Have you ever had a conversation with or heard a speech by a leader that was so full of round sounds and wafflely words that at the end of the interaction you had no idea what the person was actually trying to say? Yeah, me too. That kind of dancing around a point is not effective for any leader, but it can be especially counterproductive for a nonprofit leader. That was one of the findings in a recent research study on Aspects of Strategic Leadership Unique to the Nonprofit Organizations. The importance of strategic communication skills to build understanding and maintain mission alignment was one of the five key findings from the study.
What’s the difference between “regular” communication and strategic communication skills? As highlighted earlier in this series, nonprofit leaders have to respond to a multitude of stakeholders, many of whom have different or even conflicting expectations. And yet, a nonprofit leader is charged with aligning these diverse voices around its mission, and the particular path the organization is going to take to get there. This is best accomplished through clear, consistent communication across stakeholder groups, highlighting the long-term goals of the organization. In a nutshell, clear is not only kind, it is effective.
It is also hard. Board members may raise one set of concerns, or have particular priorities that may or may not align with what funders are asking of the organization. Service recipients may have an entirely different set of desires or expectations. Staff perspectives and donor priorities may also be widely divergent. And, to have maximum impact, a nonprofit leader needs all of these people moving collectively toward the same goal. That requires a clear, succinct and consistent articulation of where the organization is going and why . . . again and again and again.
You can’t change the message from one group to another, even when their questions and their perspective may be seem contradictory. And you can’t be so vague that different people will have widely different interpretations of what you said. Either approach, usually intended to reduce conflict, will cause you to spin your wheels and slow progress toward the organization’s goals. Will you lose some donors/funders/service recipients/staff/board members when you clearly articulate where the organization is going (and hence, also where the organization is not going)? Quite possibly. But better to lose them due to a clear strategic direction than as a result of frustration from a lack of clarity or an ever-changing message.
The ability to communicate strategically, toward a consistently articulated goal, is a vital skill for nonprofit leaders. Any when it comes to communicating your message, clear is not only kind . . . it is also most effective.