Posts Tagged ‘Internal communication’

3 ways to improve your employee newsletter

May 11, 2010

It seems many individuals responsible for the employee newsletter struggle with the task. I say this because, by far, the post on this blog that gets the most views is the one I wrote on creating a great internal newsletter. If you’ve never created an employee newsletter, your initial hurdles include figuring out the publication’s general structure, format, distribution and how you will evaluate its effectiveness. Once you’ve made these decisions, your next challenge will be to engage employees with your content so they look forward to each issue.

Here are my top three tips:

1. Take it beyond a memo with photos – Too many employee newsletters mirror the style and content of the latest memo that came out of head office. Throw in a couple of canned quotes and a photo of the production floor, new manager, departing employee etc. and it’s a good article, right? Well, actually, it’s not. The newsletter is an opportunity to delve  deeper and to reflect the concerns, questions and commentary of the staff members who are directly affected. Remember to always write with an employee perspective in mind (what’s in it for me?). Interview employees for the story as well as middle managers and don’t limit yourself to the walls of your company. Maybe a comment or two from other companies who have gone through or done similar things might be useful in terms of providing a broader context.

You’ll need support from executive management for this to work as well as a corporate atmosphere of trust and respect. Employees are not always going to agree with changes, or they may have valid fears or concerns about company decisions. By including these comments, you strengthen the article and make it a more credible, engaging read. Employees don’t want to read articles that simply regurgitate the party line. They want to see their own thoughts and questions reflected in the content as well as responses to their concerns from the executive desk.

2. Use photos and captions wisely – Good photos are critical to the appeal of a newsletter. They serve two functions. One is to illustrate the story and the other is to entice the audience to read the article and/or caption. That means you should avoid photos of a group of employees lined up against a blank wall, ‘grip and grin’ handshake photos and shots of poor technical quality. For some great tips on making newsletter photos more enticing, see this article by Lindsay Miller on the website.

As for captions, avoid the old “From left: John Smith and Jane White” identifiers. The caption is your opportunity to add information to the article. Space is always at a premium so don’t waste it.  Maybe John and Jane have some provocative thoughts about the topic in your story. Why not add them to the caption? For example, “John Smith and Jane White have differing opinions about coming program changes.” This kind of caption is more likely to engage the reader, prompting him/her to want to know just what they disagree about.

3. Provide opportunities for employees to be involved – Make sure that employees have some ownership of the newsletter. You can accomplish this by providing ways for them to contribute. Newsletter polls or surveys can work well–particularly if your newsletter is on your company’s intranet. This is also a way for the organization to stay on top of employee opinion and attitudes. You can also provide employees with a way to suggest newsletter articles. Give the employee credit for the suggestion as part of the article to encourage others to make suggestions. Anything you can think of that increases input from employees will help with readership because the publication truly becomes a reflection of the kind of information employees want.

Now, over to you. What makes your employee newsletter successful? What are your newsletter struggles?

5 tips for better communication with volunteers

January 4, 2010

Volunteers play a key role at many nonprofit organizations but they sometimes get short shrift when it comes to internal communication. I think this is because they are often given less organizational status than employees because they are unpaid, often have higher turnover and put in fewer hours. At smaller nonprofits without a budget for a volunteer coordinator, volunteers can get overlooked. However, when it comes to volunteer retention and level of engagement, how and how much you communicate plays a role. Here are my five tips for better volunteer communication.

  1. A good beginning – Volunteers often approach an organization because something about its mission is appealing to them. Take the time to find out exactly what the appeal is and how much the potential volunteer knows about the organization. This helps in terms of finding out where he/she can fit in. Use your introduction as a way to start orienting the volunteer. Discuss not only on your mandate but also the culture of the organization and where volunteers fit.
  2. Volunteer manual – A handbook specifically tailored to volunteers is a great way to ensure that volunteers have the information they need about your organization, and their role in it, at their fingertips. Include task-related info as well as practical info such as bathroom and fire alarm locations. Whether online or in hard copy format, make sure that the content is well-organized and indexed. Although the volunteer may read the handbook cover to cover, it is more likely to be used as a reference so being able to quickly and easily find information is important.
  3. Regular check-in – Just as you would for employees, have a regular check-in with volunteers. Find out how they are managing their role, whether they are having any difficulties, or if they would like to expand/deepen their involvement. Perhaps they have certain goals for themselves you can help them to acheive.
  4. Keep them in the loop – Many times, organizations forget to communicate key structural changes, challenges or developments to their volunteer contingent. Often, management’s focus is on keeping employees informed and volunteers are an afterthought. But to maintain the level of engagement and to make sure that everyone involved in the nonprofit remains informed of critical developments, make sure you consider volunteer communication. In some cases, it’s appropriate to invite volunteers to staff meetings or to include them in routine staff memos or e-mail correspondence.
  5. Customized communication – Depending on the number of volunteers and what type of unique roles they fill, it might make sense to develop tailored communication for volunteers such as an electronic newsletter, intranet space or even a social media platform such a Facebook page. You can use this tool not just for sharing information but also for developing a volunteer community with special recognition and unique stories that demonstrate the value of volunteer contributions.

Do these five tips seem basic? Common sense? They are, but it’s amazing how often volunteers get overlooked when it comes to internal communication. Having an organized program for volunteer communication will help to  ensure that volunteers act and respond in ways that are appropriate to your nonprofit. It will also enhance their level of engagement and commitment.

Many times, volunteers drift away because they don’t feel they are really part of a team or sufficiently appreciated. When you formalize communication including volunteers it delivers the message that they are important and indeed part of the organization.

Now it’s your turn. How do you communicate with volunteers? Can you add some additional tips?

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Branding and the email signature

November 11, 2008

email-signature2Kivi Leroux Miller started an interesting discussion in a  post on Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog. The post detailed a question from a communications professional at a nonprofit that has just undergone a re-branding process. As part of the new brand, the communications person proposed a standardized, professionally designed email signature on all corporate electronic communication. There has been considerable resistance to this move. Some staff members have suggested that this direction is an infringement on personal freedom.

Kivi offers some sound advice, stating that trying to “force” a brand on staff risks a backlash and makes it difficult to sell the brand to the public. She suggests finding some middle ground. There are a number of other good comments posted by readers. One shares the observation that first came to my mind. Can you imagine a staff person refusing to use the organization’s letterhead for the same reason? How is a corporate email signature any different?

There are good reasons for a standardized signature. It does reinforce the brand—making it more recognizable. It also aids the reader. I often groan when I receive an email with just a name attached—or sometimes no name at all. If I need to call the person or pass along their contact information, I’d like to just glace at the email instead of having to call up my address book or send an email back to the person to get particulars. Overall, a straightforward, simply designed signature line projects professionalism. A mishmash of styles, fonts, cute taglines and emoticons does not.

The above rationale, however, does not address the problem of buy-in among employees. Presuming the organization has explained the reason for standardizing the signature, the fact that employees are rejecting the direction speaks more to a change management issue than one of communication. If there has been resistance to the overall branding process, the email signature likely represents the one small area the employee can exert control over.

There are some great suggestions in Kivi’s post including the possibility of allowing staff to create a unique description line for their specific department to encouraging buy-in. Others suggest riding easy on enforcing this standardization until staff come to adopt the new brand. To do otherwise risks negatively reinforcing the brand among employees.

I’m not sure, but I think resistance to organizational branding is more common in the nonprofit sector. Workers in the corporate world seem to better understand the benefits of a consistent brand. Perhaps they’re just so use to it they don’t question it. I think this speaks to the fact that attention to branding is new to nonprofits. Perhaps we need to spend more time educating staff to gain their participation in the branding process at the outset before we embark on a change.

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September great time to set communications goals

September 3, 2008

September feels more like the New Year to me than January does. I know many people feel the same way.  Back to work, back to school, back to blogging—it always seems like a fresh new start. Feeling re-energized from the summer break, now is a great time to set a few goals for your organization with respect to PR and communications.

To get you started, here are five goals that most organizations could likely benefit from setting this fall.

  1. Take stock – Put some time aside this September to simply review your communications program. I’m not suggesting a full scale audit (although you might discover that would be beneficial). Just take a broad look at how you communicate with your various stakeholders (E.g. customers/clients, investors/donors, staff, volunteers etc.). Are any of them being ignored? Do you have any idea how they feel about what your organization is communicating to them? Were there some PR strategies you planned to launch before the summer that you never got to? Taking stock can obviously lead to setting a number of other important goals.
  2. If you’ve never pitched a story to the media before, make this the year I’m not talking about just issuing a PSA or media release about your upcoming fundraiser. I’m suggesting you figure out the essence of what your organization does and find a way to tell that story in a way that would be appealing to the media. See my post on media relations 101 for some tips. I’ve also covered the topic of getting your story out even if your organization does sensitive or confidential work.
  3. Take one step, or one further step, into the world of social media – If your experience with social media stops at Facebook, take a step or two further to see how social media tools can connect people to your cause/company. Look at examples such as how the American Red Cross uses Twitter. Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows users to send and read other users’ updates. Messages are a maximum of 140 characters long. Type “social media for non-profits” into Google and you’ll find lots of other ideas that could possibly fit with your overall communication strategy.
  4. Evaluate your organization’s website – When was the last time your site was updated? Is there a way for your audience to interact with you in some way through your website or is it basically a static brochure? See my post, “Let’s banish bad websites” for more on this.
  5. Pay attention to your internal audience – Remember that employees and volunteers are your ambassadors. What are they telling people about where they work and the kind of work the organization does? Make sure you have a way for staff to talk back to management in a productive way.  Communication is a two-way proposition.

Got a PR or communications subject you’d like me to talk about on this blog? Send it my way via the comments section. I’d also love to feature a few guest bloggers. Now’s your chance–it might be a way to take another step into the social media world.