Posted on 5/11/2018 by Kate Maunder
Communications is still a relatively new function within charities and it’s only within the last 20 years that it started becoming a separate discipline from fundraising. This means that communications can still sometimes be seen as an added bonus, rather than a core way in which charities can achieve their aims.
The perception of communications is shifting; moving from a way for charities to talk about their impact and thank their funders, to a vital method of increasing engagement with their supporters and making impact happen. The most successful charities have already made this change, but there is still a long way to go in the sector as a whole.
Comments made by respondents to TPP Recruitment’s latest salary survey show that charity communications staff still feel “underpaid [and] undervalued” and that “comms continues to struggle for parity alongside other professional specialisms”. According to CharityComms’ Communications Benchmark survey, 45% of junior charity comms staff feel colleagues don’t understand what they do and only 59% felt their organisation respected their discipline. Communications is often seen as subordinate to fundraising and its effect on a charity’s success is less clear.
When teams feel undervalued, they become unmotivated and their productivity falls. Below are three key ways in which not for profit organisations can make sure their communication teams feel respected and appreciated.
Adeela Warley, CEO of CharityComms commented “Great charities recognise the value of strategic communications to win support, change minds and achieve the change your charity is working for. So recruit the best you can and nurture and reward their talent.”
Ensure support at board level
The extent to which communications is fully understood and valued at the most senior levels of a charity has a huge impact on its success. 70% of charities have someone responsible for comms at the executive board level, but that person may not necessarily be from a communications background and it’s common for comms to be lumped together with fundraising.
The prevalence of female employees in charity comms may have some bearing on its underrepresentation on boards which are still dominated by men, but the narrowing gender pay gap shows that this is changing, as more women are promoted to senior positions.
Having someone who understands and values the work of the communications department is vital to ensuring their contribution is recognised and that the team is empowered in contributing to the charity’s strategy. To make sure teams are motivated, someone needs to take responsibility for ensuring their role is recognised publicly throughout the organisation. Having comms people at a senior level also creates a clear career path for the team.
Having someone with comms experience on a trustee board can also make a huge difference in ensuring the team reaches their potential. Marketing and communications are some of the biggest skills gaps in trustee boards and only 40% of comms professionals agree that there is some expertise among their trustees (although on 2012 it was only 26%).
Different departments in charities often work in silos and one of the most common frustrations for communications teams is that the fundraising, policy, operations and campaigning can be saying different things in different ways to them, muddying the charity’s messages.
Some of the most successful charities have moved towards a more integrated approach, where all departments work together and adopt a universal approach to communications that results in better coherence and engagement. Working in this way requires non-profits to focus purely on their audience, disregarding internal politics. It can be challenging for teams who are used to having centre stage, so needs buy in from senior management and support throughout the organisation.
Expand professional development
In order to keep teams motivated, it’s essential to ensure that they have a clear career path and the means to keep improving and progressing. Communications is also an area that is changing very rapidly and the potential impact of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual or augmented reality, blockchain and big data means that your team will have to constantly develop new skills in order to remain effective.
The membership bodies mentioned below all offer valuable training and qualifications, but professional development does not necessarily require money. Mentorship schemes, shadowing colleagues and becoming a trustee are all great ways to comms professionals to improve their performance, as well as picking up the soft skills required for leadership. There are also lots of networking and professional development events for charity comms teams available.
TPP’s MarComms & Digital team specialise in in recruiting marketing, communications and digital talent for non-profit organisations and can help you bring in the skills you need for your comms team. Contact us on 020 7198 6030 or firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Membership network for communications professionals working in UK charities
The chartered body for public relations in Europe and membership organisation for PR professionals
Professional association for the marketing profession. They have a Charity and Social Marketing Sector Interest Group.
The professional membership body for UK fundraising. Some of their training and special interest groups are relevant for communications teams.
Facebook discussion group that shares ideas and best practice in charity comms.
Regular networking events for charity professionals.