Diary of a New Foundation Employee: Finding a Common Language

Ye olde home office.

Greetings from the Remote Work Bubble! It may seem that things are extra uncertain right now, but at the risk of getting very internet psychologist, all things are uncertain. Today it is pandemic, but tomorrow might be sudden budget cuts. Unknowns are unknowns. In times like this it helps to have a steady hand at the communications helm. Library Strategies is fortunate to work with Kim Horton.

I sat down to speak with Kim about her approach to communications because I had an assortment of biases about the field, most of which were based in my dislike of the way corporations advertise. I wanted to understand communications in a nonprofit context. The first thing that struck me is the way Kim pulls the how and why down out of nebulous jargon and into language that does not turn off someone like me, who has an instinctive distrust of branding as a means of making people move in homogenous lockstep.

Kim speaks of messaging (and branding) as a means of providing consistency across an organization, so that many people, who have many different styles of communicating, can all speak of the organization with concision and practicality. This is who we are. This is our mission. This is what we can be to you. It can also create efficiencies, especially in moments of uncertainty when the message going out needs to be particularly precise and clear and should, in fact, present unity around an issue. Unity provides reassurance. Providing this clarity and this consistency connects you with your constituents – your people, who are more likely to offer their support when they see their values in yours.   

Thinking of communications this way makes it seem less like dastardly mind control, and more like a real way of connecting the living, breathing humans in an organization with the living, breathing humans of the population at large. It is creating an experience, yes, but it is also the flow of information, expressing the pertinent points of a story, challenge, or event.

What does this mean for an organization experiencing change, perhaps even upheaval? As a consultant, and as a colleague, Kim begins with listening and asking simple questions. She begins with the expectation that strategic messaging is not about altering an organization, but rather that great messaging leads to “change” that is not change at all, but a more accurate and transparent expression of an organization’s central mission. If you have already drilled down to the essentials, you don’t need to think of a new way to explain “why we believe in our library” every time you begin an event or send out an email.

In case you are curious, dear reader, my perception of the field of communications is much altered. I see opportunities for creativity and authenticity and a chance to build connections between people who might all be interested in the same work. I was reminded of applying for my job. I may have been reading Kim’s great organization identity statement, but what I read was: Library lovers seek same.

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