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3 Ways to Hire and Retain the Best Nonprofit Communicators
Wednesday Feb 15, 2017
Savvy communications directors with deep expertise and track records of success in larger nonprofits are, in my experience, a bit like the Painted Bunting who unexpectedly took up residence here in Brooklyn recently; rare birds that can be difficult to attract, spot, and head south for the winter too soon. When the right person applies to work for you and stays, spearheading game-changing communications projects year after year, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Here are three ways you can hire and retain the best nonprofit communicators:
Want a pro? Hire a pro.
It sounds funny to say, but if you want an expert communications director, you need to actually hire one. That often means resisting the urge to promote that programs person who you think is a good communicator just because they’ve worked at your org for awhile and “get it.” Try to avoid hiring that great person from the corporate world who comes without nonprofit experience too. Instead, recruit people with solid backgrounds working in nonprofit communications already so they can bring their knowledge of the sector, strategy, and skills with them.
Kivi Leroux-Miller and I recently collaborated on a study of successful in-house communications teams that revealed that hiring expert nonprofit communications professionals was a critical factor. (Download our ebook “What it Takes to Be Great: The top five factors of successful nonprofit communications teams” here).
Big team? Invest in a strong second-in-command.
I recently invited a handful of senior communicators at nonprofit organizations with operating budgets of 100 million dollars or more to meet each other over breakfast at Big Duck and share how their teams are structured. While each nonprofit’s communications team varied in size (from 1.5 to 14 full-time employees!) the directors in the room who seemed the happiest (and calmest) all had one thing in common: a strong second-in-command.
Senior-level communications pros don’t want want to do it all themselves, and they know it’s not a good use of donor dollars if they do. A strong Number Two gives your communications director the ability to step out of the weeds of managing every project, focus on setting priorities, and work more on the high-value projects. This generates greater value for the nonprofit, who’s likely paying that director a six-figure salary, and pushes down the day-to-day communications work to people who are less expensive, just starting their careers, and need to build these skills. It also provides your organization with a working succession plan if your director leaves.
?These Number Two spots are great opportunities to develop rising stars—and a more appropriate place for someone who’s entering your organization from the corporate sector or another department. They can be mentored by the Director while getting hands-on experience assuming management responsibilities.
Lots to do? Set priorities and be ruthless.
Communications teams have important strategic work to do: raising awareness, changing hearts and minds, engaging donors or members, recruiting participants to programs, strengthening the brand experience, and more. This work can take years to do successfully and well; it requires planning, budgeting, buy-in,methodical oversight, and execution.
At the same time, many communications teams also function as an internal agency. They are asked to create flyers for events at the last minute, help a department finesse and send an email out, and more to accommodate projects on short notice. This work is important too, but it’s often reactive and more tactical. It’s the sort of urgent (but not always important) work that eats up time from the important (but not always urgent) work of proactive, strategic communications.
That seasoned director you hope will build a nest for years to come will fly away fast if she’s burdened with an unreasonably long list of tasks, murky priorities, no resources for managing more production-based assignments, and left without time to advance the projects where she and her team might add the most value.
In our ebook, “What it Takes to Be Great: The top five factors of successful nonprofit communications teams,” we confirmed that successful communications teams rely not only on a clear set of priorities, but also the support of leadership who empowers them to be able to say no. At my roundtable of communications pros at large nonprofits there was consensus about this, too.
If priorities aren’t clear, consider labeling every project your department works on in one of these three ways:
Fire-extinguishing: these projects and tasks are typically urgent, time-sensitive, and often crisis-driven. They tend to be tactical and often have little or no long-term ROI. For example, fixing your board chair’s misspelled name on that big mailing you’re about to do.
Optimizing: these projects and tasks usually involve making processes, systems, and tools better. For instance, upgrading Constant Contact to something more state-of-the-art and powerful like Salesforce, or building a better website.
Seed-planting: these projects and tasks are the essence of important/not urgent work. They won’t bear fruit for some time, but when they do, you’ll feel great. For instance, researching and preparing a 3-year plan for your communications team that builds off of your organization’s strategic plan, includes a budget, and culminates by tackling a big project (such as a rebranding you know you should do but can’t happen soon).
Labeling these projects and tracking them in a project management system like Basecamp (or even on post-its on your wall) will help you get a clearer sense where your team’s time actually goes. Better yet, consider reviewing how many and what sort of fire-extinguishing, optimizing, and seed-planting projects you’re working on regularly with your boss so you can make sure you’re aligned.
Looking for more? Just reach out.Source: BigDuck smart communications for nonprofits
If you’re a CEO searching for your own Painted Bunting at a mid-size or larger organization, contact us. We might be able to help.
Brand Building at the Prospect Park Alliance
Wednesday Jan 18, 2017
When I became the head of marketing at the Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit organization that manages Brooklyn's flagship park in partnership with the City, I was given a marketing professional's dream situation and perhaps biggest challenge: creating a new website for the organization starting on day one—and adding to that, by my own initiative, the freshening of the brand identity.
The Alliance had just completed the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Center at Lakeside, an award-winning recreation center designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architect, and an infusion of good will and heightened fundraising had provided the resources to take on this project, and in short time and with an ambitious timeline, we kicked off work.
The project went smoothly and was overall a success, and I attribute this to several steps that were taken along the way:
Set a strategy
About a year before I came to the Alliance, the organization hired Big Duck to undertake a brandraising intensive with leadership and key stakeholders. This valuable process, which identified the Alliance's key audiences, its brand "personality" and the start of key messaging for the organization, served as a valuable strategic road map for our brand refresh and website redesign.
Consider the Brand History and equity
For every organization, its history and focus for the future will dictate what direction to take with its brand identity. For the Alliance, we felt that its most recent brand identity, designed by Chermayeff & Geismar in 2002, had resonance with our audiences, so rather than start from scratch, our designers built on that brand equity by streamlining and modernizing our existing mark, and introducing full brand system that played to our key brand characteristics.
I am lucky to work in an environment with colleagues and leadership that were fully supportive of this project – this is not always the case. But even in the best situations, building consensus goes a long way toward ensuring the success of the project. From day one, I assembled a leadership team that was charged with making final decisions on the project, which met a key milestones in the project's development. In each phase of the project, the consultants met with key departments at the Alliance to gather their input and perspective. This not only ensured that the project went smoothly, but in my opinion also improved upon the design work.
Create a Full Brand System
Rather than just creating a logo and calling it a new brand identity, our designers fleshed out a full brand system, with our website as the first significant project. At the end of the project, we were provided with a font family, color palette, photography style guide, templates for creating the various types of print materials produced by the organization, letterhead, electronic newsletters, and even a system for branding all the work we do in Prospect Park. Consistency is incredibly important in establishing a brand and raising its profile, and this system was essential for our achieving these goals. Rather than restricting our designers, the new system has provided them with creative approaches for working within the system to produce strong and beautiful materials for our organization.
The results can be seen in the success of our marketing and fundraising activities – since the launch of our brand identity and website in late 2014, we have grown our email audience by nearly 200 percent, and have additional gains in our fundraising efforts with key audiences.
Source: BigDuck smart communications for nonprofits
Deborah Kirschner is a marketing and communications professional with more than 20 years experience in the non-profit cultural sector. She oversees a full range of marketing and communications activities as the Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit organization that sustains, restores and advances Brooklyn's flagship park in partnership with the City. Deborah was responsible for the development and implementation of a new brand identity for the organization, as well as the launch of a new website, and is currently spearheading the marketing and promotional activities around the Park's 150th anniversary celebration.
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