Skip to main content

Tips for solo communications officers in small charities

30 August 2011

If you’re part of a multifaceted comms team, with a large budget and a specific area of responsibility, look away now!

If you are the sole comms/marketing/PR/website/design person in your charity, with a teeny tiny budget, this article is for you.

I’ve worked for a few charities, and been the sole comms person at all of them. We’re pulled in a million directions, wearing many hats and walking in lots of shoes. One minute we’re designing a conference brochure and the next we’re on the phone to a journalist. Alongside that, there’s the website to update and tweeting to be done – plus planning for the next fundraiser and creation of an IT strategy.

But there is hope! I’ve written a few tips that may help.

1. Accept that you cannot do everything

It is impossible. Staring at your computer screen all day will give you eye, neck and imagination problems. Believe me, I’ve been there! You are human: you need a life, and you need to take breaks. Chances are you’re not going to have time for an hour lunch break, but you can step away from your computer once in a while. Go and talk to a colleague, phone a friend, get some fresh air and some food.

2. Prioritise and plan

There will be many different things you need to achieve and many areas of work you can focus on. You need to write these down. It will be a long and very scary list, and your colleagues and managers will want them all done. Immediately.

You need to prioritise them, with SMART objectives for each and realistic timeframes. Present this to your managers and decision makers. Make sure your objectives are clearly reasoned, and make sure everything is fully costed. It is much easier to negotiate a budget at this stage than at any other time. Try not to miss the window.

Don’t be pushed into making promises you can’t keep. Ultimately, they’ve made a decision to hire one person to do a job that in many charities 20 people will be doing; they need to understand that this means things might take longer, but they will get done.

3. Make rules – and stick to them

Have rules for every maintenance task and make sure people know what they are. Stick to them, don’t bend them, and others will start to work with them too. I know it feels good to say “yes, I can do that now!”, and do it if you must – but bear in mind that your colleagues will learn to expect an immediate service.

For me, this means that Wednesday mornings are spent updating the website with news, events, photos etc. My rule is that I will include any content from colleagues sent to me by the time I start (10am). Anything that comes in after that will wait until next week.

4. Use social media

Chances are social media will be part of your plan, particularly if you’ve a tiny budget. Send out an email to all contacts asking them to like your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter. Ask colleagues to do the same, and to invite friends and family.

Start posting interesting content. Be human, respond to people as quickly as you can. This requires a fair bit of effort in the beginning, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be responding in the evenings – but it is worth it. You can utilise fans and followers for market research, feedback, generating creative ideas, contributing to newsletters, sending photos for a gallery, campaigning… You’ll be amazed at how helpful people can be when asked.

Just remember, don’t keep asking them to do things for you. Ask for their opinions regularly, and act on them. If someone posts a negative comment, don’t delete it, respond to it publicly and apologise if you need to.

5. Find free tools

Set up Google Analytics for your website, and Google Alerts for monitoring what’s being said about your organisation/cause online. Google Analytics can show you what path people take through your website, what they’re looking for, and how they’re finding you online. You can use it to work out what to put on your homepage so people can find what they need immediately. Google Alerts can help you monitor your cause, look for mentions in the press and keep an eye on your competitors.

Sarah Francis

marketing & communications manager, Autism West Midlands

Sarah's role as marketing and communications manager includes overseeing all of the charity's external and internal publications, editing Autism Matters, and leading on digital engagement.