In any kind of workplace, how you communicate internally affects your outputs. This is true whether you’re an advertising agency preparing a pitch for a prospective client, a restaurant getting ready for dinner service, or even a rock band rehearsing for a concert.
The same principle applies to nonprofits. To succeed in serving your community, your team members must know how to effectively communicate with one another. Effective communication has a trickle-down effect, enhancing how you fundraise, run your programming, and make progress on large-scale projects. It’s also critical for running a workplace where people enjoy their jobs and want to stay for the long term.
To help you improve internal communication at your nonprofit, we’ve put together this quick guide consisting of five practical tips. If you’re ready to level up how your team works together, this post is for you! Let’s get started.
1. Equip your employees with the right communication tools.
Great communication starts with the right tools, especially in an age of flexible work arrangements, where some employees may be working from an office and others may work from home.
To connect all the dots and keep information flowing through your organization, consider using these tools:
- Specific email guidelines. Your nonprofit probably already relies heavily on email as an internal communication channel, but you could likely make emailing more efficient and effective. Create guidelines that outline email expectations, like when it’s appropriate to cc or bcc a coworker or when employees should avoid selecting “reply all” to team-wide emails.
- An intranet or internal website. A secure, internal intranet or website creates a place to store all documents, policies, and information that your employees need to succeed in their roles.
- Instant messaging or chatting apps. Tools like Slack or Google Hangouts Chat can instantly put one team member in touch with another. For instance, say one of your employees is getting ready to submit your Google Ad Grant application, but has one last question for your team. Instead of typing out a full email or calling on the phone, they quickly send out their question and get a response within minutes or even seconds.
- A video conferencing tool. Depending on what the format of your workplace looks like, you may need to take meetings with your team members remotely. A tool like Zoom or Microsoft Teams makes it easy to host meetings, chat with fellow participants, and record it all to refer to later.
- Document sharing and other collaboration tools. Sometimes your team will work on projects where more than one person will need to be completing tasks in a document or slide deck at the same time. That’s where a collaborative workspace tool like Google Workspace or Microsoft Teams comes in handy.
- An integrated CRM system. Any new digital or web-based communication tools your organization uses should ideally integrate with your central database or CRM. A steady flow of data about both your internal operations and donors will give your team a broader and more useful view of the organization as a whole.
- Project management software. If your nonprofit is looking for a better way to manage deliverables and communicate where a deliverable is in the process of being created, you’ll benefit from using project management software like Trello, Monday, or Asana.
- Surveys. Wondering how your employees feel about a new policy or project? Go ahead and simply ask! A survey tool like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey can empower you to quickly send out open-ended questions and get thoughtful responses.
As with email, any tool you decide to use for internal communications should be introduced along with guidelines for its appropriate use. This will help ensure your tools help rather than hinder internal communication and encourage a healthy workflow at your organization.
2. Be transparent about compensation.
Let’s now get into how to communicate about a big topic that is intimidating for many employers: compensation. Compensation, how your organization pays and rewards employees for their work, plays a major role in determining the overall tone of your internal culture. However, this doesn’t simply mean employees are only happier and more engaged when they’re paid higher salaries.
As you’re well aware, the topic of nonprofit salaries is particularly complex and sometimes controversial. Generally speaking, nonprofits experience much tighter or more inflexible budgets than for-profit businesses of similar sizes, which is why Astron Solutions recommends you take a total rewards approach to compensation. This means taking into account both direct and indirect forms of compensation.
Organizations of all types tend to avoid talking very openly about direct compensation. Employees are rarely aware of exactly why they or their coworkers are paid what they’re paid. This can lead to a lot of easily avoidable confusion, secrecy, and feelings of dissatisfaction.
However, new pay transparency laws are becoming more ubiquitous throughout the U.S., requiring employers to be more forthright with their employees and job candidates about compensation.
Whether or not your state or local government has yet to pass a pay transparency law, it’s a general best practice to take an open approach to communicating about compensation with your employees. On a one-on-one basis, each employee should clearly understand why they’re paid their particular salary.
Especially for nonprofits that can’t afford to offer extremely competitive salaries for all staff members, you can foster a more engaged, satisfying work culture by taking an open, realistic approach to direct compensation and paying close attention to the quality of your indirect compensation.
While direct compensation refers to salaries, indirect compensation includes elements like:
- Benefits, like healthcare, PTO, and retirement savings
- Your performance management styles
- How you recognize achievements
- The work-life balance you promote
- The quality of your internal culture
By including culture (which is greatly determined by an organization’s approach to internal communication) as an element of indirect compensation, nonprofits can more accurately examine their compensation strategies and then take a more flexible approach to adjust them.
This is particularly important when you consider that it’s elements of indirect compensation that tend to be the most important factors in your employee retention rate. Indirect compensation is an integral part of why employees stay engaged with their work. Understanding that will help you better develop strategies for improving it (like streamlining internal communication) and help you recognize when you’re falling short.
3. Prioritize transparency and engagement in general.
Most managers of teams understand the value of transparency, but it can be easy to let this priority fall by the wayside under the stresses of day-to-day operations.
Just as you develop stewardship plans to grow your donors’ investment in your cause, you can easily take steps to do the same for your employees. More transparent communication and big-picture views of your operations are great ways to start.
As a nonprofit grows and new processes and policies are built out, not every member of your team will have as much insight into their coworker’s tasks or the priorities of other departments as they once did. In your internal communications and announcements, think carefully about whether you have a good reason not to share particular updates or information.
Many managers worry that sharing too much information about ongoing activities across the organization will be distracting for team members and derail focus. However, increasing transparency around new strategies and updates can significantly increase employee engagement.
This is because team members will be more understanding of changes and feel more invested in new developments when they can contextualize why your organization is making certain decisions or prioritizing certain projects.
Another strategy you might consider is expanding your training or onboarding process to include overview presentations or shadowing in different departments. Siloing staff members into very specific roles without giving them the chance to see how their work contributes to the bigger picture can contribute to burnout or low engagement.
4. Share internal knowledge and documentation freely.
Organizational history and process documentation can be invaluable resources for your staff as they make day-to-day decisions and contribute to your nonprofit’s growth.
However, internal knowledge and documentation might be intentionally kept secret. This is typically more common in for-profit businesses than in nonprofits, but you should still avoid this practice in general. (Of course, legal and privacy concerns should always be taken into account.)
If you have no pressing reason to limit the visibility of certain information or documents, though, you should make sure employees can easily access and benefit from resources like:
- Your employee handbook
- The employee’s job description, contract (as applicable), performance evaluations, and benefits information
- Organizational policies and bylaws
- Training and educational materials
- Board meeting materials
- Financial reports and grant and funding details
- Your strategic plan
- Program descriptions
- Project plans and timelines
- Meetings minutes and agendas
- Brand and style guide
- Updated employee directory
Remember, as mentioned above, an intranet or internal website can be an excellent place to store these resources securely.
Opening up your store of internal knowledge for employees whenever possible is a best practice for any organization. Not only does it communicate trust, but it also increases employee engagement by letting your team know that they’re a valuable part of your organization’s ongoing story.
5. Connect internal goals to your mission and communicate them.
As a nonprofit, you have the benefit of being fully guided by your mission, not necessarily by market forces or competing organizations. Chances are your team members have all pursued work in the nonprofit space because they feel personally compelled to contribute to the social good. They’ve all been drawn to your mission in one way or another.
Fostering that sense of mission buy-in is critical for your organization.
Your internal communication style can support mission buy-in by simply being more direct. Whenever you’re sharing updates about a new goal or development, think about how it ties into your mission, and then explain how they’re related. When fully tied into your driving mission, even unexciting internal projects become more engaging for your employees.
This practice is especially important for high-stakes or critical projects, as mission buy-in will likely be a major factor that pushes your team over the finish line.
When it comes to setting internal goals and building structures to motivate your team, working with a nonprofit HR expert early on in the development of your organization can have positive, long-lasting impacts. Growth can cause teams to lose focus, and developing a concrete roadmap around your central mission is a smart safeguard.
An organization’s approach to internal communication plays a major role in determining the quality of its workplace and its ability to connect with beneficiaries and supporters.
By implementing one or more of these tips into how you handle your internal communication, you can encourage healthy shifts and growth in your organization’s culture. Take a flexible approach, and find what works for your unique mission and team. You can do it!
Author: Jennifer C. Loftus, MBA, SPHR, PHRca, GPHR, SHRM-SCP, CCP, CBP, GRP
Jennifer C. Loftus is a Founding Partner of and National Director for Astron Solutions, a compensation consulting firm. Jennifer has 23 years of experience garnered at organizations including the Hay Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eagle Electric Manufacturing Company, and Harcourt General.
Jennifer has held volunteer leadership roles with SHRM, New York City SHRM, and WorldatWork. She serves as a subject matter expert to the SHRM Learning System and as a SHRM instructor. Jennifer is a sought-after speaker for local & national conferences and media outlets.
Jennifer has an MBA in Human Resource Management with highest honors from Pace University and a BS in Accounting summa cum laude from Rutgers University.
Jennifer holds Adjunct Professor roles with Pace University, Long Island University, and LIM College.
Jennifer received the 2014 Gotham Comedy Foundation’s Lifetime Ambassador of Laughter Award.