Where Collaboration Meets Communication


Communication is at the heart of change management. In nonprofit collaborations, alliances, and strategic restructuring, effective internal and external communications can significantly improve the process and outcomes, while (as we read this past week) poor communications can sabotage success.

Well-planned internal communications with the board, staff, and volunteers can help reduce stress surrounding the change process, mobilize and focus constructive contributions to the new partnership, and even shorten the time needed to bring the collaboration to full fruition. Well-planned external communications with donors, funders, policymakers, the media, and community stakeholders can enhance perceptions of the partnership and increase the appeal of the new project or organization to key supporters.

In our Nonprofit Mergers Workbook, Part II, we outlined the following key characteristics of effective communications in nonprofit partnerships:

Proactive. Anticipate and address questions before they harden into roadblocks.

Interactive. Find out what people think, and respond.

Candid. Say what you know; if you don’t know, say so, but say you will know.

Clear. Ambiguous statements only heighten fear and distrust.

Continuous. Better to hear “you told us that before” than to miss someone.

Content-rich. Don’t communicate fluff; don’t be too general.

Customized. Alter the framework for the message to fit the audience.

Consistent. It’s fine to reframe for different groups, but the core message should stay the same.

Courteous. Respect your stakeholders – even when they may seem hostile or needy.

Credible. You can only build trust through honest, believable messages that are followed up by action.

Granted, no amount of communication can make an ill-conceived partnership successful. But time and again, we have seen the best outcomes in those cases in which organizations invest in communication from the start.

So, by all means collaborate! But when you do, be sure to thoughtfully announce your decisions, update stakeholders throughout the process, and use a variety of methods and media. Change is difficult, but it is much less threatening when understood.

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