Facts alone do not change hearts and minds. The lives and experiences of people do. For nonprofits, this means that the ability to tell the story of their work and the people they serve is critical. In fact, effective communications and storytelling link to everything an organization does. It has implications for fundraising, talent recruitment, organizing, advocacy, and more. Yet, when it comes to investing in and developing communication strategies and capacity, many nonprofit organizations see roadblocks in their way.
There is a road ahead!
Below, we share four commonly heard communications challenges and steps to overcome them.
Roadblock #1 – “We do not have any communications expertise on staff.”
This might seem like an insurmountable roadblock: Wouldn’t an effective communications strategy require having a communications expert on staff?
Look to board and advisory council members to recruit communications expertise from their networks. The key is to make specific requests - website design, social media support, bilingual services, campaign, marketing, etc. Specific requests may help the organization identify support and provide an opportunity for a board member to contribute more than just their treasure. Engaging board members in the challenge of addressing a need can help build the case to the board for more significant investment in communications.
Organizations that do not have a communications expert in-network may want to consider hiring a consultant per project or by the hour. Today, communications professionals are abundant, and many never have to come to your organization to do the work. In effect, hiring a contractor who can work remotely from anywhere in the country may be a more affordable option than initially believed.
The best option for many nonprofits might be to build the communications expertise of their existing staff by offering professional development. As someone who knows the ins and outs of the organization, work, and mission, staff can be well-positioned to source and tell a nonprofit’s story. Free quality online resources and training are abundantly available. One of our favorite resources is The Communications Network, whose mission is to equip those in communication roles at nonprofits to be more effective communicators.
Roadblock #2 – “We do not have the budget to invest in communications.”
What story does your budget tell about your organization’s communications needs? If it is not a line item on your budget, a funder may interpret that to mean that it is not a need or a priority. Ease into adding a line item on the budget by phasing in funding on a project-by-project basis or including a modest amount for general needs and maintenance. There is more awareness now about the need to support communications than ever before, and many funders understand that communications can leverage other forms of program and operations support. Another approach is building infrastructure and demonstrating opportunities by using “no to low-cost” options such as social media platforms, taking photographs at events, and engaging volunteers, board members, or pro bono consultants. Maximizing available resources can help organizations build a stronger foundation and demonstrate the opportunities they could fully realize with more significant financial investment in communications. Examples include an increased ability to undertake time-sensitive fundraising, marketing, and recruitment with existing and new audiences.
Roadblock #3 – “Our board and executive leadership do not see investing in communications as a priority.”
It is not easy to get anything done without leadership buy-in. If a nonprofit’s board or executive leadership does not see the value in communications, it may be because they themselves lack experience and familiarity with today’s forms of communications. Offering examples using visual aids, metrics, and comparative data can help them better understand the value proposition. Sharing rich online content and the presence of a peer organization can also be very persuasive.
Start small and focus on low-hanging fruit. Nonprofits might find it helpful to start with more manageable projects. As they execute these projects successfully, they can begin to build support from leadership. Once a nonprofit has a few communications wins under its belt, it can move onto more challenging projects.
Nonprofits that use Google Analytics and other metrics to measure growth and impact may have an easier time demonstrating the return on investment to their leadership. This return on investment could take the form of increased efficiencies for staff, brand clarity in the community, more visits to their webpage, new partnerships, increased media visibility, and much more.
Roadblock #4 – “We simply do not have the time.”
We understand that one of the most valuable resources a nonprofit has is time. This reality is precisely why organizations cannot afford not to spend time communicating the impact they are having in the community or the lives they touch.
Again, start small and have fun! When possible, update or curate from existing content rather than creating new content from scratch. Another option is to collaborate with partners on communications materials. Collaborations not only save time but can also be a strategic step in partnership and network building.
Set reasonable goals and track your progress! What gets measured gets done. For example, plan to write at least one website update per month, one blog post per quarter, or one tweet per week. What matters is that you get started and remain consistent.
And finally, don’t overlook the opportunity to groom in-house talent and source from existing staff. It is highly likely you have a blogger, photographer, or social media marketing enthusiast with great ideas already on your team, just waiting to be engaged.
Your nonprofit is on a mission. Effectively telling your story along the way is core to your success. Starting and building a robust communications strategy can smooth the road, provide alternate routes, and perhaps get you there faster! So, when roadblocks occur along your communications journey, remember, nonprofits are nothing if not nimble and innovative!
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