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How to make ‘sign off’ less stressful

21 May 2019


That’s often what a call for feedback on communications projects inspires from colleagues ahead of deadline.

Fast forward to final deadline day, or, worse, beyond it, and it can often be a different story.

Then, when it comes to signing off your carefully crafted communications, everyone is an expert. Adding a 45-word sentence here, strategic aim there, and finishing off with an off-brief call to action.

As a result, what you end up producing might be less bold, clear and effective. And with last minute amends, you’re likely to be over budget too.

How do you take the pain out of sign off?

Here are five tips that aim to help you make sure your donors’ money is spent on communications projects that truly help your charity get closer to achieving its vision.

1. Try to create a culture of respect for communications

You can have a fantastic sign off process but it is unlikely to work well unless there’s a culture of respect for communications – and expertise – in your organisation. Make your expertise known from the first contact you have with people who need to be involved with your project. You can do this by sticking to your own three key messages. Be clear about: the purpose of your communication, target audience and action you want them to take. Refer to these whenever someone makes a suggestion which doesn’t fit with what you are trying to do.

2. Be clear about deadlines

Different people find different project management tools useful but they might not tell you if they don’t understand the one you’re using. To avoid this, use people’s names when you are assigning deadlines. In a Gantt chart, for example, you might have: “9am on 14 August: Trina provides first draft copy amends”. Make sure you give people enough warning about when they need to feedback and give yourself enough time to put their amends into action.

3. Use the feedback pyramid

Give everyone you want to be involved with your project the opportunity to feedback on it to begin with. For the next draft or stage, this should reduce to a handful of experts who have different skills in the subject area you’re tackling So, it might include a fundraising colleague, someone from your policy team and one person from digital, for example. As your draft progresses, it should be one person who has sign off. This really should be your director of communications, the equivalent in your organisation, or yourself – because professional communicators are the experts in communications. Sending each draft or iteration of your communications project to a new group, or the same people several times, is a recipe for disaster.

4. Have difficult conversations

Each nightmare sign off communications project is an opportunity to learn how to make the next one we work on smoother. But only if you accept you need to make changes about things that didn’t work. That might be difficult to do and involve tricky conversations, like asking for a specific senior member of staff to be involved earlier on or cutting some people out of the sign off process completely. Framing these conversations around point number one should help.

5. Be specific

Colleagues are much more likely to give you useful feedback when it’s specific. And everyone in your sign off process should be able to add something to make the final product you produce better anyway. That might be your head of fundraising commenting on whether your donation call to action is appropriate for your target audience. Or asking your chief executive to concentrate on feeding back on the foreword you’ve drafted for them. Showing respect for their expertise should mean you’re more likely to get some for your own.

Want more tips on overcoming difficulties you might encounter in your comms career? Come along to our upcoming conference.

Photo by Katya Austin on Unsplash

Trina Wallace

copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.