Although communications and marketing is a critical function for non-profit organizations it is generally an underfunded and understaffed area. In particular, smaller organizations might add-on communications to fundraising or have a team of one taking on internal and external needs.
Understandably, organizational knowledge and expertise is focused on the cause and services provided which makes it very challenging to provide growth, mentorship, and professional development opportunities for communications staff.
Here are five ways to overcome this challenge without having to build a big communications team or take resources away from the cause:
Professional organizations like IABC provide mentorship programs for communications professionals. This is an excellent opportunity to learn and to build your skill set. Reach out to senior professionals who you respect and have worked or studied with in the past. LinkedIn is a great tool for seeking a mentor and building relationships.
Many corporations also offer mentoring programs, giving employees volunteer hours to mentor non-profit professionals. Work with your fund development team to determine if any of your corporate partners would be willing to provide this type of mentorship or if there are programs you could apply for.
2) Create a Communications Meet Up
A trend in the non-profit sector is partnership and collaboration. Though this is often more program focused it could also be done for communications. Which organizations do you partner with and are there opportunities for you to meet up and learn from one another? At the very least get to know who is working in these roles and have coffee or lunch together once in a while.
3) Join a professional organization
Professional organizations are excellent resources for publications on the latest trends, professional development and networking opportunities. They are also another way to meet other people working in your field and/or sector.
4) Work with a marketing agency
Although marketing agencies can be perceived as cost prohibitive they are often a more cost effective way to increase effectiveness than adding additional staff. Agency experts can also work as marketing consultants providing guidance and experience for communications staff.
In a small team or team of one it is easy to get burnt out and to become overwhelmed. It is also easy to get stuck in a rut in terms of creativity and approach. Working with an agency can provide perspective, design support, and a fresh set of eyes to take things to the next level. They can also support the planning process – amidst the day to day demands of working in a non-profit organization strategic marketing and communications planning often gets lost. Having a well-thought out plan to follow provides opportunities for tracking your progress and for prioritizing your workload. Also having a clear brand and some guidelines to follow can take the guesswork out of developing materials.
Get out there and get to know others in your field and sector. There is an element of networking in all of the previous suggestions, but it is important to make a conscious effort to network and meet others. Once again, LinkedIn is an excellent resource for meeting people and also finding out about events. Your local IABC chapter or other professional groups host networking and professional development events. Also look for larger non-profits that host their own conferences and have the resources to host events.