A little over 12 years ago, I was trying to decide what to do with my life. I considered finding a way to help foundations and their grantees sharpen the skills needed to communicate well. But as I shared this idea with people I knew at successful communication firms, the feedback was all the same: “If you teach them how to do it themselves, they won’t need to hire you for anything. That’s just not good business sense.”
Armed with gumption and a sense of infallibility I wish I still had, I set out to prove them wrong. Just a few months later, I launched Spitfire Strategies – a firm dedicated to helping nonprofits and foundations use communication to create an impact. Within our first year, Spitfire introduced the Smart Chart®, a strategic communication planning tool. Judging by the fan mail it continues to get from nonprofits and foundations across the globe, it was a hit. It also reaffirmed my belief that building an organization’s capacity to do phenomenal work can make the world a better place. And for 12 years, that’s what Spitfire has set out to do. Since introducing the Smart Chart, we’ve followed up with tools and learning sessions that share communication best practices in ways that make them stick.
As I look back on all we’ve accomplished during the past 12 years – and look ahead to all the great work we have in front of us (and yes, even with hundreds of happy clients all with stronger communication programs, business is still booming) – I realize a secret to both Spitfire and its clients’ success is to remain open to learning. Here’s how.
Build on the Three Es
Expose your team to smart thinking about new and proven ways to communicate and campaign. There is a lot of expertise out there. Find ways to bring that expertise to your team. This may be as simple as following blogs or Twitter feeds, sharing what you learn at staff meetings and discussing the implications for your work. It might mean inviting in outside experts to lead sessions about how you can improve the impact of your work. There are also a lot of free resources out there that can enhance your work.
Perfect example: Later this summer, Spitfire will release Planning to Win™, an updated version of our Just Enough Planning Guide® to help organizations plan winning campaigns. We went to some of the best campaigners we know to find out what’s new in the campaign world that can enhance campaign planning. We made the online tool more interactive than ever – you’ll even be able to access it from your mobile device. If you have a campaign to plan, or one that has been going for a while but could use a little strategic intervention, Planning to Win will give you the boost you need. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll let you know when the new resource is ready to go.
Experiment with what you are learning and find out how far new resources can take you toward your goals. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Scientists and researchers are learning more every day about how we make decisions. Sometimes entire campaigns hang on the unconscious forces that influence audiences one way or another. Try out some of the latest neurological insights on your next set of messages. Join forces with a filmmaker to sharpen your stories. Crowdsource your next campaign slogan through your digital network. Create safe space for staff to take risks and look at things from a new angle. The outcomes won’t always be something to write home about – but the ones that are brag-worthy will make it all worthwhile.
Evolve so that the latest communication and campaign best practices are part of your organizational DNA. If you are doing communications and campaigning the way you did five years ago, pause and consider why that is. Has nothing changed? Are there no lessons learned to inform your work? Are you being thoughtful about how you do your work or are you stuck? High-performing organizations succeed by constantly embracing opportunities to improve.
With so much new knowledge, technological advances and smart thinking, decide where to build communication and campaign capacity and avoid scattered efforts that make it hard to make real progress on anything. Decide where you most want to improve or advance and start there. Spitfire’s upcoming SmartScan™ is another free resource that can help get you organized. This online assessment tool will help you assess where you are well poised to be a communications powerhouse and where you need to shore up skills or resources to use communication to its full potential. A series of questions will help gauge current practices. Answer them all and you’ll get a tailored report with detailed information about where to focus attention to improve your communication efforts. To find out more about this tool, drop me a line and I will let you know when it is ready for you to play with at kristen@SpitfireStrategies.com.
At Spitfire, we are constantly trying new things – and sharing what works with others. Our focus remains steadfast on helping nonprofits and foundations harness the power of communication to create the change they want to make. Turns out, that’s not a bad gig. I am glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers when I started Spitfire and tried something new. It totally paid off.