you’re hanging in and this will be a little bit redundant, but hopefully it’ll reinforce these concepts. What we’re going to do today is the same thing we’ve done in other days, which is use these six elements as kind of doorways in and see how do you apply these elements to build sustainable momentum in your organization. So the first and most critical of the six elements is strategy.

Sarah Durham: And that means that your organization is clear who its target audiences are, has a strategy to reach and engage them and has solid plans to implement that strategy. The solid plans part is about big piece is sustainable momentum. But I would say there’s also two other critical strategic components. First, I think it’s really critical that you are clear as an organization that communications strategy advances every department’s work, not just communications. That communication strategy is about advancing development, advancing programs, advancing advocacy work and helping build mind share and engagement. You can’t build momentum, right? Unless you are viewed as essential to the advancing of other departments goals. Otherwise you feel like you’re out there in outer space and creating sustainable momentum requires that your team and your culture embrace that.

Sarah Durham: And not only embrace that idea but embrace that process and having shared and agreed upon tools is the key to making it organization wide, not just a thing that your team does in isolation. So what does that mean in terms of your team? Well, in the first session, the overview session, we, we dug in a bit deeper into your team, your communications team, what its structure should look like. But I think in terms of sustainable momentum, it’s actually less about your communications team. So the 0.5 or one person or three people who have communications job titles and it’s more about the collaboration or the interaction you have with your colleagues in other departments. So if the person who holds all the, the things close to their chest is the lone juggler, what you’re trying to go for organizationally is a team that looks more like this, a team where people are juggling their own work but then also passing the times to each other where are not only focused on your work, but you’re, you’re collaborating in ways where your peripheral vision, is focused on what does it mean for programs? What does it mean for development? How can you make sure that you are addressing all those agendas in some sort of collaborative way.

Sarah Durham: In order to do that you have to establish clear accountabilities and backups in communications. Let’s unpack that a little bit more deeply. In an earlier webinar I shared the slide, I said that communications function and most organizations, the things you see on the slide or is the work that gets done setting strategy and plans and calendars, making sure the work moves forward, coordinating people, creating all the things, tracking results and making sure that there is a kind of a lesson that it gets integrated for the future. So if you learn a valuable insight, you don’t just let it fly out the window, you capture it and you integrate it so that next time you can use it and do it even better.

Sarah Durham: And I also flagged the things that are in bold here are things that you really can’t outsource. So no matter how small you are, you really do in house have to have somebody who is responsible for moving projects forward, coordinating and making sure lessons and data are captured and integrated. And that last piece in particular is critical key to sustainable momentum. And of all the things on this slide, it’s probably the thing that is most often given short shrift when people get very busy or when people have jobs that are split over a number of functions. I would encourage you to think about who is accountable for making sure that the lessons and the data okay. That you get when you communicate. Let’s say it’s an email you sent out, who’s responsible for looking at the data of how many opens, click throughs, conversions and actions you got on that email.

Sarah Durham: Who’s responsible for taking those lessons and extrapolating them into insights? Like if there’s a certain time of day that your list is more responsive to email or if there’s a certain donation landing page that seems to perform better. That’s the key from a team point of view inside your communications department, but also collaboratively, there are some roles that don’t have to be owned within your department. Right? I recently gave a webinar for Advomatic called content planning and management 101, right? That webinar is online at under insights. In that webinar, one of the things I talked about a lot is that most of the stuff that you create, the blogs, the, you know, the thought leadership, the newsletter requires three functions.

Sarah Durham: You’ve got to have somebody who’s editing, who’s making sure that you know, the voice of the organization is right. It’s on message. It’s reflects what you’re doing as an organization. You’ve got to have people producing the content, they’re authors, and then you need to have coordination. And the coordination piece is the piece that the communications people are most likely to do. But the authors and the editors might be your colleagues in other departments. And as you start to build a greater clarity about how your programs person might for instance, be the editor of any content that gets produced, that talks about programs, then they start to take some personal interest or make some investments and how many people read that article or which blogs or news articles are most likely to be shared or what the conversation is in social media around some of their content.

Sarah Durham: So think about who is accountable for playing these roles in your organization and who backs them up if somebody is on vacation or sick or unavailable, who, who steps in to be the editor or to be the author or to help coordinate? Tools are critical to building sustainable momentum. And we’ve been talking about tools in a bunch of different ways. Tools for creating sustainable momentum are probably the least sexy tools, right? That communicators get to work with. But they are absolutely mission critical. We talked last week about the importance of having a great brand guide and certainly that is an important tool because what it does is it gives you a reference point that everybody can use in your organization when they write or design or speak about the organization. But I would argue that there are actually other kinds of tools that might be even more critical.

Sarah Durham: And probably the biggest is project management software. So project management software, not necessarily the funnest topic. But when you’ve got a simple tool and there are lots of great free ones these days, right? You can assign accountabilities, you can make it very clear who’s editing, who’s writing, who’s coordinating, who has to approve things. And you can do it in a way where it’s transparently viewed and you can attach documents or link to things so that there’s no mistaking what’s going on at any step of the game. A couple of you are tweeting or are chatting into me Asana. Absolutely. Asana is a great one. So we’re going to talk about Asana in a minute, but I think there are also a couple of things I want you to think about. Beyond project management tools, there are media management tools that do other things.

Sarah Durham: So for instance, having account logins in a centralized place at big duck and asthmatic, we like a tool called 1Password. There’s another one called Dashlane. What these tools allow you to do is dump every for everything like your Google analytics password or um, your stock photography resource password or your brand guide, your digital brand guide password into one place where people can access it if they have the correct privilege. And that way when somebody’s out, other people know how to log in and get into whatever they need. Certainly with the media management, you do those. The more you work with enterprise tools, meaning you’re paying for tools that have paid levels of access depending on the size of your team and your budget. You can adjust permissions and accountability. So, for instance, in a paid version of 1Password, you can create vaults where certain people have access to certain passwords based on their job function.

Sarah Durham: I’m going to talk about and show you some examples cause I’m a big Asana fan, but there are lots of great project management tools. If Asana is not for you, a lot of people use and like Basecamp, right? You can use free tools like Google Sheets. Um, Asana also has a free version. So price should not be a barrier with project management software. It’s really just taking the time to set it up. This is a quick glimpse into Asana and what I screenshotted here was a little snippet of the Big Duck blog calendar and you can see over on the left over here, we’ve got month by month what is the content that we’re producing in the blog. And you can see over here who was accountable for moving this peace forward. We are actually distributing the responsibilities for coordinating across members of our team.

Sarah Durham: But you can see here on the right, this is a kind of a detailed view of this task. So this blog on strategic storytelling in the time of COVID is going through several phases of being edited and final tweaked and being loaded in. And you can see exactly who is accountable for each of those steps. Okay. If somebody has completed something, they can check it off, they can attach a document. So anything you need to know about this project is visible here. Asana has a very, very robust free version and you can do almost all of this for free in Asana. The paid versions just kind of open up some additional bells and whistles. I’ve also talked to people in communications teams who use the system called Dapulse. Awkwardly named, I would argue, but that’s Dapulse.

Sarah Durham: So there are lots of different tools and I think that most important one is to find a tool that feels right culturally, like it works for your team and gives you the kind of visibility and accountability that you want to have to make sure that people are clear what’s going on and it’s not dependent on one person. I kind of hinted at this in earlier threads in this, that culture is really key to sustainable momentum momentum. And what that means is that the expectations for staff collaboration and behavior must encourage healthy internal and external communication. Internally that means playing nicely together. Externally it means collaborating on the content. It means that people should be able to author pieces, edit pieces, beyond the communications team. The commodity communications team at a minimum must be the glue that holds it together.

Sarah Durham: But just because somebody is on the communications team, it doesn’t mean they necessarily will be good at or have the time to write, design, produce everything. Everything there is. Little editorial note: somebody chatted in. A helpful, um, note about Dapulse is now I’ve never used it but this person Lola says that Dapulse is now and they are fan of Thank you Lola, that is helpful. So your goal as either a executive director, a communications person, or the head of a team is to foster a culture of shared responsibility for keeping things moving. We want everybody to be invested in moving forward effective communications on behalf of your organization because that’s how we build mindshare and engagement. Mindshare and engagement helps and reinforces everything you do. We are very big fans of tools like DARCI and RACI and other decision making tools.

Sarah Durham: This is a screenshot that maps out what DARCI means. So DARCI is about defining on any project. Who are the decision makers, who’s accountable, who’s responsible, who’s consulted and who’s informed in the work we do at Big Duck and Advomatic, we often work with committees, maybe a committee that is a mix of board and staff. Sometimes we consult with other external stakeholders like donors or clients. And when at the beginning of any big project, you sit down as a team and you say is that client just informed? Are we just going to keep them in the loop about what we’re doing or they consult it? Are we going to ask them for their input? And who’s responsible are, are, you know, are the people editing and offering solely responsible or are they actually accountable? Do they have to be, is there one person who’s got to hold it all together?

Sarah Durham: In my experience, if at the beginning of a project you map out everybody’s role using a framework like this and you sit down and you say to them, Hey, executive director, I’m thinking on this project, you’re going to be consulted. So I’m going to get your input, but you’re not necessarily going to be responsible or accountable, and the director of communications is going to be the decision maker. How does that sound? You set yourself up for success a lot better if you get that kind of transparent conversation rolling early in the project about the role. And I have found countless times at board members and donors that sometimes our clients anticipate are going to be challenging, that they’re going to want to be hands on, on the project, actually are very happy to not be hands on as long as they understand what their role is in advance and they understand where they get to be consulted or informed.

Sarah Durham: Processes are arguably the most critical thing that will help your organization create sustainable momentum. Processes and tools really, really go hand in hand. So having a process and a tool is oftentimes the glue that holds it together. And I guess you could argue the checklist is just as much of a tool as it is a process, or templates for instance. Again, not sexy stuff, but really critical to doing it right. And even with very, very simple things like let’s say for instance, your organization regularly produces an e-newsletter and you produce that e-newsletter, you know, a few times a month. And every time you do it, you go through the same steps. You solicit ideas, you brainstorm what should make it into the next newsletter with a small group, you have people who write the content, you edit the content, you pick an image, you code it, you do all those things.

Sarah Durham: You’d be surprised how often a ball gets dropped because it’s not all written down. And certainly if you have a transition on your team, you’re going to find it’s much, much harder to not drop balls and to get it right when you’ve got a checklist or a template. You can just move a lot faster. So earlier I showed you Big Duck’s blog in Asana. How we manage that, and this is the template that we use to manage that. And this is set up in Asana as a template task. Meaning every time we write a new blog or whatever, we’re gonna schedule in a new blog, which is duplicate this task and we just assigned, okay, who’s developing the outline? Who gives feedback, who’s scheduling it? When’s this draft due? Who does what?

Sarah Durham: You can see this goes all the way down to publishing the blog and sharing it in social media. And you would think, you know, well, I’ll never forget to share the blog and social media, but yeah, well you will forget to share that blog and social media and just having this written down and assigning it means you can let it run like clockwork. You don’t have to use the brain space that it takes to, to um, try to remember all the details. The last element that is critical to any thriving communications engine is reflection. And this is the part where we learn and we get better. And if I had to kind of boil it all down, what reflection means, this is what it looks like. So you’ve done some planning at the beginning of your project. You’ve used, you’ve either used a template, if it’s something you do over and over again, or maybe you’ve just set up a custom plan for a specific initiative, you need to do, you implement that plan, right?

Sarah Durham: And along the way to build sustainable momentum. You’re not just doing it on your own, but you’re sharing what you’re doing. So the implement plus share is about doing the work collaboratively and expressing what’s happening, keeping people in the loop at the end of the work you debrief and you take that debrief, which maybe you’ve done with the colleagues you collaborated with and you learn from it and you share those learnings. So you go back to the people who may be were responsible or consulted during the, during the work itself and you share with them how did it do? Did you achieve the goals you set out? Did you get your open rates or click through rates higher. Did you acquire new donors? Did you get new people to sign that pledge or take the action? Circling back to your colleagues and letting them know what the outcomes were.

Sarah Durham: And also candidly sharing what happened that went really well, that you felt okay, it was a win for your team and what maybe didn’t go so well that you might do differently next time will really help raise your organization’s collective consciousness about communications. With those insights, you update your templates or your checklist, right? You share that, you let people know that you’ve made those updates, particularly the people who work in them so that they’re not surprised to see new tasks or new responsibilities that get assigned to them. And then you repeat it all starts all over again. So it’s really not hard, but it is critical to build this into a machine that has some kind of momentum. So before we get into Q & A I want to give you some tips for creating sustainable momentum. So I’m going to share some tips.

Sarah Durham: Here are my tips for creating sustainable momentum in your organization. First, share your communications engine with your colleagues. You have built or are maintaining something that is multifaceted and complex. Probably much more so than some of your colleagues might realize. When you share glimpses into how it works in department meetings and staff meetings, in reports to your leadership or your board that will help people understand some of what goes into doing what you do and it’ll help them be smarter contributors to your work and help them also be greater shepherds or partners in the pieces that they do to collaborate with you.

Sarah Durham: Collaborate on your plans and report back transparently. And I mean this specifically for you communications people, right? When you’re crafting a plan for something like a plan to boost your major donor communications, work on that plan with your development team. When you’re working on a student recruitment plan, if you are an education organization, work on that plan with the programs people. Don’t work in isolation and report back on how it’s going transparently. That will help your colleagues bought in to the plan as the right plan. It will help ensure it is the right plan and it will make sure that you and your colleagues are working in a more collaborative way that starts to break down some silos.

Sarah Durham: Be your organization’s greatest communications, cheerleader and coach. I think it can be a challenge when you are one person doing the job of five people and it does wear people down. I’ve seen a lot of people who get kind of fatigued by holding it altogether. But somewhere in your in your inner resources, if you can rally to that challenge and try to be a cheerleader and a coach and an optimist as opposed to a kind of… Like in the branding world we used to talk about brand police and the idea with the brand police was that they were somebody who was a law enforcer and, and carried, you know, carried a weapon and maybe used it occasionally and that’s kind of threatening. People do a lot better when they are praised and celebrated. So be a cheerleader, be a coach, celebrate victories that your team has and you will see they will be hungry for that praise in the future.

Sarah Durham: Tailor involvement where you can and where you must to get folks on board. One of the pitfalls of creating checklists and templates and getting more process oriented is that sometimes it makes you nuts when people don’t follow those processes. And sadly, I’m one of those people. As a busy person running a couple of businesses, I am the person who might break a process because I’m trying to get things done right fast. And that’s very frustrating for people who made a really good effort into setting up those processes. And the reality is that sometimes you do have to say, okay, I’m going to let this person cut this corner. But you still have to hang on to the accountability and the responsibility for moving it ahead.

Sarah Durham: If you know your executive director is just not going to follow the rules, let that be okay. Come up with a template if you must, for how to work with that person. Or if you know that your director of development needs to do it a little differently, be flexible about it. If you tailor involvement where you can, you’ll find people will be much more likely to give you what you need to succeed. Celebrate wins. That is always huge and wins, I think can be celebrated in a lot of different ways. Show people in your meetings, you know, the great work that your colleagues are doing. Somebody write a great speech for somebody to read it, the gala, great. Celebrate that, read a snippet of it. Surfacing what your colleagues are doing as they create content or edit or help get things done is a great way to make them feel good and get there bought in to do it.

Sarah Durham: Okay. Couple of resources here and then we are going to dig into some of your questions. First the book, the Nonprofit Communications Engine is available on Um, right now it is only sold on Amazon. A couple of you have asked me if there are other places you can get it. Amazon, I think does have some used copies or sale copies You might find it discounted there, but right now Amazon is the only place to get the book. On the Big Duck website. If you go to, there are a number of case studies showing you what we do, and a couple of them are about teams. You can see over here on the left, you can actually navigate it’ll filter down to teams and some of those case studies also highlight some of the sustainable momentum practices that we have helped our clients develop.

Sarah Durham: I am the host of a podcast called the Smart Communications Podcast. And if you have been listening to it, you probably know that we largely interview a lot of people like you, communications people, executive directors, people doing amazing things too. Help their organizations communicate in better ways. You can find the smart communications podcast on Spotify and iTunes, wherever you listen to podcasts. So we are going to dig into some of your questions and please chat in your suggestions or your tips. If you have other tips, tools that you like to use, please chat them in. I’m eager to get to all of them. And I think what I am going to do is I’m going to turn on my webcam. I am actually in the Big Duck office today. For those of you who have been in these webinars over the past few weeks, you’ve seen me in a very nice kind of rural office.

Sarah Durham: I’ve been in central Massachusetts. But today, I’ve come into Brooklyn.Here I am in my office, almost business as usual except that nobody’s here. Okay, so here are your questions. Are there tips or advice you would have for an organization where everybody’s working at home now or even a remote team before COVID-19. Absolutely. The project management software I think becomes even more critical when you’re working in a decentralized way. Another tool that I strongly recommend is some sort of instant messaging tool. We use Slack at Big Duck and Advomatic. I’m a fan of Slack, although there are other alternatives to Slack. A few of you are chatting in, we love Slack. Slack for those of you who’ve never used it, allows you to directly chat one-on-one with people, but also to form channels or groups where you can invite a bunch of people in a room to discuss a topic and you can create channels for particular projects or particular initiatives or particular programs that will help you collaborate seamlessly.

Sarah Durham: Slack also has video tools and other features with a combination of Asana and Slack. You can do just about everything and you will find that your email drops enormously. We are getting a lot of questions about where to get the book. For those of you in Massachusetts, somebody just chatted in that Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts is selling the book. So thank you for that. How often do you recommend nonprofits create a communications plan? We have a slightly tweaked one for each fiscal year. Other thoughts on communications plans? Yes, a lot of thoughts about communications plans. In earlier webinars I have talked about how communication strategy emerges from organizational strategy. So if your organization has a strategic plan, chances are your strategic plan has a three year or five year shelf life and it focuses on more overarching goals and strategies, right?

Sarah Durham: But then many organizations take that overarching strategic plan and they break it down into annual operating plans where they basically say, okay, this year, this is the stuff we’re going to try to do. And my recommendation to you is that you create a communications plan that supports all of that, that supports the annual objectives in your strategic plan, the things you’re trying to do this year, right now in this pandemic and the ensuing recession that we seem to be moving pretty deeply into, this is a really critical time to update your communications plan because odds are good. If you created one in January or last summer, depending on your fiscal year start, you were creating it in a place where you imagined your budget would be greater, perhaps your audiences would be engaging differently. Most organizations that we are working with are doing adaptive communications plans that are addressing two things chiefly right now.

Sarah Durham: The first is special donor communications. Increasingly organizations I think are concerned about their donor relations and the loyalty of their donors as giving shifts. The other thing that I think a lot of people are adapting their communications plans to address, right, is how they are opening up or what’s happening to their programs and services while they’re closed. So if you are an organization that offers place-based programs and services or a human service organization programs that happen in real life, you probably need to be doing a lot of proactive communicating with your clients, with your donors, with your community about what’s going on. That requires real adaptive communications planning. So definitely communications planning at least annually. But when there’s a moment of significant change more frequently. I wrote a blog recently about the idea of having a now team and a tomorrow team.

Sarah Durham: If you get the Big Duck newsletter was the header in the last newsletter. I I think your now team is adapting that communications plan in real time. For those of you who need help with that, don’t hesitate to contact us. We do a lot of that kind of work and we’re doing a lot of down and dirty COVID-19 related communications planning right now. So just drop us a line at [email protected] if you’re curious to find out more about that. How do you handle a supervisor who edits your work no matter what it is or how it sounds, how can you continue to feel confident and produce content knowing that it will most likely be critiqued? Yeah, this is a real challenge and it’s definitely a sustainable momentum challenge. I think I’ve referenced this earlier, but we’ve done a few studies and also the Nonprofit Marketing Guide has done many studies about what makes for happy communications people and boy, being highly managed in that way is generally not very high on the list of things communications people like.

Sarah Durham: I would encourage you if you are working with somebody who is feeling micromanagy, that you take a step back and you ask them what the overarching role they envisioned for themselves and communications is, what their goal is for you in communications. Like, get on the same page, what, what is their expectation about what their job is here and what your job is here. Maybe bring out that DARCI chart and ask them, are they accountable or are you accountable, are they responsible, are you responsible? Are they the editor or the author? Are you the editor or the author? These will be challenging conversations or maybe some subtext in all of this. And there are a lot of power dynamics that can be challenging to tackle directly.

Sarah Durham: But as much as you can get clear using a framework, what your job is and what their job is, you can at least begin to see if you’re on the same page about the end goal about how to align. Part of our work is very technical and involves rules and regulations, which can become a barrier. Would you recommend developing a communications mini campaign breaks down or simplifies some of those rules and jargon to encourage people to get involved in our work? Yes, I would. If you work in a space that is highly specialized, and I see this a lot with health organizations where maybe there’s technical complexity to the science behind their work or environmental organizations, this is often a challenge too, where the work gets very scientific. It can be hard for a lot of people to produce content for that.

Sarah Durham: And understanding rules and regulations is definitely one of those places. But it’s quite often the case that you can have people who are not technical experts, authors. But make sure your editors are technical experts. Could you have somebody who knows all those rules and regulations do the editing? Of the more lay person’s writing to bring out that expertise? It’s definitely a challenge, but one of the things I would encourage you to think about is that. You know, who’s the audience? If the audience you’re writing for producing content for is general, like you’re posting these things on your website, it might be good, certainly not to break the rules or regulations, but to simplify the language de-jargon it, make it a bit more accessible. People on the outside. That is definitely an editing challenge.

Sarah Durham: We have a comment here that circles back to the last thread about my executive director is one of those people who needs to cut corners. She’s too busy and her mind doesn’t work the same as mine. So I’m not sure she’ll ever totally understand my communications plans. I know I need to be flexible and tailor something to her, but I’ve been struggling with what to do there. It seems like every format I use is too complicated or she doesn’t pay attention to or use it. Do you have suggestions for a basic, simple way that I can present our communications plan or social media week by week that would be helpful for someone like her? My colleague Farra Trompeter, who many of you know and love, gives a terrific workshop on communications planning. And in that workshop, one of the things you get is a template for a slide deck.

Sarah Durham: And the slide deck basically breaks down, these are the goals, these are the strategies, these are the tactics and tools. And my advice to you is that if you are managing people who have not a lot of time and who are simplifiers, meaning people who want less information, boil it down into a deck, Google slides, PowerPoint, something like that that is no more than five or six slides. Ask that person, how often do they want those updates? What is the best format to give it to them in? It might be that the level of detail that you need to do your job or the altitude you need to fly at is much more involved than what they need. And the trick is to open up an open dialogue about the correct altitude to get you on the same page.

Sarah Durham: So again, candid conversation, think about slide deck instead of a spreadsheet or something like that. Share the spreadsheet with people on your, on your team or in your department. Could you share any more tips for increasing buy-in and understanding of communications across departments or colleagues alongside presenting the strategy what would I recommend? Well I think it depends a lot on your organization and what the culture of sharing is like in your organization. I have seen a number of organizations do this in some really exciting ways. And actually earlier today I had a call with a Big Duck client, Christine, who I’ve also recorded a podcast with. I don’t know if Christine is with us here today, but Christine shared a great idea that she had with me. She was talking, for instance, about building buy in and understanding for communications among a new kind of advisory group she’s forming

Sarah Durham: One of the ideas she had is she’s actually gonna create a record on her own, a video. She’s going to do it in zoom. And in the video she’s going to walk through some of how the communications machine works, how the brand works and what she wants these people to do in terms of communicating on message. And I loved that idea because she can use her brand guide, she can script it, she can record something and do it from home. It can be pretty fast, right? But then she’s going to have this little video that anytime anybody comes to work at that organization or joins this committee or you know, she needs it as an onboarding tool, she can just share the video. And then my suggestion was that that should always be followed up with one on one conversations.

Sarah Durham: So think about what’s the training tool? What can you create? Is it a deck that you can show people in a few slides what you’re doing? Is it something that you use, like an Asana project management tool that you can actually share your screen and walk people through so they understand it? What’s the best way to let people behind the scenes, draw the curtain back and show them what you’re doing and what you need them to do that is sustainable for you. One of the reasons I think the recording of video and zoom is so terrific is that you can take the time if you, if you do that to really script out something that’s that’s right. And that can be a kind of sustainable momentum. Creating something that has a long shelf life that you can keep reusing is great.

Sarah Durham: So there are all kinds of ways. We actually had a client years ago who did something that I also loved. She worked at an organization that had a couple hundred people on staff and they got together once a month for an all staff meeting, and then they also had different manager level meetings and things like that. And she made a point to have five minutes on every meeting’s agenda about communications. So whether it was the staff meeting or department meeting or manager’s meeting leadership meeting, always five minutes about communications. And in most of those, she would ask people to do something. She would create some sort of exercise. Sometimes the exercise was who can stand up and do our organization’s elevator pitch and she would invite three people to stand up and do it right.

Sarah Durham: And then she would praise them. She would say, well, here’s what I loved about what you just said, or here’s something that you just talked about that I never thought about. She always made it very positive. One of the things she did that I thought was really funny, but she said was very effective was she was always brought candy to these meetings. So if you got up and you did her activity, you knew you were gonna get a Snickers bar or a Hershey bar or something like that. And people did it because they wanted that candy. And it became just a standing way that she created mindshare for communications in her organization. So those kinds of things, positive, celebratory things that you can keep alive in your organization are often how you build mindshare and engagement.

Sarah Durham: Okay. We’ve got five minutes to go and I think we are wrapping up the questions. I want to say thank you to all of you, and you are welcome to check out or You can also email me. It’s [email protected] or [email protected]. I hope that all of you are safe and well. I so appreciate you taking the time to join me, whether it was just today or all of these. It’s a privilege and an honor to me to be able to get to know you and to do this kind of work. And I hope it’s helpful. So please drop me a line, let me know what you think and I look forward to hearing about your organization’s thriving in the future.

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