Does your organization value communications?

When I wrote about how communications for social profits is about more than fundraising, I stated that fundraising got all of the marketing/communications resources. I was rightly called on that so I modified it to say it was only the majority of resources. Upon reflection, I’ll further modify that to say that most small and mid-sized charities and nonprofits place a greater value on fundraising than they do on communications that does not directly help raise funds.

In short though, I maintain that most organizations should place greater value on their broad range of communications needs. They would, for example, ask a front line staff member to design a poster like the one to the left rather than tap into the finesse and creativity applied by the graphic designer used.

Daily Bread as an example

I’ll use my former employer, Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank, as an example. When I started working there, I was the first dedicated communications staff member but there was an established fundraising department with several staff. The pamphlet for Toronto’s umbrella organization to collect and distribute food was poorly desktop published and printed on yellow photo copy paper. At the same time, it was paying for sophisticated, quality direct mail materials. It had never created an externally focused annual report and everywhere you looked the organization’s use of its logo was different.

They have since continued to enhance their resources dedicated to communications and the quality of their materials. But it was only 8 years ago that they started to take communications seriously with my help and direction. As Daily Bread’s Executive Director Gail Nyberg wrote, ““James set a very high standard for the marketing and communications here at Daily Bread. He is responsible for taking our external communications out of the dark ages. It is a standard we have been able to build on, because of his strong foundation.”

While Daily Bread has progressed over the six years since I left, my experience and observation tells me that many others have not yet started down that path or are still at an initial stage.

How to tell if your organization values communications

Here are some statements that will indicate if your organization values communications. The more statements that match your organization, the more it values communications:

  • You have a budget line for both communications and fundraising.
  • You have dedicated communications staff.
  • Your most senior communications staff member has comparable experience and skills as your most senior fundraiser.
  • You avoid asking staff without proven skills such as writing or graphic design to perform these critical communications tasks when they are appropriate.
  • You do not rely upon volunteers or pro bono work by communications agencies, graphic designers, photographers or other skilled professionals to produce quality material.
  • You bring in outside expertise to meet your communications needs when you recognize that you do not have the in-house expertise or when you require greater capacity or a higher level of expertise than you have internally.

Get the most bang for your buck

While these posts have primarily focused on nonprofits and charities, the same points are true for most small and mid-sized businesses.

In all cases, it often comes down to: Do you try to do it all yourself? Or do you recognize when you–as an individual, business or organization–lack the necessary expertise to do what should be done in a quality, high impact manner?

Sometimes the best way to get the most bang for your buck is to spend a buck. The trick is to spend it wisely. Expertise and skill level are important criteria for determining whether you are spending it wisely.