When CharityComms asked me to present a workshop on Tips for Lone Communicators at their Communications on a Shoestring conference I didn’t just want to talk about my own experience. I certainly had some top tips to share, but I really wanted to build a bigger picture of the frustrations, concerns and the positives of working as a sole communicator in the charity sector.
In order to build this picture, I put together a survey for sole communicators and sent it out via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and email and received 75 responses; the results of which are below.
The majority of respondents have worked in a sole communications role for less than one year, followed closely by 1 -2 years and 3 -4 years. Only 8% have worked in a sole communications role for over five years.
Over half the respondents work for a charity that has less than ten paid staff members, followed by 31% who work for a charity that has between 11 and 50 paid staff members.
Job titles varied widely from Communications Officer, Online Communications Manager, Marketing and Communications Manager to Conference Manager, Head of Policy and Communications, Executive Director and Digital Strategist. Only 58% of respondents felt that their job title adequately reflected their roles and responsibilities.
In terms of salary, more than a third felt they should be paid more, followed by a third who felt they were paid in line with the sector. Around a fifth felt they were paid less than the sector average with only 3% saying they were paid more than the sector average.
In response to the question “what does your role entail?”, 73% answered “all communications including marketing”, 25% answered “all communications excluding marketing” and 2% answered “social media”. The majority of respondents chose “meetings” as the one aspect of their role that takes up most time and “reporting” as being the one aspect they are less able to dedicate time to.
The good and the bad
The open question on “what frustrates you about being the sole communicator” highlighted common themes: a lack of understanding among colleagues about what communications is and what their role entails, not being able to give each aspect of communications the priority it deserves and a lack of colleagues or peers to brainstorm with and bounce ideas off. One respondent summed it up as, “The pressure to complete specific projects and pieces of work to tight deadlines without the adequate time to research and plan properly. Not being able to set in motion everything I would like to do due to lack of capacity. A lack of understanding sometimes among colleagues about what comms is, e.g. being tasked with duties that I believe fall out of my specific remit or that are very loosely communications and not, in my mind, the priority”.
It’s not all doom and gloom though; when asked what they enjoy most about being the sole communicator, most respondents answered they enjoyed the variety that working in communications brings and being able to tell stories and craft messages. They also enjoyed having autonomy and ownership of their work and being responsible for an important area of the charity. One respondent said they enjoyed,“Telling the stories of the wonderful things we do”, whilst another said, "Making a difference and witnessing change.”
41% said they didn’t feel supported; reasons for this were a lack of understanding among colleagues about what communications is, a lack of budget and training and unrealistic expectations. On a more positive note, 73% felt that communications was valued in their charity but 90%, unsurprisingly, believe it needs to be invested in. Top of the wish list was investment in another communications staff member, an advertising budget, a new website and training.