Nonprofit communications directors have LOTS of decisions to make. Some are small, like word choice in a tweet, and some are big and complicated, like prioritizing communications strategies to best support the growth of your nonprofit. And, of course, there’s a lot in between.

In my new book, CALM not BUSY (Amazon), I included several chapters that address decision making and how to overhaul it at your nonprofit if it’s not as smooth and strategic as you might hope.

For example, it’s really important to have an open conversation about how communications decisions are made. If you don’t, you’ll end up with decisions that are based on who spoke last or loudest, or what feels like the path of least resistance.

You have several options. Of course, this isn’t one size fits all. The process you use for writing a tweet will be different from writing strategic plan goals.

Executive Decision. Sometimes because of non-negotiable concerns (e.g., safety or politics) or unavoidable circumstances or timing, the leaders will make an executive decision, with or without consulting the group.

Executive Delegation. Sometimes the leader will delegate the decision to the person they feel is best equipped to make it. That person will decide, with or without consulting other group members. Ideally, much of your job falls here — the Executive Director has delegated those decisions to you. 

Consensus. Consensus means that everyone accepts and supports the decision, even if it was not their first choice. Discuss the options, with everyone having a say. As you narrow your options, ask everyone to state their number on this scale:

  1. Yes! I love this option!
  2. Yes. This option is acceptable to me.
  3. OK. I can live with this option.
  4. I really don’t like this option, but I will not block it.
  5. I do not agree with this option at all and will block this choice.  

If everyone is a 1, 2, or 3, you have a decision. If you have 4s and 5s, continue discussing and negotiating to address concerns. You can move forward as long as there are no 5s.  Many people-pleasing communications directors want everyone to be at a 4 or 5 — or everyone at a 5 — and that is just not realistic. You have to move forward, and that’s really hard to do if you don’t include the 3s and even some 4s sometimes.  

Majority Rules. Discuss the options, with everyone having a say. Take a vote – one person, one vote. The option with most votes wins. I am generally not a fan of majority rules voting for communications work. It’s too brute force for me. 

Last Option Standing. Discuss the options, with everyone having a say.  Take a vote on the option you like LEAST. Remove that one, and vote again on the option you like least, until only one remains. That’s the winner.  This is sometimes the best approach when there are no good options and you are interested in finding the “least worst” approach.

Dot Voting. Discuss the options, with everyone having a say. Be sure that the choices are very different so you don’t end up splitting votes between similar options. Everyone is given three or five dots (or votes) to distribute however they like. The option with most votes wins. This method allows those who feel strongly to weight their votes while still giving everyone an equal say. We often see this kind of decisionmaking during strategic planning conversations. 

Which decisions are made in which way at your nonprofit? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.