The need for really good communication with people outside an organisation is obvious. It’s clearly horses for courses but members, users, funders, commissioners, other agencies and the wider community need to be kept informed and engaged – for all sorts of reasons. The vast majority of groups recognise the importance of communicating effectively with a wide range of stakeholders; but that doesn’t always mean they are good at it!
Communication activity can often be a bit unplanned, untargeted and ad hoc. That may be because no one has the clear and explicit role to manage communications – frequently the case with smaller organisations. Or it may be because the time and resources needed for good communication are not properly built into funding applications, contracts and project proposals. It is easy to overlook communication (and other support costs) when your focus is almost entirely on direct delivery of services and activities.
None of this means you necessarily need a detailed Communications Strategy or Plan (though these can be helpful) or a dedicated Communications Officer. But if you feel your organisations needs to communicate better, then take a step back. Review who are your audiences; the messages and calls to action you want to get across; and the channels and tools you could use. Crucially think through how to ensure your communication activity is consistent and coordinated.
One key audience that it is easy to overlook is your own staff and volunteers. Don’t assume they are well informed about everything your organisation is doing or wants to do. And don’t assume that because you have a small team, perhaps all in the same building, that everyone is in the loop. For bigger organisations, including those with several sites some distance apart and people working from home, keeping in touch with staff and helping them to keep in touch with each other can be a real challenge.
However, we have picked up some useful solutions from some of our clients recently. The (new) Chief Executive of one organisation is recording a short update and sending this out as an audio file as part of a regular staff bulletin – quick and easy to do and much more engaging and personal than relying on the written word. Another CEO has introduced a fortnightly newsletter for staff – with a bit of effort into design and format to make it attractive and easy to read. And interestingly, each newsletter incorporates a quick survey question or two, which invariably generates a very good response rate. Other organisations have set up internal sections of their web site or are using online platforms (such as Slack) to facilitate informal conversations – perhaps those that might have been had in the staff kitchen. Even we at Clarity have just started a team WhatsApp group to keep in touch and avoid clogging up our inboxes with more informal stuff.
In a nutshell – don’t take communication for granted; be creative and innovative; and use channels that your audience will engage with and use.