By: Melissa Lagowski
President, Founder and Queen Bee, Big Buzz Idea Group
As our peak event season is ramping up, I am constantly reminded how crucial communication is to success! From staff to volunteers to program participants to donors to Board members, communication is vital to organizational success, and yet, due to the demands and constraints on our time and attention, it is the one thing that often gets shorted. Take a minute to make a plan:
Create a standard communication policy.
It took me years to learn the importance of this one simple piece of advice. Actually, I don’t know if it was quite as crucial in the early part of my career, but now I think it is a MUST to set up an organizational communication policy. Identifying how frequently you and your staff will respond to calls, emails and social media requests can help save your sanity in this digital frenzy we are currently living in.
Personally, I have had many positions where Board Members, volunteers and even local supporters thought that I should have been available to them every minute of every day, and I bet you have, too. You are giving a lot to your cause, but you still deserve to have your time respected. So set boundaries and help communicate with people when they should expect to hear back from you.
Our company has developed a policy whereby we respond to all inquiries within 24 hours. And our team has become quite fond of the automatic “out-of-office” messages: If we are in an all-day meeting or out on a project, it helps tremendously for those trying to reach us to know that they will most likely not hear from us “today” but rather we will be following up tomorrow. Somehow, simply letting people know when they should expect to hear from us always leaves everyone in a more sound state of mind, which is important.
Set up some standard auto replies.
For nonprofit organizations, volunteers and donors are so crucial to filling your mission! Thus, prompt replies are imperative to establishing a solid connection that can blossom into a fruitful relationship over time.
I will never forget when I was planning my first fundraising event. I had created a volunteer registration form and shared them with all of the folks on our email list. The event was in June, and I must have received the first form in mid-March. I was so buried in the details of planning the event that I filed away the registration form to be tended to later. But then in May, when I reached out to that first volunteer to confirm details, I heard “Oh, I am sorry, since I didn’t hear from you, I didn’t think you needed me. I have made other plans that weekend.”
I never made that mistake again! Now, every registration form that comes into our office has a standard response policy so that we acknowledge receipt of the form and in that same notification, we advise the registrant when they will hear from us again. We will generally send out emails on a weekly or biweekly schedule depending on the project.
Make time each day to make the calls that matter.
Have you ever had one of those people on your list to call – maybe a volunteer, maybe a potential Board Member – and you put that person’s name on your to-do list for tomorrow? The next day comes and goes, and you still just didn’t have quite enough time to make the call. This happens every day for the next week. Then one week becomes two and two becomes three.
The task isn’t difficult and, in fact, you would really like to chat with the person. But the reality is that each day holds so many priorities and unexpected demands that you simply cannot fit in everything you meant to do.
However, these donors, volunteers, committee chairs, etc. are the key to the future of your organization! Do not underestimate the value of those calls you make and the connections you can forge as a result of making the call. For that reason, set aside some time each day to make those calls at the beginning of the day. This allows you to make your outreach before your day gets riddled with other unexpected detours.
You need to over-communicate on a regular basis.
Often, as the one who is buried in day-to-day tasks of a nonprofit, we eat, sleep and breathe the organization on a day-to-day basis and we forget that not all of the players have the information that we do. As nonprofit leaders, you might talk about a project nonstop with individual donors, volunteers and staff, but we forget that we need every member on the Committee and Board to know all of the details that have come in over the last week or month. It is important to keep stakeholders and supporters up to date about the wins and the losses. People generally want to be part of a “winning team” so you want to let them know the successful highlights. And conversely, people want to help those in need, so when you communicate where a project may be faltering, you can sometimes enlist additional assistance. At the end of the day, to foster engagement and keep people feeling connected, it is best to provide regular progress reports via an eblast and/or a newsletter.
Of all the things that you do at your organization, appropriate communications might very well be the most important. It truly is the glue that holds an organization together and keeps everyone connected, so be sure to formulate a plan for maintaining ongoing communications with your audience. It will help you foster increased support from donors and supporters while cultivating increased engagement with your staff, volunteers and Board Members.