Improving internal communication for a better nonprofit!


Your nonprofit is growing. Over the past few years you've had to create new roles, new positions, and even new departments to handle all the different facets and ends of your organization. This is a good thing! But it can also lead to some trouble spots when you grow too quickly without keeping everybody on the same page.

The problem with maintaining several different departments is also the same thing that makes them useful – specialization. Departments focus on one aspect of your organization and operate in their own bubbles, distant and removed from each other. This makes them great at what they do, but not so great at understanding what is going on across the hall. From the separation between Development and Operations, to all the different program committees working on their own individual programs, it can feel like your departments belong to separate worlds, alien entities that don't understand each other or speak each other's language.

Nonprofits need to make the most out of their resources. When the left hand doesn't know (and doesn't understand) what the right hand is doing, it causes friction. Work redundancies, confusion about responsibilities, conflicting programs and more can be caused by poor communication. Even worse than that, poor communication will prevent you from ever maximizing on the amazing opportunities that arise when everyone is working towards the same goal at the same time.

So, let's get everyone on the same page. Here are a few tips for building and maintaining real, useful communication between your organization's internal departments.

Departments shouldn't be mysterious

One of the major obstacles that hampers cross-departmental cooperation is the simple fact that people just don't know what other departments really do. Sure, they may be aware that Fundraising is about forward-facing relations with potential donors, but they don't really know what they do on a day-to-day basis, why they choose the marketing techniques they do, or what their own goals and directives might be.

When you don't understand what another team does, how can you hope to work in sync with them? Even worse, a lack of clarity and understanding between departments tends to result in uncharitable estimations of each other and rivalries, the opposite of good cooperation.

How do you combat this? Simple, with a little good old education.

Each department should have an overview about what they do and why written up, not for their own use, but for the benefit of other departments. A quick cheat-sheet that explains the basics about what they do, what your goals are, and a few of the particularities of your operations. Address common questions. If people don't understand why something is done the way it is, explain it. These don't have to be belabored, detailed, technical explanations. Think of it more like an elevator pitch for a movie or deal, a quick explanation you can give in around 20-30 seconds that gives people the gist of the idea.

Stress the practical

When you work in an office all day, it's easy to become disconnected with the results of your work and lose sight of what your ultimate priorities really are. Sure, office work and organization is important and essential to the operations of your nonprofit, but it is done in service of effecting positive change in the real world – so make sure everyone occasionally gets an opportunity to get out there and see it for themselves!

Wherever possible (and this will vary depending on what your organization does), try to get people into the field. Even if it is just to help with a certain event, be there for a celebration, or just to chat with donors, it is good for every staff member to see the practical manifestation of their efforts.

This will not only energize your staff, it will help them exchange ideas and spot new opportunities. Seeing different programs in action can give other departments a better understanding of the effort, difficulties, and processes involved, and can also help bring in outside perspectives and expertise to help refine those programs or create new opportunities.

Keep the lines of communication as clear and open as possible

Do your staff know who to contact from different departments? If someone has a question for Fundraising, who do they call? If a there is an issue for Operations, who is the best person to email?

These should seem like obvious questions, but you might be surprised at how many nonprofits never take the time to fully flesh the answers out. Often, the responsibility goes to the head of that department which might seem fine, but if they're busy with their own problems and hoping between tasks and meetings all day, they might not actually be the best person to ask.

Again, this kind of planning will depend on how large and staffed your organization is, but always make sure your departmental contact points are clearly defined and known. That person should know to expect inquiries from other departments and have the resources at their disposal to either answer them or be able to run a question up the chain for a response.

Always share

Internal communication shouldn't be all about questions and answers. It's important to cultivate a culture of sharing and curiosity. Thankfully, the kinds of professionals drawn to the nonprofit world tend to be naturally curious and interested people, so give them something to think about!

Internal newsletters, updates, and news can help keep everyone up to date on what other departments are doing and give them a better appreciation for their efforts. It helps to build team spirit and a feeling of common cause throughout your organization.

Put these tips into practice and see how you can improve communications in your organization!

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