Whether you are a team of one or several, you probably have questions about how other nonprofit communications or marketing teams are set up and how they function. We’ve done quite a bit of research on this topic. We’ve also learned a great deal by coaching and mentoring hundreds of nonprofit communicators over the last decade.

Conversations about how comms teams are set up and how they function are extremely important. The COVID-19 pandemic made that very clear, with some teams thriving and others languishing.

Here’s what we know . . .

Communications Team Size

How big should your comms team be? That’s a very different question from how big your team probably is.  We often see one-person communications teams in very large organizations that should frankly know better and be investing a whole lot more.

You’ll find lots of specific data about team size in our annual Nonprofit Communications Trends Reports, especially based on overall staffing and budget sizes for your nonprofit. I also talk in this video about communications team size based on the 2019 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report.

We do see the effectiveness of communications team soar when they reach three full-time staff members. So if you are doing this by yourself, three is a great growth target. Of course, we don’t want you to stop at three. But you will likely see vast improvements in what your team can make possible as you reach three full-time people.

If you are finally getting to hire someone and grow your team, congratulations! Now it’s time to think about how to delegate when you’ve been used to doing it all yourself.

How Communications Teams Function within Nonprofits

Where does the comms team sit within a nonprofit and who decides its workload? We’ve identified five different kinds of communications team structures, in order of popularity within the sector:

  1. Centralized Teams where the communications staff set the communications and marketing strategy and define their own workload with input from others.
  2. Integrated Teams where communications and fundraising staff work on an integrated team and jointly decide on the communications workload.
  3. Internal Agency Teams where communications staff are a tactical internal agency with its workload determined by other departments that need work done.
  4. CEO-Led Teams where communications staff work directly for the CEO or the executive director who determines the workload.
  5. Fundraising Led Teams where communications staff work primarily in service of fundraising leaders, who determine the workload.

We know from our annual Nonprofit Communications Trends Reports that Centralized and Integrated Teams are the most effective models.

If that surprises you, please consider that fundraising isn’t the only thing nonprofit communicators do. The extent to which fundraising is a communications team goal often influences this decision. For example, should fundraising and marketing teams be integrated or separate but equal?

The internal agency model can also be quite problematic when comms staff are treated like they are working a drive-thru window.

With multiple communications goals, strategies, and objectives in play, it’s all about balance. There are numerous lines that communications directors should walk carefully to find that balance. Of course, you may be stuck in the position of being a combined development and communications director, which comes with its own set of challenges.

Communications Team Salaries

Every other year in the annual Nonprofit Communications Trends Reports, we collect information on communications team salaries. Here are the median salaries for nonprofit communications directors based on the 2019 report. You’ll also find data in the 2021 report, and we’ll ask again in the 2023 report.

Communications Team Skills

Good nonprofit communications work is a combination of strategy and tactics. Be sure you are having good strategic conversations as you are getting all the work done.

But the reality of the work is that you are a utility player who needs to build lots of different kinds of skills and therefore you probably have lots of professional development goals about what you want to learn. For example, more efficient social media management often tops that list, along with video skills and analytics.  All this might boil down into three essential roles for your marketing team.

Of course, it’s great if you have a budget to hire help with many of these skills. We suggest five logical places to outsource comms work when you have a budget.

Unfortunately, many nonprofit communicators find that they have little backup or help with many of these roles, especially when they are out of the office.

What’s not on this list? Being a doormat.  It’s essential that you set boundaries so that you don’t get treated like one.

Communications Team Division of Labor – Who Does What?

If you do have more than one person on your team, you’ll want to think through many of the different roles and tasks to figure out who does what. Always define the roles on communications work, especially who is making big communications decisions.

Regardless of roles, it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open and so we recommend several different types of meetings that communications directors need.

Communications Team Responsibilities and Leadership

We are adamant that communications directors should name and own several important functions. 

But for better or worse, communications teams are often asked to take on other responsibilities too, such as

Stepping up into these leadership roles is even more essential when your nonprofit’s leadership is really out of touch with nonprofit comms reality.

We’ll have much more data on communications teams after we publish the 2022 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report.


Published On: January 6, 2022|Categories: Communications Team Management, Relationships, and Boundaries|