Summer Reading

flickr/Spencer E. Holtaway

I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve really missed keeping up with the terrific blogs and books in the field that represent a nonprofit communications education all by themselves. Don’t let yourself make the same mistake. Here are two books I recently received complimentary copies of that I made time to read and am very happy I did. Both of them are heavy with gold nuggets.

Charlene Li’s Open Leadership–How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, isn’t necessary aimed at communications directors, but it’s got some very pertinent insights about how information flows through an organization and why, and how social technologies can open up management structures to leadership and collaboration at all levels.

She covers a lot of ground (I do wish more nonprofit EDs would read this kind of book). I just want to mention one section near the beginning where she’s explaining the ten elements of openness. She first differentiates between information sharing and decision-making, which, sadly, is a very wide, fuzzy line at many organizations. How many meetings have you attended that should have been decision-making meetings but no one defined them that way so no decisions got made? So, be clear what the purpose of your meetings are, in the process making sure that a meeting is the actually the best vehicle for getting the outcomes you’re after.

But Li goes further, breaking down information sharing into six interesting categories that every communications professional should recognize and think about: explaining, updating, conversing, open mic, crowdsourcing, and platforms. Each has a different purpose, which she explains, and can be best carried out through different vehicles and technologies.

For instance, does anyone really need to physically meet anymore to share updates? Yet, most staff meetings I attend are devoted to just that. There are lots of great–many free–online tools to enable better inter-organizational communication and spur greater engagement and cooperation (she mentions some in the book). And they’re far more efficient at sharing updates than meetings or emails.

What struck me after reading the book is how relatively little time nonprofit leaders take to think through internal communication compared to external communication. The excuse I often hear is that there’s no time. But it seems to me that’s exactly why nonprofits should be investing in learning to use social technologies to gain efficiency and–even more importantly–open up wider participation in the organization’s decisions and activities.

And now for a book that you know I already like–Kivi Leroux Miller’s The Nonprofit Marketing Guide. I just reread parts of it last weekend and it’s jam-packed with valuable advice. Again, I’m going to pick out one thing that resonated with me as I reread it–the need to craft communications messages around benefits not features.

This truly is a “marketing” approach, and nonprofits would be well served by adopting it. Like Kivi says, think of the specific fears, needs, and wants of each of your key audiences. Then contemplate how your organization alleviates those fears, and meets those wants and needs. Make those the substance of your messages. Your audiences need to know what’s in it for them, and just summarizing your sterling qualities and inspirational activities isn’t going to do that. Tell them how you are going to make their lives easier and better. (Isn’t that what we all want?)

So, get your hands on these books if you can. They are well worth the time!

CC credit: Spencer E. Holtaway


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