In order to create a culture of philanthropy or just a strong corporate culture that supports your mission and vision, it is essential to embrace and practice good communication throughout the organization, which is why this is often included among organizations’ core values.
- The Container Store’s #2 core value (which they prefer to call their Foundation Principles™) is “Communication IS Leadership.”
- Zappos has among its core values, “Build open and honest relationships with communications.” They explain, “As the company grows, communication becomes more and more important because everyone needs to understand how his/her team connects to the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish. Communication is always one of the weakest spots in any organization, no matter how good the communication is. We want everyone to always try to go the extra mile in encouraging thorough, complete, and effective communication.”
- Scottrade, one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” J.D. Power’s “Highest in Investor Satisfaction with Self-Directed Services” and Computerworld’s “100 Best Places to Work in IT,” has as one of its four core values, “We encourage the honest and frequent sharing of ideas, opinions and information across all levels of the organization.”
Not Just Communication, Open Communication
According to Karen Berman and Joe Knight, authors of Financial Intelligence, “Our experience is that many, if not most, companies refuse to share much financial data with any employee other than top executives. The unfortunate message this sends to anyone outside the loop: We’ll tell you what you need to know. Period…sharing the numbers tells employees you think they’re an important part of the business. Studies indicate that commitment grows and turnover declines.” (WSJ)
Jack Stack, president and CEO of Springfield Remanufacturing Company (SRC) and an advocate of open-book management, wrote in The Great Game of Business, “We are building a company in which everyone tells the truth every day — not because everyone is honest, but because everyone has access to the same information: operating metrics, financial data, valuation estimates. The more people understand what’s really going on in their company, the more eager they are to help solve its problems.” I understand that nonprofit financials aren’t secret and that employees can go online and read 990s (just as they can read annual reports) but that is not the same as proactively sharing, providing context, and ensuring that everyone has the same information. However, I don’t want to get stuck on financials, because I am simply using this as an example of information organizations often don’t think to share proactively.
The Benefits of Open Communications
Sharing of as much business information as possible across departments and with the entire organization not only makes employees feel valued, it creates a sense of ownership and makes them better ambassadors for the organization. Other important information to share is your organization’s strategic direction, goals, business decisions, marketing efforts, and of course, core values.
Early in my career when I was the marketing director for The Container Store, an important part of my job was making sure that every employee was informed about every new product the retailer added to their selection (at a time when they were adding new products on a weekly basis and we weren’t yet using PCs for anything beyond tracking inventory and there were already more than a dozen stores!). And by everyone, I mean everyone. Everyone in the warehouse, the office, the stores, and even the truck drivers. This was not because everyone needed the information to do their job; it was because everyone likes to be “in the loop,” it’s very motivational and, as mentioned before, it engenders feelings of ownership.
I was also responsible for making sure everyone was aware of all of our marketing efforts. The key here is it was critical that they were informed before the public was – no one wants to hear news about the organization they work for from an outside source. Ever. Even something as seemingly small as an interview of your Executive Director that’s going to appear in the media; it all matters. The sharing of as much information as possible across the entire organization also creates a sense of community and respect. Everyone in the organization should feel equally important and valued.
Another reason good and open business communication is important is that it helps ensure consistent messaging across the organization. When you commit to transparency, people don’t have to get their (speculative, distorted) news through the company grapevine. They hear what’s really going on, in a controlled and consistent way. This kind of transparency also leads to faster, more efficient execution. When times are challenging, execution is important and the key to good execution is good alignment: every employee and department of an organization must understand exactly what’s required so they act in a coordinated and collaborative fashion.
Achieving open communications when it has not been the norm in an organization is difficult. It requires creating systems and new behaviors that support good and open communications. As I mentioned in my previous post on putting employees first, there has to be a change in the mindset of leadership within the organization. But I can promise you that it is impossible to create a culture of philanthropy or to optimize your nonprofit mission without it.
Written by Lee Neel, Vice President of Marketing at The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, nonprofit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website or call 888-522-1492.