I am not talking about twist endings or powerful story arcs on the latest episode of “Making a Murderer” (see AndACTION for more powerful ways to connect social change to onscreen/ online stories). Rather, I mean those spoilers and racing stripes seen on the back of some tricked-out cars. Most of the time this glitz will not help you get across the finish line.
My experience working with hundreds of nonprofit organizations has reinforced the perception that the role of communication deals with fundraising, social media posts and drafting the occasional press release. Communication lives in the tactics rather than the strategy. As a result, the communication tasks are an afterthought and usually happen under stress and with limited resources. I was even guilty of this early in my career when helping to develop a community change model (Active Living By Design’s 5Ps – Partnership, Promotions, Programs, Policy and Physical Projects strategies to create community change). I made our promotions strategy all about the various communications tactics an organization could use to raise awareness and engage the media. Keeping communication in a silo disconnected it from the overall success of the organization. It took a year, community feedback and a timely training from Spitfire Strategies to help me realign the promotions approach to support the Policy and Partnership strategies. Our initial efforts didn’t make the engine run more effectively, they just added racing stripes, LED lights and a cool horn on the car.
Now consider your organization (car, bike or bus)? Do your communication efforts make you sparkly? Are they spent trying to get more likes, retweets or front page headlines? Or do they help you run more effectively and make a greater impact? Shiny tactical communication is perfectly fine and can be very powerful, but only if it aligns with your organization’s overall strategy.
Outside of the overall communication strategy, how smooth are your communications? I am not talking about cool, color-coordinated collateral materials or use of alliteration in your mission statement. Does your organization’s identity ring out, from the home page to your one-pager? Does your story come through loud and clear? Do your audiences see their connection to your work and mission?
I just asked a lot of deep questions about your organization’s communication. One simple way to assess to see if your communication aligns with your strategy is to use Spitfire’s SmartScan™. This free online tool was designed to help nonprofits assess where they are poised to be communication powerhouses and where they have room to improve. Users answer a series of questions about their organization’s current practices and receive a tailored report detailing where they can focus attention to improve their communication.
The SmartScan features four modules: Identity, Planning, Best Practices and Rules and Results. An organization can take them all at once to get an overarching assessment of its communication assets and needs, or just focus on one area at a time.
This tool will give you a clear view of your organization’s materials and systems, and a way to engage your colleagues in the process. The payoff is a clear understanding of what you are doing well and should keep doing – and where more communication capacity or resources will enable you to create a bigger impact.
So how did your organization do? Is it a finely tuned engine of change or does it have lots of glitz and flash but little fuel for impact? Once you assess your organization’s strengths and gaps in communication using SmartScan, you can tackle them with your team – or go even deeper and sign up for Spitfire’s Executive Training Program. For 14 years, the Executive Training Program has helped nonprofit leaders become highly effective communicators making an impact on the world. This yearlong program exposes leaders to new ways of thinking, gives them a chance to experiment and learn on the job, and teaches them skills that stick. Imagine having a master mechanic and pit crew give your car’s engine a complete overhaul to make it as high performing as it can be. Participating in the Executive Training Program helps leaders and their organizations make greater strides toward their mission.
We developed the SmartScan and many other tools and trainings with one goal in mind: to empower you to use communication to make the change you want to see in the world. We are currently filling the 2016 Executive Training Program. Contact Mark Dessauer at (919) 451-1150 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.