Being the founder of a startup or social business can be overwhelming. While you founded the organization to counter violence, end hunger or promote human rights, you'll likely find yourself staring at balance sheets, quelling tensions between team members and recruiting new volunteers and supporters, not to mention endlessly fundraising. Often times at the bottom on the list, if there at all, is building and implementing an effective communications strategy.
Yet communications impacts everything. Whether it's how your website reveals your organizational values, how you measure impact or guiding the way that your donors speak about your work, communications impacts everything.
Reaching this realization was not an overnight transformation for me. When I founded World Faith, I thought I would magically be "granted" the funding necessary and hire a staff to manage all the organizational work, and I would be globetrotting starting interfaith projects fighting poverty and deincentivizing violence. This was not the case. I struggled between building an unstructured but quickly growing nonprofit while worrying endlessly about my own financial stability. It was a stressful, humbling and truly beneficial process. Even today, when World Faith is now active in 16 countries, I still spend at least half my time on organizational manners. None is more important than communications, and I've learnt so much over these past years, that I've begun working as a communications consultant for other nonprofits. Through both World Faith and my consulting at Mean Communications, I've discovered some key lessons I'd like to share with you.
You are your organization's Communicator in Chief. Never forget that. You must be willing to become a walking, talking, representative for your mission. Whether in the office or out with your friends, on camera or buying groceries, you never know when you might meet someone who can be your newest volunteer, donor or beneficiary. Always be ready. The best way to do that is to:
Tell your story. There is a reason you decided to launch your initiative. You already know the components of your story; where you came from, the journey to where you are and the 'aha' moment along the way; but perhaps you haven't rehearsed it enough to support your organization. If you get good at it, you should constantly be doing two things. First, you should make it obvious that you are the person born to be leading your initiative. People support people as much as ideas. Secondly, your organization isn't about you, you are about your organization. Your story should illuminate the greater story of the organization. If you do this well, you'll actually be inviting your audience to connect to your organization's story through your story, in an empathetic impulse. This is because:
Nothing is more important than a relationship. You can show people the studies, quote statistics, have your elevator speech ready and even craft your story, but if you aren't willing to emotionally invest in others, and more importantly, be humble enough to accept the emotional investment of others, then you are likely to not achieve what you need to. At the end of the day, the relations you have, whether with funders, donors, partners, the media or your beneficiaries, are what you are truly cultivating. Speaking from experience at World Faith, we've never received a donation from someone who hasn't either met me first, or knew an existing donor or supporter.
These are three things you can do now, without even turning to a communications plan. It's free, fast and forever rewarding to your organization. Sure, you have plenty excuses why you don't have time to do it, but the question is, what's holding you back? Are you representing your work at every opportunity? Telling your story and building relationships? If not, you might not be able to afford not investing some energy into building yourself up as the communicator your organization needs. They say we are called human beings. So we must be before we do. We must be better communicators before we can ever do communications, and that starts with you.
Originally published on the YouthActionNet blog of the International Youth Foundation.