Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán
February 21, 2024

What are the latest nonprofit communications trends?

Kivi Leroux Miller

Farra Trompeter, co-director, talks with Kivi Leroux Miller, founder and CEO of the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, about the latest nonprofit communications trends, including hot topics like AI, brand archetypes, and the structure of communications teams.


Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and worker-owner at Big Duck. Today we’re gonna ask, what are the latest trends in nonprofit communications? And if that question sounds familiar, it’s because, well, this isn’t the first time we’ve asked it. In fact, we’ve asked it for several years because we have had the pleasure of speaking with an expert in nonprofit communications trends. Kivi Leroux Miller. Kivi has been on the podcast several times before on this topic and others talking all about how nonprofit communicators can learn from each other. Kivi Leroux Miller, she/her, is the founder and CEO of Nonprofit Marketing Guide, where she is the lead trainer and coach for hundreds of nonprofit communicators and 32 participants in the Communications Director Mentoring Program each year. She’s also the award-winning author of three books on nonprofit marketing and communications used in many university and certificate programs. Kivi welcome back.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Thank you, Farra. I’m excited to be here.

Farra Trompeter: Well, if you have been listening to the podcast for many episodes, as I hope you have been, you may recall, as we’ve talked about this before, that we get into the annual nonprofit communications trends report that Kivi and her team publishes. This year, which is the 14th annual nonprofit communications trends report, insights were compiled from a survey taken by 533 people who spend at least 50% of their time on communications or marketing work at nonprofits. With 81 participants in the US, 9% in Canada, and the rest from countries around the world, I really do personally look forward to this report every year, and I know our team does as well. There’s a lot I’d love to dig into. So let’s start with a question. I know many nonprofit staff have been pondering this past year. If and how should my organization use AI, machine learning, data science, and the like?

Farra Trompeter: I actually had the chance to discuss this topic with Dr. Ashutosh Nandeshwar from CCS Fundraising back on episode 148. If you haven’t listened to that, be sure to give that a listen. We’ll link to it in the show notes. But now, Kivi, I’m curious, what’s coming up for you and the nonprofits you surveyed? From tools like Grammarly to ChatGPT, many groups are using AI to make everyday tasks quicker, but also there are concerns related to brand identity, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and more. I know we could focus this whole conversation on AI, but I wanna just briefly talk about one aspect you highlighted in the report, and that’s the need for internal policies. What did you learn in the survey and what’s your advice for nonprofit communication staff on this topic?

Kivi Leroux Miller: We learned that most nonprofits are in fact using some form of AI, but they’re using it in lots of different ways. We also learned that only a very small minority of folks have any kind of policy about that use. And the people who did say they had a policy were actually just working on it. And we explored that a little bit further. So we really do have this brand new tool at play in our work and no real guidance for how to use it. And so I think that raises a lot of concerns.

Farra Trompeter: When we were prepping for this conversation, you mentioned concerns about nonprofit communication staff, if they don’t have a policy in place, kind of the risks that may open up for themselves and their team.

Kivi Leroux Miller: I think all of us know about some of the basic issues with bias, incorrect information, but I think we also really need to be careful about a couple of things. One, is the information really accurate in terms of our values as an organization? Is it saying what we wanna say or are we just leaning on it because it’s easy and fast and everyone is really busy? And I think that is an especially big concern, not just for communicators that are trying to use AI themselves, but for folks that are getting content from their programmatic staff that might be relying on AI. And then that material comes back to the communications director. The communications director publishes it, and then if there’s an issue there, you know, we always end up shooting the messenger, right? And so it’s gonna come back to the communications director first, is why was this published? So there’s just a lot of need for clarity inside about who’s responsible for really doing the quality control on AI-produced content. The next biggest concern I have is that if everybody’s using it, everyone’s gonna sound the same. And I know we’ll talk a little bit later about some of the brand implications of using AI, but I really think people need to get clear about what are appropriate uses and what are inappropriate uses, and who really bears the responsibility for that content ultimately.

Farra Trompeter: Well, let’s stay with hot topics for a minute. In 2022, Elon Musk acquired Twitter and then rebranded it to X in the summer of 2023. During this time, how that social media channel works, who’s on it, its overall impact on nonprofit communication strategy has dramatically changed. In this year’s report, you noted that most nonprofits are leaving Twitter or X, and I know you have blogged about this too, we’ll be sure to link to that also in the show notes at But for the listeners out there that are wondering, is this the year they should leave X or Twitter? What advice would you offer as they consider whether or not to pull the plug on this channel?

Kivi Leroux Miller: I would say most people already have. So if you’re still considering it, I think the only reason you wanna stay is if you have a very clear, compelling reason to do so. If you don’t and you don’t sort of automatically know what that case is, then I think it’s okay to go. Going looks a couple of different ways. It might be that you still maintain the account, but you just stop posting on it because who knows what will happen in the future, and you wanna continue to own that real estate with your brand name. That’s fine. You may just post only when there’s breaking news and not try to use it as a regular communications channel, but just as sort of a crisis communications channel. Or you know, we obviously have the election coming up, so maybe you use it, you know, for very specific communications purposes. But again, the overwhelming majority of nonprofits are no longer using Twitter/X actively.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, as you were saying, I think it comes down to like what’s the need? Who do you have relationships with on that channel? Do you have relationships with folks on that channel in other places? And are they more effective there? And again, to your point, if you do decide to hold it, I know a lot of groups will pin a Tweet or in the most recent X post, whatever you call it, and say, you know, “to get the latest information, be sure to connect with us on LinkedIn, Instagram, et cetera, our website with a link to that too”.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Right? And that’s definitely what we recommend. So a lot of people have done the same thing with Facebook when they’ve stopped using Facebook for organizations and they always just put that last post up there.

Farra Trompeter: Exactly. Well, you were just alluding to it a minute ago. You know, I wanna talk about one of my favorite things to discuss and our team’s favorite things to discuss at Big Duck, branding. We at Big Duck define branding as the process and practice of establishing your brand strategy and developing the tools you use to express it every day. If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you probably are familiar with things we’ve published on brand strategy, including an ebook that you can get at Also, our founder, Sarah Durham, wrote a book over 10 years ago called Brandraising that has many of their principles that we put in place in our work. Now we also think about brand strategy as how you want your brand to be perceived. It captures the big ideas that reflect who you are. Within brand strategy, we get into clarifying goals and audiences as well as articulating your desired positioning and personality. Sometimes we even talk about brand archetypes, which stem from a set of personality traits developed by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1940s. I love that this year you asked about archetypes, and I wonder if you can talk about what you discovered generally and how those findings connect to how nonprofits might use brand strategy to guide their content creation, especially on social media?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Sure. So there are 12 brand archetypes. Through some previous research we had done within our community. We knew that about five of those were very rarely used, so we just surveyed about seven of them. And through the survey this year, we discovered that actually 83% of nonprofits are just using four brand archetypes, which I found really interesting. And so what we did is we asked about the archetypes separately in the survey from questions about what folks were posting on social media, and then we blended that data together. And not surprisingly to you, I’m sure Farra, and to a lot of your listeners, there was a mismatch between how folks are using social media and what their identified brand archetype was.

Farra Trompeter: Now I really hope folks will go and download the report. We’ll remind you how to do that in just a few minutes. But Kivi, can you share, you mentioned 83% of nonprofit staff, generally self-identified as four archetypes. What were those archetypes?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Sure. So the two most popular ones are The Caregiver, which we characterize as the warm, supportive, selfless character. And The Sage, which is the wise, informative, and insightful. And those two are right about half. And then we have a few more doing The Hero, which we would consider the courageous, bold, motivational kind of archetype. And then The Everyperson, which is more of the relatable, down-to-earth, approachable archetype. So those four really do comprise 83% of our sector.

Farra Trompeter: Just to underscore this, it sounds like you’re finding that while people identify that they’re using a different tone and style in how they post on social media. Is that right?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Right. And what we often see is that nonprofits are marketing their services on social media, right? Which we expect them to do, but it’s really about their proportion of posts and that mix. And so while we’ll see a lot of marketing of posts, we’ll see some new sharing. There’s not the real emotional content, for lack of a better word, that you would associate with a Caregiver or even a Sage or a Hero. The values aren’t really coming through, the sort of resourcefulness is not coming through. So for example, if you are a Sage, which is the wise, informative, insightful, sure you’re sharing news and you know you’re talking about your expertise, but you’re not necessarily, we’re seeing nonprofits posting things like “how to’s” or advice posts that really help people take the knowledge from the nonprofit and implement it in their own lives. And we know that’s one of the reasons people use social media. Tiktok and YouTube are built on people learning how to do things and figuring stuff out for themselves. So that’s a real missed opportunity where there’s a disconnect between the type of content that’s going online and what folks are professing their archetype is.

Farra Trompeter: Great. I think that’s definitely something folks can reflect more on. And actually a few years ago, our copy director Ryan Gerhardt wrote a post that’s on our blog at called “Using brand personality to guide your presence on social media.” While it didn’t get into archetypes, I think we’re all kind of swimming in the same ponds here, and that might be helpful for folks as they’re trying to investigate this.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Absolutely.

Farra Trompeter: Kivi, before I go into the next topic, you did mention earlier when we were talking about AI, the brand implications of AI, and I think the challenges of, as you said, just and pasting, for example, a draft from ChatGPT and how it may in fact, again, be without flavor or personality and sound like everyone else. Is there anything more you can say on this topic?

Kivi Leroux Miller: The way that I would really encourage folks to experiment more with AI is in repurposing their own content. So that’s something we absolutely advocate at Nonprofit Marketing Guide all the time, is repurposing your own content. And only about a third of nonprofits are using AI for that purpose right now. So I think there’s a tremendous amount of potential there where if you have a bunch of speeches that you’ve written for your executive director and now they have to give another one to maybe a slightly different audience or with some updated information, you can use the previous content to really create that first draft with the updates. And that still retains some of your voice, the kind of terminology you use. You know, we get very particular about language choice in our sector for very good reasons. A lot of it has to do with the kind of approaches we’re advocating to the problems in the world and the way we talk about people. We get very particular. And AI is not gonna understand that, and it’s really going to lose the authenticity that I think a lot of people are shooting for. And we know authenticity is important, especially on social media and other channels as well. And it just, it isn’t there for you on AI. So I really do encourage you to think more about ways that it can help you improve your own content or reuse your own content as opposed to having it write your content for you.

Farra Trompeter: That’s helpful. Now, I can’t let you go without touching on another subject near and dear to our hearts, and that’s strong nonprofit communications teams for many years. I know you’ve advocated that the centralized and integrated teams models work best, and it looks like the majority of the survey respondents agree with you. Can you share briefly what those structures look like and why you think they’re the most effective?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Sure. So we’ve done a lot of research over the last 10 years in our trends reports, and also in our consulting and coaching practices. And we’ve found that the way the work is assigned to a team and the overall approach to communications as a strategic partner, essentially, how people feel about those things, there’s a huge relationship with success and effectiveness. So we’ve developed this framework of five different kinds of teams within an organization. Centralized teams really are sort of air traffic controllers. They listen to everything that’s happening, everybody’s desires, who wants to land, what, when, where, and how. And really pulls together a plan based on that. But they are directing that plan essentially. Integrated teams tend to be folks that are really doing their fundraising very integrated with their programmatic work. So we see this in a lot of advocacy organizations. If there’s a Supreme Court case, there’s fundraising around the advocacy around the case, those attorneys may be doing their work, but the fundraising is very much related directly to the work that’s happening in that moment.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Those are what we call integrated. And so the centralized and integrated teams are by far and away the most effective. And we have tried dozens of different metrics to measure that. And without fail, we see that. The third kind of team sort of sits in the middle and it’s what we call the internal agency team. And these folks are highly skilled expert communicators, they’re great project managers, graphic designers, writers, editors, strategists. But the problem with the team is that they often don’t play a strategic role within the organization. They’re more of the order takers or what we call the drive-through window. And so they find out about things last minute, they’re not really brought in early, they’re just, you know, making the stuff as ordered to make the stuff essentially. So while they’re very effective in a lot of ways, they produce wonderful content because they do have highly skilled folks. It’s not necessarily strategic content. And then the final two are fundraising-led and CEO-led, which is where you basically have the communications person working directly for an executive. And unfortunately those folks end up being a little bit of an executive assistant as well as doing the work. They’re often working for people that don’t really understand communications and marketing. And so there’s a little bit of internal agency mix in there, and they’re really order takers for folks that may or may not truly understand the robust role that comms can play.

Farra Trompeter: So it sounds like for organizations that are having the most transformative impact with communications, where communications really has a seat at the table and really communications is being used to achieve the mission, they tend to be more of that centralized or integrated model.

Kivi Leroux Miller: That’s correct. Absolutely

Farra Trompeter: Right. So I again, encourage people to take a look at this, consider what your structure is, consider where the opportunities may be to pivot, maybe use this report to make the case. Yeah, I was also happy to read that nonprofit communications team sizes are growing and you’ve got a lot of great data in the report about staff size as it relates to organizational budget. And again, that’s a great thing I encourage people to do and benchmark your organization, see how you’re doing, compare to this data. And just for today, I’d love to wrap up with a question that you ponder in your report, which is, should communications teams also manage internal communications? We’ve actually been getting more and more into internal communications work with what we do related to communications team assessment and structure. And I recently had the pleasure of talking with Fatima Jones from The Apollo about it back on episode 121 for those who wanna dig into that conversation. And in the meantime, I’ve had some clients confide in me that internal communications is both everyone’s job and no one’s job. And I’m just curious what’s coming up for you? What did you uncover about this question and where are you landing and what you recommend to nonprofits as it relates to internal communications?

Kivi Leroux Miller: So we found that the majority of nonprofit communications directors who are primarily tasked with external communications are in fact somewhat responsible, if not wholly responsible for internal comms. And for me, this is one of those kind of classic slippery slope kinds of problems. I think it’s absolutely appropriate for the team to be involved in some way, but to unload all of that huge responsibility. And when you’re talking organizations with 100, 200, 500 staff people, it is a massive responsibility. When you’re talking about an executive team that may not feel comfortable. They may not be people, people themselves, they may not even have any kind of leadership training themselves in our sector. Sort of offloading that leadership responsibility onto the comms team I think is also inappropriate. So there are just a lot of sort of cautions I have with folks taking on internal comms. I have coached a couple of organizations that have hired an internal communications director to sit on the comms team, and I think that that’s definitely the way to go if the workload is truly going to be placed on the team. I think you have to resource it.

Farra Trompeter: Great. Well, unfortunately, it’s time to wrap things up. If you’re out there, I encourage you to download and dive into the report itself at You can also access resources, get training and coaching and more at In fact, the team there has also added an app that you can download and join their free community, so definitely check it out. You can also connect with Kivi on LinkedIn at Kivi Leroux Miller. Kivi, thank you so much for joining us. Anything else you’d like to share before we go?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Thank you, Farra, for always being our first interview when the trends report comes out. I really appreciate it.

Farra Trompeter: We are your biggest fans. Thank you so much and have a great day everyone.