It seems fitting to start by describing my approach to external communications.
Communication is how we share who we are, what we do, what we need.
But communicating externally is often seen as a whole different beast to just writing reports or communicating with colleagues, especially when trying to share a message with donors or supporters.
So we end up with a spectrum of “Non-Communicators”. People who just don’t do external communications, whether because they don’t think its their job or important, or because they just don’t think they can do it.
Today I’m talking to those people who think external communications just isn’t something they can do. The people who don’t see value in external communications, I’ll talk to you in a later post…
I remember one very stressed out program manager, on receiving a set of detailed edits to a story she had submitted for review, sent back a distressed response that she just couldn’t possibly do what we were asking.
I’m a program manager, not a communication person, I can’t do this!
Which is just wrong.
Everyone can communicate!
We just need to learn how.
Communicating externally isn’t something special or unique. It is just an extension of the same skills and approaches you use every day. That policy brief you’re especially proud of, the project proposal you contributed to, the amazing idea you had about how to fix a problem your team were having on the ground, the program report you spent days and weeks writing – those same skills that got you there are what you need to communicate externally too.
Think about what makes you interested, why you read a newspaper article or a social media post. The first step in making good external communications is always identifying the Who Cares (which I’ll discuss in more detail at a later date). Is there a particularly good story you’ve come across in your monitoring missions, or a really engaging beneficiary who could tell their story – and by extension the story of your NGO’s work – and reach people in a really effective way?
And then just write something. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
Because you aren’t aiming for perfection.
You’re aiming to just spot the opportunities and come up with ideas, write a draft. A draft or an idea can be refined and perfected. But you can get them there.
So program officers, if you hear about a nice little anecdote or achieve a particularly awesome result in your program, maybe that’s a story to tell.
M&E specialists? That inspiring woman who talks about her experiences in a focus group discussion on results, that could be a social media post.
Head office policy workers? That brief you’re writing could include a personal story to make it real for the reader.
Anyone can do it. Sure, it takes practice and effort to get perfect. And written English in particular is a pain even for those of us who make a living using it.
But just give it a go!
The worst that happens is your idea goes nowhere but you’ve learnt a bit more about what your organisation or audience is interested in, and you can try again next time.
Hopefully, realising that you do in fact have all the skills you need will make external communications just a little bit less intimidating. And when you write your first draft Facebook post and it makes it online relatively unscathed by clearances or edits, or you get a policy brief out to the world that people download and actually engage with, maybe you will remember a time when you were scared to even give it a go, and think ‘why was I so worried, this is easy!’.