Why Does Everything Take So Long?

Snail on a leaf

Does your communications work move at a snail's pace?

One of the beefs that I hear from program staff is that their communications people are sooo slooow. Bring in the communications people, they say, and it takes forever to get anything done. By the time it’s done, they complain, it’s too late.

Of course, the same is true in reverse too. Communicators who want to newsjack a story complain that it takes days on end to get a quote approved. Or that they can’t get program people to give them good stories to share.

What’s going on here? There are few factors at work, some in our control as communicators, and some not.

1. There are different sets of quality standards.

It’s not uncommon for program staff and communications staff to have totally different opinions about what’s an acceptable level of quality. Just how big a deal is a typo or bad grammar? Does it really matter that the flyer doesn’t bear any resemblance to the brand guidelines or anything else that’s being promoted now? Just how much detail is really needed in this piece? Try to get on the same page about goals and expectations well before the deadline.

2. There’s no appreciation for the dirty work.

So much of our daily work — both on the program side and the communications side — is dealing with technical minutiae that  you don’t really appreciate unless you are responsible for it. While you don’t need to fully cross-train each other on the hundreds of little steps that appear to outsiders as just three or four big ones, a little education about each other’s actual work day wouldn’t hurt.

3. It’s harder than it looks. 

Writing, design, and other creative skills come easier to some than to others. Even for those with natural talent, it can take quite a bit of time to get it just right. It’s hard to be brilliant on a moment’s notice. Photographers take hundreds of photos to get just the right one.

4. There are too many layers of review. 

Everyone thinks they have a keen sense of taste, and, really, they don’t.  This is especially true about copywriting and design.  For example, unless your executive director has been trained in direct response copywriting, he or she probably shouldn’t get the final word on your direct mail appeal letter.  Some people love to tinker, and they will happily wordsmith you well past your deadlines.

5. It happens in a black hole. Part of the reason that we become so impatient with each other is because we don’t see any progress. Think about ways that you can be more transparent about the steps and your progress on them.

What else makes everything take so long? And more importantly, how do you address these problems? Please share your experiences! 


Snail by BigStock



  • Marta

    Amen, Kivi! This really resonated with me (and was sort of therapeutic to read).

  • http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog Kivi Leroux Miller

    Good, and great to hear from you Marta!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1002309298 Frieda Pollack

    Well said. Follow up question: why are you waiting until the last minute to ask me to write/design/edit something?

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  • Mary Evangeliste

    As someone who is deeply involved with non profit design and web development I would agree completely with number 2. There’s no appreciation for the dirty work. I think this is true on both sides. A little what I like to call “occupational empathy” goes a long way. If you are on the communication side respect and ask lots of questions about the time and dedication and partners it took to get said initiative off the ground. If you are on the programming side respect and ask lots of questions of how long it takes to develop design and web pieces etc. When in doubt be curious and respectful BEFORE deadlines loom large.

  • Colleen

    I’ve been on both sides, and couldn’t agree more.