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Top 4 must-know communications principles for nonprofit CEOs

First, the good news: Over the last 18 months I've met with a number of CEOs who are hiring high-level or first-time communications staff for their organization. It’s about time. Having dedicated communications staff can be the first step to building a smart communications strategy.

Ready for the 4 must-know principles? Keep reading...

Ready for the 4 must-know principles? Keep reading...

But here’s what nonprofit leaders should be concerned about: Many CEOs are completely in the dark about how a communications strategy is crucial to your organization’s success. As a result, some have trouble writing a job description, let alone hiring the right person!

Nobody would argue with the fact that as a CEO you have to hold your finance staff accountable. You don’t need to be an MBA to be a CEO. But you have to be able to read a spreadsheet to lead an organization.

Likewise with communications. You don’t need a Pulitzer or a Peabody, but a basic understanding of communications is as fundamental for the successful CEO as the ability to read a spreadsheet. Communications is a function of organizational operations just like finance. But few executives have much understanding of it.

I’m hopeful this is about to change.  I got a call a few weeks ago from a senior nonprofit leader who wants to put together a training program for future nonprofit leaders that would teach them what they need to know about communications in order to make smart organizational decisions. 

How should a CEO think about communications? You don’t have to know everything, but here are four must-know principles that will help you oversee communications confident that you’re focusing on the right things:

  1. Tell me a great story. Communications staff are your organizational storytellers. Communications staff are the inspired chroniclers that find and tell yours.
  2. Get everybody on the same page. Consistent brand & messaging strengthens internal cohesion and empowers staff, board and others to be organizational ambassadors. If your ambassadors are unclear about who you are, don’t be surprised if your external audiences are too! 
  3. No visibility = no influence. Whether you’re deploying public relations, social media, paid marketing or all three strategies in combination, they’re designed to let people know you exist! 
  4. First, last and always: Expect strategic thinking! Nonprofits face incredibly tough choices in prioritizing their communications efforts. Should you write another blog post or launch a new social media platform? Respond to a reporter’s call or work on that next op-ed? What’s going to get you the most bang for your buck? This also means that CEOs must give communications staff access to high-level strategic organizational conversations. Communications can't make smart calls if they're not in the loop. 

This post was inspired by Dan Cohen at Full Court Press who recently crowdsourced an article on what private sector start-up leaders should know about communications, and was written with input from my supersmart colleague Joe Newlin. Now it’s your turn: What do CEOs need to know about communications? Would you add anything to this list?