How Can Communications Work for Your Volunteers?
By Lori Gotlieb
Communications is an area that is often misunderstood by many not-for-profit organizations. We communicate in many ways to different audiences. But do we necessarily focus on what we are communicating, how we are communicating it, what our message is and who our audience is? These are key questions that need to be addressed when building a communications plan.
Similar to the 5 P’s of Marketing, communications should follow the same guidelines:
- Product – What are your product or service’s key features and benefits?
- Place – Through which distribution channels should your product or
service be delivered?
- Price – Is the price-point of your product or service competitive and
attractive to your target audience?
- Promotion or message – What is the simple, key message that will
resonate with your audience?
- People – What are the demographics and the typical spending behaviour
of your target audience?
We need to look at communications best practices to ensure that we are sending the same message that our audience is receiving.
Firstly, know your audience:
- You should communicate the same message to a diverse audience.
- You should know what your audience’s demographic is.
- You should understand the difference between young and adult recipients
and choose the best form of communication accordingly.
- Technology can be your friend or your foe. Understand the rationale
behind your choices.
Noise is everywhere:
- Noise is a factor that surrounds any message. It can confuse a message from getting to the right audience in a clear and concise way.
- Noise includes: jargon, distracting pictures and words, lengthy messaging, frequent messaging and competition from other messages.
- Think about the holiday season and all the requests flooding in-boxes at that time of year.
Appearance is important:
- Try not to compete with a lot of messaging. If it is important information, make it clear and to the point.
- Be true to the “7 C’s” of communication: Be concise, clear, coherent, correct, courteous, complete and concrete.
Print communications have a place, but need to be shared with technology:
Though the push for less paper is relevant and important, there are times when you want to send paper. Again, the decision should be audience- based.
I often wonder about sitting in a rocking chair in a nursing home, going down memory lane. Will my memories be on a digital tablet or a memory box. Some food for thought.
There are barriers to communication:
Examples of barriers include gender, politics, family upbringing, education, technology, culture, physical factors, and organizational characteristics to name a few. We all carry our experience and learning with us. If we include the many other barriers, we need to consider how our messages will be received and if we are sending the right messages through the right channels.
Language is more physical than words themselves:
When we talk, the majority of our message is presented through our physiology, not in the words themselves. Think how your audience is receiving your information the next time you need to make a speech or have a serious conversation with someone.
There are consequences to poor communication:
- If you do not get your message out to the right audience, there is a risk of lost time.
- Your message can get confused and you may have to resend it multiple times.
- You can potentially start a pattern of negativity or gossip through a poorly- worded message.
- You could put your audience at risk if they do not have the right information at the right time.
- There is the risk of lost opportunity if you are not clear and concise in your messaging.
Communication requires focus on five areas:
- Listen to your audience and identify the goals you want to achieve. This is “active listening.”
- Engage others in your communication strategy and test your message before you send it.
- Create timelines and plan your marketing and communication strategies.
- Learn from your past experiences and continuously evaluate the impact of
- Build on your communication strategies and re-engage when appropriate.
This will help you enhance your community engagement strategy.
Best practices when communicating with volunteers include:
- Building and using role descriptions for volunteers
- Ensuring that volunteers know what is expected of them
- Keeping their workloads manageable
- Communicating progress often and in different forms to your stakeholders
- Creating a trusting environment that ensures open communication,
teamwork and respect for diversity
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Providing opportunities for volunteers to grow
- Responding to enquiries in a timely fashion
- Being kind and respectful in all interactions
- Building some personal chat time into your meetings and supervision
- Acknowledging small wins and encouraging creativity
- Learning from others and sharing information
Finally, create a plan, account for adjustments, keep up to date on new methods and engage your audience. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Lori Gotlieb is the President of Lori Gotlieb Consulting as well as co-developer and faculty member for Humber College Volunteer Management Leadership Certificate.
She is a volunteer management expert who provides a unique concierge service to her clients as well as an internationally published author and workshop facilitator who has taught workshops to many diverse audiences across North America.
Please visit http://www.lorigotliebconsulting.wordpress.com for more information.