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For Internal Communications, Focus On the Creative

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Guest Post: Mitch Hurst, MH Communications

One of the more satisfying aspects of holding a job in philanthropy is knowing you’re getting a paycheck from an enterprise that is, at its core, altruistic. You hop on your favorite mode of transport at the end of the workday and even if the day hadn’t gone as planned you can feel pretty good that you just spent eight or 10 hours trying to make the world a better place.

I’m sure that view was buttressed by the fact that among my responsibilities was communicating to a range of external audiences why the work we were doing mattered.  But what about others doing different work or just focused on their priorities to the exclusion of everything else going on in their organizations?  Is it right to assume they know what their colleagues are doing connects to something bigger or more meaningful?  Isn’t that the purpose of internal communications? And if so, why aren’t we as a group of communications professionals paying more attention to this topic and how to do it well?

Quality internal communications functions are designed to, among other things, make staff feel good about their work; make them feel like they’re part of something bigger and better and contributing to the well-being of a community. I’ve got a theory that one of the reasons foundations don’t pay close enough attention to internal communications issues is because they assume staff already come away each day with a high degree of satisfaction about their work.

A recent Communications Network post from David and Lucile Packard Foundation Communications Director Minna Jung, which highlighted the fact that a good chunk of our workday involves interacting with fellow staff to get stuff done, is one of the only ones I’ve seen on the topic of internal communications in years.  As she noted herself, when it comes to the topic of internal communications “none of us really like to talk about it, or admit that we do it as part of our jobs.”  True, examining how those interactions take place and thinking about they might be improved isn’t the sexiest of exercises, but foundations would serve themselves well by investing some resources in evaluating how internal communications take place and if platforms can be created or adjusted to strengthen the quality of communications among staff.

I once did external affairs work for a large company that went through a merger, and if there’s such a thing as over-committing to internal communications I was in the thick of it.  We were bombarded with daily [and lengthy] updates on the status of the company’s re-branding, the integration of benefits plans, leadership appointments, and why our Internet access was being restricted. But what they managed to get right was easing us through the merger process in a way that kept us from getting demoralized about ours or the company’s future. While there was an abundance of virtual group hugs, there were also plenty of opportunities for staff to provide their perspectives on the company’s direction.

Successful internal communications balances communications and technology. We need hardware and software and platforms that allow us to access the information required to do our jobs or to administer our benefits.We also need mechanisms [online and off] that help foster quality interactions among staff that lead to problem solving, innovation and collaboration.

It’s not enough that staff walk through the door every day and dot the i’s and cross the t’s in order to get the sausage out the door on deadline. That addresses the bottom line, but what if foundations truly embraced an internal communications philosophy that focused as much on creative exchange as information exchange?

Asking foundations, particularly smaller ones, to commit a lot of staff time to sorting out internal communications is a stretch. But foundations can commit to a set of ideals and figure out the best way to get there, whether it’s a collaboration of staff [IT, communications, program] or getting some outside help.

The bottom line is a more formal, well-thought-out internal communications plan can be a highly effective tool for foundations to enlist staff enthusiasm for their missions and surface ideas that can make them better institutions.

Communications Network board member Mitch Hurst is founder of MH Communications.


  1. BarbaraBarbara10-18-2011

    Couldn’t agree more with this post. I have spent more than 15 years working in some communications capacity for nonprofit advocacy organizations. Time spent on internal communications is time well spent and makes the external component of the work so much stronger. Yet so few senior mgmt types recognize the value of internal communications.

  2. Great post – totally agree!

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