I had a discussion the other day with a non-profit about their Board. It seems that the Board doesn't think that communications, or fundraising, is their role. They have staff who do that. It raised a rather large question. Who's job is it to communicate in a non-profit?
No-brainer for many people. If you have communications staff, let them do it. These people see communications through a lens of "control". They see communications as an exercise in risk avoidance. And so all communication must be pumped through specific channels, such as the news release or the newsletter. But that's it.
That narrow view accounts for many of the reasons why non-profits fail at communications. Yes, this approach delivers control, but it also delivers little in the way of engagement, both inside or outside the organization. Donors, stakeholders and the public see this for what it is -- a grudging attempt to talk to them. With this kind of attitude its no wonder that many non-profits have low profiles and poor community relations.
The place where this fails is when the non-profit tries to fundraise or faces a crisis. Having a communications flack or a CEO talk alone about a key issue ignores the reality that non-profits are communities of people. And whether it is controlled or not, people inside the organization as well as outside will talk about the news of the day. Stifling them won't stop them from talking.
The answer is that it is everyone's responsibility to communicate in a non-profit. Instead of having a designated communicator why not give your people the tools to make all of them communicators? They're going to speak out one way or another, why not help them do it right. Give them the information, the background, the timeline. Encourage them to talk to others, don't shut them up.
That Board I talked about needs to realize that they need to be communicators just as much as their communications coordinator does. They need to understand that if they don't communicate on behalf of the organization, no one will.