Beyond Clicks for Causes: Agile Digital Communications for Non-profits
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In June 2018, Routledge published our new book: Communicating Causes, edited by Nicky Garsten and Ian Bruce. We hope the book, which opens with a foreword by Channel 4’s Jon Snow, becomes a go-to-source for non-profit communications students and practitioners. My chapter, co-written with the brilliant Tove Nordstöm, is about the impact of digital technologies on communications. Please find my introduction to the dynamics that informed the chapter and its key thesis below.
Introducing Agile Digital Communications
Social media has catalysed change, not just in communications, but the way organisations need to operate. Sharing content on social media is now part of business as usual for non-profits large and small. Most non-profits are also skilled at creating high quality visual content and increasingly live streaming discussions and events. Keeping abreast of trends and trialling new communication channels and formats is generally expected of digital communications teams.
But social media also enables listening and responding as well as creating and broadcasting content. Studies highlighted in our chapter show these areas tend to be less developed. The chapter cautions that non-profits who do not listen to their stakeholders online or pay attention to new trends, tech and behaviours may be missing out on significant opportunities to engage, further their purpose, and ultimately build and sustain trust.
Digital is a catalyst for doing things differently, not just doing different things
More urgently, digital technology is disrupting some non-profit business models and operations. During the DEC Africa appeal, internet celebrity, Jérôme Jarre, raised $1Million USD in less than one day with his pop-up ‘Love Army for Somalia’ online fundraising campaign. Futhermore, emerging technologies like blockchain unlock new streamlined ways of raising and dispersing humanitarian aid disrupting legacy logistics and supply chains.
These disruptive scenarios signal the need for transformation to become part of the non-profit agenda at the highest level. Yet, our research found, many non-profits lack a strategy that maximises digital opportunities and minimises the risks of disruption or redundancy. Part of the cause is the lack digital skills amongst trustees and leadership teams.
Dialling up the role of communications
Communications has a big role to play helping non-profit organisations do things differently. Strategic comms professionals can help identify and champion stakeholder needs and trends impacting their organisations. They can lead on strategy, internal change programmes, and new ways of working.
Our chapter explores the need to be agile and collaborative not just in communications, but in the way products and services are designed and delivered across departments and disciplines. As communications folks are typically the first to use new tech, they are in a great position to lead on transformation.
Please get in touch if you would like more information about the book (also available on Amazon) or our approach. We hope you will find it useful and inspiring.