Communication, Misunderstood

A big part of my work with the Upstream Collective is in the area of communication strategy. I strongly believe that how we communicate determines what we communicate. (Some might call this marketing, but for my audience, that wouldn’t be good, um, marketing.) We live in noisy times. Everywhere we go, someone is trying to get our attention and influence our behavior. What makes one voice stand out from the rest? Good communication is the difference between a successful ministry or nonprofit and a failure.

This blog is a communications strategy. The voice, the persona, and the topics have all been selected as a means to communicate a certain message to a certain audience. (To what degree this has been successful is open for debate.) Nevertheless, have come to appreciate the art and skill of communication.

There are three types of communication: good, bad, and non-existent. Each can be effective in sending a message, but more often than not, organizations don’t choose the best type for their needs. A hokey website is bad communication, but most nonprofits think they don’t have the time or resources for something better. There’s really no excuse for a ministry to have no web presence whatsoever, but you’d be surprised how many find themselves in just that situation.

Unfortunately, the organizations that excel in communications tend to do so at the expense of their actual work.  The groups that are really getting something done on the ground are usually extremely focused on getting the job done. Promoting that work to partners and supporters tends to be neglected because most organizations just don’t have the time/money/know-how to communicate well. This is why missionaries still use old-school prayer cards and monthly newsletters, and why so few of them have great blogs or hold regular Skype conferences. It’s also why most of the attention goes to the nonprofits with the coolest websites (even if you can’t tell what it is, exactly, that they do).

At times, I’ve written to missionaries about the importance of communication. At conferences, I’ve explained the importance of social networking and taught workshops on setting up blogs and using Facebook and Twitter. Lately, I’ve done quite a bit of consulting with various nonprofits, ministries, and businesses on how they might develop more appropriate and effective means of communication. Some just don’t see the point. Others really have a desire to be better communicators, but they’re intimidated by the technology. Most are just too caught up their work to follow through.

Poor communication, not the economy and not apathy, is why ministries are struggling with isolation and lack of support.

So I’m starting a new series. In following posts, I’ll feature organizations that I consider to be peers in ministry and offer my completely unsolicited (and possibly unwelcome) advice regarding their communication strategies. I’ll provide some constructive feedback where necessary, and suggest possible solutions that each group is free to use if they so choose. My goal is not to embarrass or criticize, but to encourage and help. Please stay tuned for the first installment of the Communication, Misunderstood Tour.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.