Tooting your own horn

17317556124_8ffb95ed3c_zI work with lots of nonprofit communication managers who are at various stages of desperation about how to prove the value of their work to their CEOs. I tell them they need to toot their own horn in professional, meaningful ways.

I know, I know–just keeping up with your everyday marketing to-do lists is impossible enough, actually marketing the communications department gets pushed to the back burner time and again. But that makes it very hard for you to ask for continuing or additional communications resources during budget planning. Over time, it also erodes the credibility of your department…and you!

So, take that energy you spend fondly wishing your supervisor understood how important your function is to the organization–and put it to use showing them your value and importance throughout the year. Use your marketing expertise to advance your own department and career.

You may think you don’t have time to “sell” your boss on the value your work, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to sustain your department.  It’s also a great way to take a quarterly snapshot of where you’ve been to help figure out if any mid-course corrections are required.


One way to do this is to send your CEO or supervisor a quarterly report–well designed and succinct. Once you’ve done the first one, you’ve got a template for all the others that follow. Include a list of all the projects you’ve completed that quarter (maybe arranged by print, digital, event, etc.)–and after each item include the purpose and reach of each project and any ROI you can provide (retweets, new social media followers, donations through response envelopes, event attendance, media coverage, new donors and donors who upgraded through a communications channel, website usage, blog comments, etc.).

Make this list as meaningful to them as possible–not just a laundry list. Include examples of what you’ve produced where possible–printed pieces, videos, etc.. Help them understand how your work supports both fundraising and program. And, in case they don’t have time to read the list, be sure to include a very brief cover memo that summarizes what you think your greatest achievements (not activities, but achievements) were that quarter. Offer to sit down with them to discuss or answer any questions the report may raise.


There are other ways to make your activities and achievements visible, for instance:

  • Set up a quarterly meeting with your supervisor to summarize the past quarter and get his/her thoughts on what’s coming up the next quarter that might benefit from communications involvement.
  • Drop by your boss’s office for 2 minutes to share a communications success story right after it’s happened (don’t overuse this).
  • Ask your supervisor on a regular basis if there’s anything you can do to support her/his work–drafting speeches or blog posts, making media contacts, etc. Help your boss understand the personal benefits of communications support.
  • Sponsor a minor celebration for the whole staff when your communications team scores a big win. This can be as simple as homemade cupcakes, but add some fun, creative spark that helps celebrate your department. Make banners or pennants. Use your visual identity colors. Play music that relates to the win. (Check out Pinterest for cheap and entertaining ideas!)
  • When you manage to get good media coverage, make sure to send article/video links to key staff.
  • At the end of the year, create a pretty infographic communications dashboard that captures your activities and results, ideally vis a vis the previous year.


Don’t forget the rest of the staff. They can be your best sales force. Ask for 10 minutes of staff meeting time twice a year to summarize what you’ve achieved for program and fundraising during that period, emphasizing ROI. Visit program directors twice a year to chat about what’s coming up for them that communications might assist with. Building genuinely helpful relationships with key staff can mean all the difference when you’re battling for a new staff position or budget increase.

Nonprofit organizations really have two missions–one is program and the other is sustainability. You’re in the same boat. You have to produce effective communications that advance your organization, but you also have to sustain (and often grow) your departmental capacity.

The only way to do that is to regularly remind your supervisor and other staff members that: 1) you’re here to support their work, 2) you’re doing a bang-up job, and 3) you could do even more (specifics, please) if you had more money and/or another staff member.


Flickr Creative Commons photo credit: Ian D. Keating


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