Poor Communication: Something Worth Losing Sleep Over

Poor Communication: Something Worth Losing Sleep Over

Laura Laviska, media lab intern, Merrimack College 2014

Sasha Tolmachyov, media lab intern, Emerson College 2016

In our most recent Tuesday lunch series, Christine Letts, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, came to the Next Mile Project to explain how a seemingly simple concept reaches much further than one might consider.

Chris began her powerful presentation with a question. She directed this question to the eager-to-learn nonprofit leaders in the room: “What keeps you up at night?” The audience, filled with passionate individuals, had responses that touched upon every facet of nonprofit thinking. They included concerns over anything from fundraising to creating a budget to leveraging opportunities.

Their responses, however, did not cover what keeps Chris, an expert in the nonprofit field, up at night. The answer: Communication. She said communication is the most “unused muscle nonprofits have.” It involves, she explained, “adaptively navigating the space that everything is happening in; a space that you don’t know about and have less control over.”  Her passion is helping nonprofits to develop their capacity in a well thought out way. “If you’re not talking to them, you’re not doing a good job,” is the way Chris Letts described the roll of positive communication in the nonprofit world.

Chris told the group, “Branding in nonprofits is a combination of integrity, democracy, and affinity. In order to respond to anyone who wants to know about what it is you do, and why it is you do it, you must beforehand think of what you need to know.” Specifically she said, “Consistent internal communication is key. Who’s answering the phone to potential donors? Do they represent the cause as well as the CEO?” These are questions that demand attention if looking to grow capacity in an adaptive more controllable way.

Chris hypothesizes that the reason communication is usually an afterthought among nonprofits is because it seems least important to them, as opposed to more pressing matters such as fundraising and programming. What these organizations often fail to realize, is that their best strategy could lie in how they communicate what it is they do, and why. She is not encouraging nonprofits to take focus off the prize that is helping to make the world a better place, but rather, she advised that nonprofits integrate the idea of communication into this pursuit.

Communication is something we engage in every day, and is a part of everything we do. We send messages, we assign meaning to symbols to express ourselves, and more often than not, we do so without even realizing it. In this day and age, it’s not enough to just have a brilliant idea. If you don’t sell your idea, no one will buy it. It’s about branding yourself. It’s about knowing your position amongst other organizations that do similar work. Your ability to describe your program and articulate what you intend, sets you up as a player in the “problem space” your nonprofit lives in. Chris believes if nonprofits re-evaluate their outlook and focus on how they present themselves to the world, they will be much more likely to receive feedback and contribution for their missions.

If you’d like to hear more from her lecture at the Next Mile Project, including how she prioritizes the most important things to do when trying to build capacity, visit our Knowledge Share: https://nextmileproject.org/2014/01/28/12114-the-capacity-building-challenge-how-to-prioritize-when-everything-is-important/