Communication for Non-Profit Organizations

non profit hands

Sep 23

I do love watching television. As Homer Simpson once said, “let’s all bask in television’s warm glowing, warming glow” (Treehouse of Horror V, Season Six). It’s definitely been glowing recently and has even gotten better with age. The DVD/Blu-Ray/Instant Streaming revolution transformed episodic television from one of 30 or 60 minute glimpses into one’s life as through a window into an engaging connection and entrance into another world. For the most part, TV shows are no longer self-contained snippets, but multi-hour enveloping movies that connect end to end. This transition was only possible with the ability to have access to a full season (or story) to watch in order, and made even more addictive along with the invention of binge watching.

Though television quality has definitely taken many steps forward over the years, the exponential growth of available channels and broadcasting opportunities has also given a way for lots of junk to pass along the airways. Instead of flipping through 3, 20, 80 or even 200 channels, there is now a literally unending stream of media available to us right at our finger tips. That means we have to wade through a lot of junk before finding a type of show to which we can connect.

To that end, there are countless different genres, styles, stories and length times to pick from; yet they all have one thing in common: communication. Every television show requires dialogue or narration of some sort and communication is also one of most abundantly used plot devices out there. Accidental miscommunication, secrets and lies, misunderstandings, selective hearing among many others are all common conflict devices used to create drama for either tragic or comedic situations. Many of today’s most loved sit-coms are completely centered around the idea of communication:

  • Arrested Development
  • Modern Family
  • F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
  • The Office
  • The Simpsons

This list is just a short few, and I chose to go the comedic route because listing dramas or action shows created a headache.

Communication is an interesting conundrum and a major source for drama/conflict in real life as well. On the one hand, it is a mostly fake bachelor’s degree offered by universities for their scholarship level sports stars. On the other, it is a uniquely specific skill set that, despite the education available, is almost impossible to full master. It is one of the most vital traits required by companies to survive and thrive, and though every person talks and shares information, few people are able to truly communicate properly. What is real communication, how does it work and why is it important to the growth of a non-profit? Let’s explore together.

Engaging Communication

I was once told by a mentor that communication only happened when MORE than one person was able to connect to the messaging, understand it and was able to freely respond. Otherwise, it’s just talking. This definition of communication was strengthened when I became involved in facilitating the DISC behavioral style profiles through the business consulting firm I worked with in Seattle. It is a scientifically validated online assessment used to determine an individual’s natural style and behavior pattern. While it is extremely rare that a person fits only into one category (it is common to connect with two or three), it is possible. It is important to note that while everyone has a natural style that will rarely change during their lifetime, this does not measure aptitude, ability, or even desires (to a certain degree). It measures what motivates and energizes a person emotionally/intrinsically.

A D, or Director, is the style of person that wants the ball when the game is on the line – they want the onus to be on them, to handle the control and responsibility. Loss of control is their ultimate fear. I’s are Interactors; the most important thing to them is to be accepted and liked by everyone they meet. I once knew someone who was rated a high I; they still remembered (40 years later) something they said to another person and wondered what that person thought of them now. An I needs acceptance from everyone; always. An S, or Stabilizer, desires stability and balance. A situation where conflict or imbalance is introduces is a nightmare to them. They will do whatever it takes to restore balance to whatever situation they happen to experience. Lastly, a C, or Calculator, is a person that rejects intuition and gut instinct. They live off of facts and figures. They prefer tasks instead of people and can often be cold relationally. They love data, numbers, and things that can be proven logically.

For example, somebody that is a natural high C might fit in really well as an accountant or CPA. They like their spreadsheets, numbers, and clear, data-driven answers. While this person could learn to be a great sales networker, the activity of going to a bunch of meet-and-greets will never be an energizing experience. If that person worked a job in sales they would have to figure out how to re-energize themselves in other ways or eventually expect burn-out symptoms.

This is an important tool in communication because it is necessary for a deeper-level connection between two or more different people. Nobody is the same; everyone has their own traits and preferences. If a person can understand their behavioral style and begin to learn other people’s, then that person can learn to speak to those other people in their communication/behavioral style. In other words, if I am a D and I want an I to understand me, I need to explain my proposition to them in the way an I would naturally communicate. For this example, that would probably include a lot of beating around the bush and personal chatter. A C, on the other hand, would be annoyed by the personal banter and want me to get directly to the facts.

Simply put, if you can learn how other people communicate and understand things, you are best off by communicating to them in their style. That ensures a much higher probability of success than just communicating as you are. Yet, in order to respond correctly, you do need to listen to what the other person is saying at the start.

Active Listening

One of the single, most natural reactions to hearing someone speak to you is to automatically start generating a response. It’s natural, common and often times expected, but it actually hurts a person’s ability to fully listen to the other person. If you, as the listener, are generating a response in your head, your ability to fully listen is compromised. While it’s not impossible to take in what the other person is saying, your mind cannot focus on two things at once – if you are thinking about an answer, you’ll start missing the subtler parts of the communicator; tone, non-verbals, etc…

During a counseling tract in college, I took a course fully devoted to the practice of active listening. “Active Listening is a communication technique used in counselling, training and conflict resolution, which requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties” (Wikipedia). The idea is that you do nothing but take in what the other person is saying, take a bit to process it in your mind after they are done, paraphrase back to them what they said, then develop a response based on their acknowledgement that you are on track with them.

Utilizing this communication tool can definitely slow down the speed of communication (a factor worth considering), but if done with full concentration and effort is a great way to ensure that all of the information (factual and emotional) has been transmitted fully, properly and in an understandable way.

Talking it Forward

What is extremely common in non-profit work is a deep care for the mission; at times that can even include a willingness to sacrifice a relationship or situation for the cause. I say this because non-profit organizations are ultimately driven by passion. There is a reason; a spark that causes motivation to change. When a person is caught up in the cause and completely devoted to the passion of the project, communication can very easily turn to pleading.

For example: “You should be willing to sacrifice because of the mission.” This would be one way of trying to convince someone to give to the mission, but it does not take into account the other person’s felt needs (active listening) or behavioral style. Another example might be more like this: “I hear you saying that it is important to you to give based on the data of the foundation’s success. Let me show you the numbers so you can be confident in the gift.” This statement would be great for a C.

The only real way to make either of these two communication principles work is to sincerely care for the person with whom you are speaking. If you put in effort to understand and listen to them, then respond in kind with them as the focus, communication in your non-profit organization will make huge strides – just don’t expect your organization to be the subject of NBC’s next “Must-See-TV” Thursday lineup.

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