Capacity

With some exceptions, organizations said they were somewhat to significantly limited in their communications efforts by inadequate staffing and monetary resources.

Organizations varied in terms of their staffing and budget to carry out communications, but given the current economic situation, more than expected described themselves as stable or growing via their survey responses and in interview conversations. Still, many reported shortfalls in the human and financial resources they believe they need to pursue their communications strategies. Many who reported such gaps said that they have successfully scaled their communications approach to their means.

Despite lacking resources, many interview subjects said that their communications budget, relative to their total budget, has increased since training. Many of this subset attributed this increase to their participation in training, which elevated the importance of communications within their organizations. Some suggested that training’s primary value is persuading attendees that communications is essential—prompting them to better support this function by hiring new staff, contracting with a communications professional and/or allocating greater resources to communications.

A few interviewees cautioned that training is only one ingredient in communications success; without adequate staff and funds, it is difficult to apply lessons learned.

VERBATIM RESPONSES

Growth, contraction and change

We continue to grow, though at a smaller clip in the last two years due to the economic climate. Before now it was 25% growth and now it is 10%. Our membership has grown, foundation support has grown, and staffing has grown in response to increased revenue.

Last year was a difficult year. I don’t know what organizations did not contract. This year, we’re back to 2008 levels. We’re rebounding.

It’s not like we’ve lost a person, the contraction has been very modest.

In the last two years we’ve had a planned progression, our president retired. A lot of programs ended. And financially [due to the economic climate shift], our endowment and budget changed [negatively].

We’re doing fine in general—better than before.

Quality of communicators on staff and board

[Our best communicators include] some of our communications department. We have great organizers and some can articulate our value very well. Some of our advocates and donors can do it well.

Different people are good spokespeople versus written communicators. Our CEO and our operations director are the best here at written communications. Our CEO and I are the best at spoken communications. Also a handful of our board members are effective communicators.

Staffing and resources

We’re a small, poor nonprofit. We do as much as we can with limited staff.

We got a kick out of the question in the survey. We have zero people dedicated to communications as a full- or part-time job responsibility. No, we don’t have the human resources we need. (subject leads communications efforts with consultant support)

No one owns external communications, so it is neglected and reactionary.

The major gap for me is time. We’ve had interns that have helped short-term—that has been our solution so far with workload.

Our communications manager is not quite full time. We could always use more of her time.

Our major deficit has been [not] having a staff person [to] focus on communication strategy. We still struggle to have a regular communications strategy and to segment our regular communications. I push the staff, but there is resistance in terms of scope of work and individual job descriptions. (executive leader)

There is a real gap in how nonprofits can go about communications work. I’ve worked in more sophisticated organizations that really got it. But so many don’t have the capacity. It’s not a money issue. It’s about developing in-house skills and capacity to do effective strategic communications—this does involve training and tools. It’s so much more difficult for smaller, less-resourced organizations to get there. Larger organizations just hire the expertise.

We have a communications department of 10. Yes, we do [have adequate staffing to support communications]. That’s new in the past two to three years.

We’re pretty savvy. Our manager has 20 years of experience. Our executive has a communications background. We’ve got the human resources we need in the past three months. This has been a challenge for us over the past couple of years.

I’d say we had gaps that we are filling now.

We have a lean staff. With a new director of marketing, we’re in good shape. We’ve got no significant gaps. We could do more with more, but we’re doing fine.

There is not much funding for communications. Government sources don’t fund it when they fund research—in those cases we have to take from our general funds to support a project’s communications. For most of our large projects, we allocate for communications activities. Our ongoing broad communications work comes out of core funds.

Specific gaps to fill

Given the importance of social media and the web, it would be good for our organization to have someone dedicated to that.

If we could have a higher level graphic designer, someone with the technical background and skill set… in transferring data into stories in a graphic format—we contract that out and it’s expensive.

I need a hybrid person who is gifted in communications and a writer who can also take some of the research load. We do have a slot for a communications person but not full time on only communications.

We’re adding another writer… it would be ideal to add another writer and a marketing and media specialist.

Experience with consultants

We’ve had good and bad experiences with consultants.

Yes, have used many consultants. Our experiences have been mixed.

Training influence

We are about to start the worst of two years in my decade as executive director [due to economy and uncertain government funds]. We may have to lay off staff. We are working twice as hard at fund development. [However, our communications budget] will continue to increase as a proportion of our overall budget, since I’ve increased my understanding of how critical communications is. If you asked me before training if we’d spend thirty thousand dollars on a messaging consultant, I would have laughed. Having done the work, I’m even more convinced of its value. (executive leader, arts organization)

It was absolutely clear to me how important communications tools were for [organization]. [We began looking to add a staff person] excited about and sophisticated and skillful in communications… Training made me open to this skill set sooner than we had expected.

When I did training, we had two staff people. It made me aware of how impossible it was for me to do everything and communications. Hiring a part-time communications person moved up on our priority list. I think training reinforced the absence of my ability. (executive leader)

We are a tiny organization… The plan we created with a consultant was influenced by training. Training was an influence—but none of it would be possible without the staffing. Training was not enough to help me do this job myself. Training enabled me to know what to look for in new staff and a consultant.

I think that the influence of the training … the tipping point came after I identified a funding source and brought in a consultant to do an internal audit and assessment of the communications and to create the communications plan.

I would say that the [hiring of marketing personnel] was influenced by training, in establishing the need to have the right people on the bus and in the right positions, and in the importance of communications to our overall success.

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