“Who are you and why are you here?” These are not the first words you want to hear as a consultant entering a client’s office. In March of 2018, we kicked off a technology discovery project with a new client. For a month leading up to the visit, we collaborated with the client’s project manager and the Executive Director. We created the discovery schedule, including which staff members we wanted to talk to, and requested the information we needed to complete prior to our discovery sessions. 

We assumed all of this was being relayed effectively to the rest of the organization and that everyone on the team would know the purpose of the initiative and how it was going to move them forward. That was not the case.

As it turns out, only about half of the staff knew what the meeting was for or that the organization was even beginning a technology transformation initiative. Only a select few had been informed of the purpose. The rest only received calendar invitations as communication.

As organizations who are focused on changing the world, nonprofits often miss engaging and communicating with their most critical audience – the staff. 

The following are the most critical tactics we encourage to strengthen and streamline your internal communication: 

1. Clarify Your Objective and Your Cadence

Save yourself the time spent creating internal messages by clarifying the communication objective with all stakeholders involved. Then, select the cadence for sending out that communication e.g. quarterly, monthly, weekly. Most nonprofits are familiar with creating a marketing or content calendar for the external audience. With each organization we consult, we are often surprised how many do not apply the same discipline and habit to their internal communications. Having a process will eliminate confusion for the leadership team as well as the staff. 

This process should include:

  • Outlining expectations for what will be communicated 
  • When staff members can expect communications
  • Who will be responsible for creating and distributing that content

Most organizations we consult excel at attracting staff because of the mission. The most effective orgs though have maintained the commitment of staff because of their focus on communication.

2. Incorporate a Disciplined Messaging Strategy

“Now, where did you send me that message?”  We have all been there.  More often, we think about the efficiency of sending a communication rather than how the recipients will receive it. This results in selecting the easiest tool for us in that very specific moment because it is the path of least resistance. We don’t consider that we may be wasting an incredible amount of organizational time and energy. This can create a breeding ground for gaps in organizational alignment.

Organizations utilize email clients, intranets, social media, and internal messaging tools like Slack or Teams. Additionally, individuals utilize personal emails, text messages and social media interactions. The combination of tools and messaging options can become complicated quickly. Even the most communicative organizations can struggle to streamline the message to the correct channels.

Consider implementing a simple matrix that outlines what tool to use for what type of audience or type of message. This matrix is an example of an Operating Agreement (OAs). OAs help define the way teams work together. They are essential in driving clarity of expectations and alignment in operations. A communication matrix like this not only eliminates confusion for the team, it optimizes and simplifies message retrieval for your organization.

TextEmailMessaging Tools (Slack/Teams)
Internal: Work RelatedX
Internal: Personal RelatedX
External: Work RelatedX
External: Personal RelatedX

In alignment with the other recommendations, creating the matrix is only the first step. 

Orgs should also communicate what it is, how it should be used, and why it matters. Spend time with clients and moving the mission forward as opposed to tracking down where you sent the last organizational update. 

3. Let Someone Else Do the Talking

You may be familiar with the concept of the Chief Reminding Officer, the concept that the best leaders are constantly reiterating the organization’s culture, strategy and priorities. But, for messages and directives to hit their mark, leaders should not be the only voice. We have all heard of cascading communication styles, but how many of us implement it? As more leaders, managers and colleagues relay important talking points within the organization, the more alignment is garnered. Indoctrination and adoption of this is not easy. It takes time, consistency, and accountability. 

  • Delegate the who, what, where, and when for communication. We cannot expect relaying of information is going to happen unless someone asks for it. Communication should not be left to assumption. It should be deliberate and intentional. 
    • Ex. Molly, can you please communicate to your department by the end of the week that we are moving the holiday party to the second week of December?
  • Document the Communication task: Communication is one of our greatest tools for maintaining organizational alignment. It is the glue that holds your organization together. We should treat it as such and document the communication tasks that are essential to our organization to maintain accountability.

Action: After delegating the task, record the activity in your project management tool. 

  • Follow up with the request: As the adage goes, “you can expect what you inspect”. If something is important enough to delegate, the follow-up is just as important. This builds a mutual trust in the process to confirm we are spending our time on important tasks, rather than some meaningless busy work handed down from superiors. 
    • Action:  The following week, ask if the task was completed and if there was any feedback from the team regarding the communication.

Successful internal communication shouldn’t be an afterthought. Implementing a simple process can improve your culture and relationships among team members. Start small and expand your initiative as you become more comfortable with tools and channels that work best for your organization.