person framing a camera shot with their fingers, symbolizing an accidental nonprofit communications director

Accidental Communications Directors: You Are Not Alone!

At TechSoup, we talk to a lot of "accidental techies." These are nonprofit professionals who find themselves in an IT role or making IT decisions for their organization. Until I attended the NTC 2018 conference session on Accidental and Newbie Communications Directors, I had not given the idea of an accidental communications professional too much thought. But don't be fooled: they are out there, and they have their work cut out for them.

Session speakers provided a number of tips for nonprofit communications professionals, and here are some highlights that got the room energized at the NTC conference this month.

You Need a Communications Strategy

illustration of a person writing a nonprofit communications strategy connected to a megaphone, lightbulb, other icons, and the word Content

If you stepped into your communications role with a well-defined, thoughtful communications strategy waiting for you, consider yourself lucky. Although this may be the case for some organizations, many communications professionals find themselves in a sink or swim scenario. Building out a communications strategy is the best way to ensure that you will swim. There are many resources available online for crafting a communications strategy, but the three main questions you should be asking yourself are

  1. Who is our audience?
  2. What are we messaging?
  3. How and when are we messaging these people?

You don't have to know everything going into your new role, but starting with this simple approach will help you to get clarity as you define your communications strategy.



Nurture Brand Ambassadors

Brand ambassadors should be another key component to your strategy. They might be superstar volunteers who will always pick up another shift if needed. They could also be constituents who have benefited from your services, or board members with a wide social media reach. It is important to nurture these relationships, and they will help you spread the word about your organization's brand.

Help these brand ambassadors by providing them with tools they can use to promote themselves and, in turn, your organization. Provide these folks with brand and organization information to make it easier for them to share your message.

A great example of engaging brand ambassadors provided at the session was to initiate a contest, rewarding folks who share a story of photo of your organization on social media. Even small incentives like gift cards can motivate others to spread the word.

Champion Professionalism

Nonprofit employees typically wear many hats, regardless of their role or department. Communications professionals across all sectors can certainly relate to this, as there are many different aspects of a communications role, including PR, design, marketing, analytics, and so on. As a leader in your department, you must be able to have a fluent conversation about all these functions, but you don't have to be an expert in every one.

Be strategic about where you invest your and your staff's time. Most of us in the nonprofit sector are worried about overhead costs; we may forget that there is often an opportunity cost if we don't bring in experts to perform some of these functions. You could spend a few days learning how to use photo editing software, but that may not be the best use of your time.

Remember that you don't have to do it all. Ask for help from a staff member or consider hiring a consultant. You may need to talk to your organization's leadership about the need for outside professional services.

Take Care of Yourself

If you are stressed, overtired, and overworked, you won't be able to care for anyone else. Find others who are dealing with similar challenges and build your own safety net and support group within the sector. Most importantly, take some time for yourself outside of work to meditate, exercise, and spend time with loved ones. In the end, caring for yourself will strengthen your organization and your mission.

Kathryn Svobodny is a program manager at TechSoup, working to build, launch, and scale new products and services across the TechSoup Global Network. She attended the following session at the NTC 2018 Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Accidental and Newbie Communications Directors: What You Need to Know to Be Effective Fast

  • Kivi Leroux Miller, founder and CEO, @kivilm @npmktgd
  • Anysa Holder, assistant vice president, marketing and communications, Easterseals New Jersey @socialnys |
  • Tara Collins, director of communications and resource development, RUPCO
  • Thomas Negron, former communications director, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, @thomasnegron

Additional Resources: Nonprofit Communications