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Everything communicates, but is everybody a communicator?

10 May 2012

One of the most important messages that any charity (indeed any organisation) needs to learn is that everything they say and do communicates. An organisation may spend ages planning media messages, but unanswered phones and emails, or incorrect contact addresses, say as much as any press release.

But just because everything communicates it doesn’t mean everybody is a communicator – no more than everybody with a bank account is an accountant. Just doing something doesn’t make someone an expert.

Yet many charity communicators suffer from the challenge of people thinking anybody can do comms. This mentality means that it’s easier to cut communications jobs and roles than finance ones, and that it’s easier to speak with a dozen voices as an organisation than one. So how does a charity communications team or sole communicator deal with their professionalism being undermined?

The tempting response is to throw the toys out of the pram and complain to anyone who will listen. There are perhaps three more constructive approaches:

  • The communicator as shepherd, herding the multiple voices towards a greater unity and coherence. This requires the communicator to focus on the broader communications strategy and then use cunning, guile, charm and persistence to get those key messages into all communications.
  • The communicator as nudger, helping make sure that the people who want to do their own thing are aided, nudged and cajoled into smoothing off the most jagged edges of their communications. This approach is largely tactical, while the shepherd approach is more strategic.
  • The communicator as techy. While many directors and chairs see themselves as communicators, far fewer think they are technology wizards. So the more comms is seen as a social media function, the less likely that others will think they are able to do it themselves.

In the longer term the goal must be to get greater respect for the expertise of comms professionals in the charity sector. This is a multi-pronged task, and while at the heart of CharityComms’ work, attitudes will take many years to change. In the meantime, charity communicators need to work out their own approaches to promoting the importance of co-ordinated comms internally, so their organisations can speak with one voice externally. What are yours?

Joe Saxton

driver of ideas, nfpSynergy

Joe Saxton is driver of ideas at nfpSynergy, and is the founder and Chair of CharityComms. Joe works on a range of specific projects particularly those looking at impact, communications or trusteeship. He also works on the overall direction and development of nfpSynergy.