I think the number one killer of good communication in organizations is the “design by committee” approach that invades many nonprofits. If you want communication mediocrity then ask a group to make a decision. I will use branding as an example, but it applies to all communication and marketing.
The two aspects of great branding and why committees kill them
A great brand gets the attention of your audiences. There are two aspects of getting attention that are particularly hard for committees to accomplish: being unique and being simple.
• Committees don’t want to take risks. I have been on committees, and I understand the challenge. I don’t want something bad going down while I am on the committee. Great design looks different than what everyone else is doing. When making a design decision, a committee will pick the safest option — the one that doesn’t look too different. See the problem?
• Individuals in a group feel like they have to contribute. This problem is not isolated to committees, but it is typically a surefire way to kill creativity. Often people are compelled to offer some criticism to feel like they are participating. Multiply these comments and there is no end in sight for revisions that will ruin a great design.
• Committees have politics. People on committees feel like they have to represent all: ‘Let’s play nice and make sure we incorporate everyone’s feedback’ or‘The brand needs to communicate everything to everyone.’ Simplicity often means pairing things down so it is clear and concise.
How to rescue your nonprofit communication from a committee
I might be making it sound like committees have no value, but they have great value. The key is to make sure your committee is accomplishing the right tasks. Once again, I will use branding as an example. A committee that is defining and affirming what the brand should represent will then support the design that meets these standards. Keeping the committee focused on defining the big picture goals and the criteria to measure these goals will free up communication staff to make decisions that best meet the criteria and goals.
The good news is that committees can be a great help to a nonprofit communication professional. Even if they are dysfunctional, it is often not terribly difficult to turn the ship around.
Need more help? I just read this great article by Michael Hyatt about running meetings with some great ideas. Learn more about our Channel Balancing and Brand Mapping. Both can help you realign a committee so you can do more effective nonprofit communication.
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