4 min Read
October 30, 2018

Three key places a marketing manager and executive director should align

In some nonprofits, the marketing & communications manager position operates as a catch-all for the organization. After all, most any task could be included under the vast umbrella of “communicating.” Having occupied this role myself, and with several years of experience in other nonprofit marketing & communications departments, I write this post as someone who has at some point or another desperately sought a clear path forward.

My biggest takeaway is that it’s essential to pursue a comprehensive, direct, and evolving understanding between yourself and your organization’s executive director about the role. My experience is backed up by a study that Big Duck and Nonprofit Marketing Guide collaborated on called What it takes to be great The top five factors of successful nonprofit communications teams, which details actionable ways to increase communications capacity. Some common misalignments (capacity decreasers) are caused by fuzzy job responsibilities and expectations, an institutional lack of knowledge about how communications works, and even the fast-shifting landscape of communications itself.

They can all be addressed using the below three frames for discussion with your executive director. So, in addition to project-specific conversations and broad chats about what the organization hopes to achieve, consider regularly checking in on these topics with your ED.

Development and marketing & communications are often two different departments, but you might find yourself brainstorming the theme for your organization’s year-end fundraising campaign, drafting the language that will be used for it, strategizing, coordinating, and implementing the campaign calendar, tracking and analyzing the results of the campaign, and much more. Perhaps this set of responsibilities has all been laid out to you explicitly, but there’s also a chance you’ve only known that your job would include “collaborating with Development to ensure organizational success” or something similarly open-ended.

Clarifying your accountabilities and developing pragmatic boundaries alongside your executive director will help you free up precious time (more on that later). It will also help you avoid watching the role snowball beyond what you’re capable of executing thoughtfully and successfully. Perhaps you both agree that there is significant overlap between your responsibilities and development goals. After establishing that this is an area of work for which you’re accountable, you can begin to think together about where boundaries of your role are drawn more closely instead.

Another common nonprofit marketing & communications dilemma is the struggle for balance between the macro and micro. Across many nonprofits, the need is urgent, the pace is frantic, and the work needs to be pushed out stat. As a result, a lot of focus goes straight toward implementation rather than strategy and reflection. The expectation might be that you should be producing as much audience-facing content as possible. But what if you feel like your organization’s voice is ringing unclear in this week’s newsletter or the brochure that’s due to go to print tomorrow?

The work you’re hustling to share might not have the impact you (and leadership) are looking for. It’s vital to pause and spend time thinking big picture—about both the goals you’re trying to achieve with your communications and the paths you could take to get there. Make sure your ED understands that you’re balancing between writing tweets for the week and thinking holistically about what you’re trying to accomplish with your social media presence. Success just might look like fewer tweets making their way onto your feed—but each packing a heavier punch.

The odds are that you are already actively discussing some of your resources, like your marketing budget. While your budget is important, you might also consider your time during the eight-hour workday and your dedicated support staff’s (assistants, interns, etc.) time as equally essential resources that should be distributed strategically. Like a budget, your time has a cap, or a limit. You can approach managing your time in many different ways. For example, you could create something like a pie chart detailing how much time each day, week, or month should be allotted to different goals, channels, or campaigns.

Use your pie chart, or whatever visual works best for you to strategize your time breakdown, in conversation with your ED. This will function in two ways. First, you can discuss where your time is actually being spent. Second, you can drive home the idea that your time is finite. The pie can’t get bigger, and it can only be divided into so many slices. The end goal is that your leadership understands the rationale behind your priorities and supports your use of resources to go after them.

It’s worth noting once more that having a single discussion around these are topics won’t get the job done. They become easier to discuss, feel less abstract, and have a greater impact when addressed regularly. Thoughtfully working toward, or actively maintaining, alignment with your ED will enable you to work more strategically. And in a marketing and communications role, that honing in on the clear path forward is invaluable.

Hannah Thomas

Hannah Thomas is the Former Director of Learning and Innovation at Big Duck

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