Nonprofit communicators are in the business of…well, communicating. But sometimes communicating with other staff in your organization can be frustrating. Emails pile up, meetings can be boring or pointless, deadlines are never met, or other departments have no idea what you need.
Resources on Internal Communications:
Even Kivi and I can struggle since we both work remotely. We rely mostly on Hangouts, email, and Zoom to communicate and Google Docs or Dropbox for file sharing. Deadlines are kept in Keep or Google Calendar.
I asked our All-Access Pass Holders as well as our newsletter readers how they communicate with other departments within their organizations, and they shared these solutions:
Emily: “We have 33 employees with all but seven working remotely. Those seven are in our main office in D.C. Because the rest of us are located all over the country, we have a lot of phone calls and use Microsoft Teams (also GoToMeeting, as we slowly transition from GoTo to Teams). We rely on Slack for those quick questions or comments we would normally ask by just popping our heads into someone’s office We use email (Outlook) for lengthier messages and to send documents. If we have larger documents or a lot to share, we use ShareFile, which is a little more secure for us than Dropbox, because we have health-related/HIPPA-regulated information. Google Photos to hold our shared photo collection and Google Docs and Hangouts are also occasionally used by some staff, but not by the entire organization.”
Jess: “They used Big Tent before I got there, and I immediately got to work on creating a staff portal that could replace it because it was sorely lacking in organization and personalization. I used Google Sites (Classic) because we have our e-mail account through Gmail, so logging in wouldn’t require yet another username and password. I added widgets from Google Groups for announcements and discussions, creating separate sections in the portal page for the different groups that have their own private communications. We use Google Drive to store and organize all the relevant files, which allows us to share various folders and files with the different groups as need be. And it was good that I developed it all because just before I finished, Big Tent announced they were closing down, but I said, “No problem–I have the solution right here!” (Cue ta-da tone!) Now whenever anyone asks where some file is, the resounding response is ‘Look on the portal!'”
Liz: “We have close to 300 employees. Managers, supervisors and office staff use outlook. For our deployed workforce that work at the close to 50 locations we have, use a HIPAA compliant system called Therap. Then, we have a VERY basic intranet page (that I administrate) to share communication pieces that don’t have to be sent securely.
We struggle with communication though… and I think it boils down to 3 things:
1. Work flow/case load
2. Being siloed (Office peeps vs program peeps)
3. Not knowing or understanding what the other departments do and therefore not prioritizing communication with them.”
Melanie: “We’re single person departments (8 total staff), so I find things out in our weekly staff meetings and hound them for the rest. It’s a work in progress.”
Diane: “I work at a $100M agency with 1,400 employees. Communicating with other departments and staying in the loop is a huge challenge.
Our agency does the typical tactics – email, texting, monthly management meetings, weekly electronic newsletter. We have an internet and a intranet. The CEO has monthly “listening circles” with staff. All of these are fine, but honestly, the way I find most helpful in “staying in the loop” is getting off my butt, walking down the hall, and talking to people.
Being friendly in the kitchen, saying hi in the halls, introducing myself when I sit next to someone new in a meeting. I know lots of people complain about so many meetings, but frankly, as a development professional in a sea of program people, I learn a ton by going to program-related meetings and just listening. I often will approach people after meetings to tell them how interesting I thought their presentation was and ask a question if I have one. If I can think of a reason to follow up after a meeting –whether it’s a related idea, a potential resource, an interesting social media post – I will send it to the meeting attendees. My goal is to stay top of mind with my colleagues and to create an image of intelligence, relevance, and value.”
Judy: “We found that working with Podio was extremely helpful in getting eyeballs where they needed to be when projects were building.”
Shirley: “Slack of course, but specifically I ask my staff to Slack our team each morning on what they’re planning to work on, and then we adjust priorities. This is not rocket science, but if they’re going to miss a deadline for someone in another department, or because they’re waiting for something from someone in another department, I ask them to *let that person know*. It’s amazing that people don’t always think to do so.
At one organization, we checked with each other every or week on, ‘Who has the monkey?’ This concept comes from a Harvard Business Review article. Getting everyone to agree on who has the monkey, and the proper care and feeding of monkeys, is a great way to stay organized, plus you get to say ‘monkey’ a lot.”
Jacqui: “Our organization has just instituted a formal work planning process whereby each person’s work plan is captured in an Excel spreadsheet. On these documents, programs identify “required partner resources” against specific initiatives, of which communications is one. Our newly unified comms team is just NOW meeting one-on-one with each staff to review their work plan to get the details of their comms needs and explore their other initiatives to unearth any other potential comms opportunities.”
Kallie: “For communicating larger mission updates, whether client successes, programmatic milestones, upcoming events, etc., I started something called ‘The Propeller’ (our organization is Propel Nonprofits).
Every Friday, I send around a fairly informal and fun email to our full staff with 5 bullet points. I try to include photos if relevant, or links, but also to keep it short and fun. It’s a nice way of getting program staff to send me exciting or newsworthy info, and to communicate across our different programs. I started this as the “Friday Fiver” at my previous job, and that one went to both staff and board.
We also use Slack as an organization, and one of our channels there is #client-spotlight – this is a great place for me to see and hear about client success stories from my coworkers.
Since I do communications and am lucky enough to work at an organization who has a dedicated development director, we do a weekly or bi-weekly “What’s Fresh” hour-long meeting. We send out an invite to three different teammates – the ones actually doing the work – letting them know we’ll come to each of them for 15-20 minutes during that hour to hear what they’re up to. We keep that really informal, too, and it serves two purposes: explicitly, it helps the two of us who communicate about the work stay in the loop, and the hidden agenda is to give staff at all levels a chance to take pride in their work, talk about what’s exciting, etc. We try to balance it between programs every week, and make the full rotation of staff in about three months, meaning we meet with everyone 3-4 times a year one-on-one.
Last, I also try to do quarterly updates at our monthly staff meeting. Once a year, I report back the most popular social media stories of the year to encourage folks to share back that type of material (ie, funny staff photos, client updates, etc.).”
Michelle: “Our team lives and breaths by Asana. It’s a wonderful application that integrates with a lot of other programs. We use it primarily for project management. But the functionality is pretty deep… so we can send messages, integrate with our calendars, etc. You can set up teams. For small teams, it’s free. Once you start adding people, there are some fees, but I can bet it’s not too expensive or we wouldn’t use it.
As an organization, we’ve just started rolling out Workplace (by Facebook) as an intranet. The premium version is free for nonprofits. It’s a nifty application. We’re just rolling it out, so I’m just now starting to see other ways we can utilize it. You can use the chat functionality… which is great to use as an IM solution… there’s a desktop app and a phone app. Our HR team is rolling it out, and we’ve created groups, departments, different categories. One of my favorite things about this app… it has a feature in the premium version (again, free to nonprofits) that allows you to send an instant urgent messages across the entire organization. We have two locations. We have over 150 employees. We’re open 24/7, 365… so people are here, in and out, constantly. Many of our staff never sit down at a computer. They are up, walking around, checking people in, working in the kitchen, working in the laundry. If we were to have a situation (worst case scenario… active shooter)… before this app, I’m not sure how we would let everyone know. I’m sure we’d send an email… but so many are not at a computer. I’ve begged our org to find a solution. We deal with people who are addicted, mentally ill… it’s only a matter of time before something happens. At least now, I know we have the ability to send a warning message to everyone, at any time. And if someone isn’t at a computer, by having this app on their phone (which everyone has) we can get the message to everyone quickly.”