Taking control of communications

Over the past few months I have watched the agonising twitches of a management team under seige in a nonprofit organisation. Unable, and unwilling to take responsibility for stakeholder communication they have found their destiny and fate being decided in a trial by media.

This is not a suggestion the media have presented information that is untrue. To the contrary what they have printed has its basis in fact. On the other hand it would be reasonable to suggest the overall media presentation has been unbalanced.

Unbalanced media should not surprise anyone. The aim of media is to attract eyeballs that can be converted to advertising revenue – and in the instance of this particular media channel, increase returns to shareholders. When given a choice media will always err towards the controversial; at the expense of feel good.

I suggest the problem is not media itself. I believe the problem is that nonprofit management teams fail to take responsibility for comprehensive stakeholder communication. They fail to develop capacity and skills in utilising the full range of media channels available to them. They fail to respond to unbalanced media reports with a factual response.

It is my experience the media will respond, and often print or report upon information that is factual and supported by evidence. It is also my experience that when nonprofit orgs fail to take responsibility for stakeholder communication, then the media will step in and fill in the gaps. Complete with their own biases.

While management incompetence may be at the root of the problem, a contributing factor is their lack of understanding of who their stakeholders are?

A good number of management groups consider only those that provide the funding are stakeholders. This is a very narrow perspective. My observations of the unfolding events over recent months show that when things go wrong the group of stakeholders can become very diverse indeed. This suggests that before things turn bad it is critical that management teams have a good understanding of various stakeholder groups, their needs and how they obtain their information.

People obtain information from a number of sources. The day when mainstream media rule the waves are gone. Both Government and mainstream media recognise the ease of access of social media and moved into that space.

Why is it taking so long for nonprofit management teams to do the same?

No longer are nonprofit organisations reliant upon mainstream media to spread the news. Today management teams have quick and easy access to websites, blogs, social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and even text messaging. In addition there are old standbys such as newsletters (aided by email). How may CEO’s have a blog? How many organisations use the real estate on the front page of their website as a means to telling their story – and changing the information regularly? How may use these means to respond to media reports in a factual manner?

A part of the problem, I believe is that so many of our nonprofit managers fail to really understand the impact of informal media channels. The benefit is not just in ease of access and relatively low cost; it is also the virtually unlimited number of readers, the power of ‘viral’ transmission, where information is spread by others for the benefit of others.

The failure of management teams to (a) understand who stakeholders are, (b) the information needs of stakeholder groups, (c) different types of media channels and (d) a lack of a strategic online communication strategy is not only management incompetence, it is negligent and their actions may contribute to increased risk for their organisation.

I may be wrong. But, if I am not wrong then your organisation will find out only after it is too late. The argument should not be whether I am right or wrong; the argument should be about what do we need to do to reduce risk in our own organisation.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

Let The Journey Continue

John Coxon




About John Coxon

Principal consultant for John Coxon & Associates, a management consultancy working with boards and management teams in healthcare, aged care and not for profit organisations to develop effective strategic planning processes and social enterprise business plans
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