Transferable skills?

March 15, 2012

I often hear people tout the MBA style of management – “I just need to know how to be a good manager; I trust that my employees know the field and are skilled at what they do.” That managing a team of database the developers is much the same as managing a department of textbook editors is much the same as managing in a car manufacturing plant.

I have never really understood how this works in practice; while yes, knowing how to manage and assemble a team is a great skill regardless of the work involved, at the end of the day, why would I want to manage a team of editors if I didn’t know the basics about editing? Or the textbook industry? About what is involved in the process? It’s not fair to my team if I haven’t the foggiest idea what they actually do all day. Sure, ultimately they need to be the experts, not me, but if there’s conflict amongst the team, I need to understand what the issues at hand are.

So let’s narrow it down a little bit: what about transferring basic marketing and communications skills between industries or causes?

There will obviously be a learning curve with any new job, especially if you’re changing from, say, an animal welfare agency to a public health organization. Your core skills and experience will serve you well, but you will have to adapt to a different type of audience with different messaging, etc. But a solid foundation in strategic communications should handle most of that.

When changing jobs within the sector – or changing industry entirely – which skills do you find transfer the best, and which ones do you find you most often have to relearn or adapt?

It always helps to be a good writer, but how easy is it to change style? How do your PR needs change if you’re working with an under-served population as compared to a high profile sympathetic community? What have you found to be least affected by a change in employer?

(Your editor is facing a possible relocation – and thus these very questions – soon, and will take advantage of this blog while she can…)

Although is not currently able to “go dark” in solidarity with the protests against SOPA and PIPA (Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act ) today, as a website that provides resources – articles, columns, videos, podcasts, publications and links to other resources – and as a social justice organization we feel strongly that the World Wide Web should remain a source of free speech.

The Digital Divide  still poses barriers for access to the Web for underserved communities, but once a user is online, the Web has always stood as a resource available to everyone. For nonprofits especially – to advocate on behalf of their constituents; to find answers quickly when working on deadline and under capacity; and, most importantly, to have an impact in their communities.

Many great organizations have laid out the arguments better than we can today. So please read them, and think about how this legislation could impact your organization and its ability to do work.

Everywhere you look these days, there are courses on, readings about and how-to’s for nonprofits on social media. While virtually every individual you know is on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, SlideShare, and/or on and on, does every nonprofit need to be there?

Should nonprofits be in the social media game?

According to a September 16, 2011, post on the go-to social media website Social Media Today, 65% of all U.S. adults using the Internet are now using social networking sites. That is up from:

  • 61% last year
  • And  just 5% in 2005!

But, the source is Social Media Today. So, some might be inclined to probe a bit deeper.

And I did. What I found is that those statistics were actually generated by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. The study also included the surprising statistic that 50% of the entire U.S. adult population uses social media – even if they don’t use other online platforms. So, nonprofits do need to focus on social media, because our constituents are there!

Read the rest of this entry »

Denise Moorehead, Communications Director at Third Sector New England, discusses the use of podcasts and video in the nonprofit sector.

For more information visit:

Drowning in Jargon?

July 13, 2011

As communications professionals, we’re always battling jargon – even our own communications-related jargon.

We at TSNE also wrestle with finding alternative ways to express some of these phrases, especially on the Web when we need to be as short and simple as possible.

What are some of your favorite – and least favorite! – examples of jargon you’ve encountered in the nonprofit workplace? What suggestions do you have for restating them in clearer terms?

Comment here or on Facebook with your favorite stories. If you respond by August 31, we’ll include your submission in a poll to go out to readers of the TSNe-Bulletin in September. The winner of the poll will receive a basket of Equal Exchange products.


At last month’s New Models in Collaboration convening, we realized we wanted to live tweet from the event. However, we’ve never – as an organization – done this before, so we had to work out logistics on the fly. Especially since our Communications staff is also part of the training team and thus running event support throughout the day.

Questions we found ourselves asking, before, during, and after the event:

  • What is our goal/reason to be tweeting this event?
  • How many staff do we have who are able — and available — to tweet? What training might they need first?
  • What content do we want to prioritize?
  • How long is reasonable for a staff person to be on tweet duty at a full-day event? What sort of rotation do we need to put in place to give someone a break?
  • How do we handle the breakout sessions – especially when there are more workshops than there are people available to tweet? (@npc_life was leading one of the sessions)
  • How do we juggle event support (“Help! The microphones just lost power!”) with focusing on content enough to glean tweetable content?
  • Do we need a hashtag? If so, what is the best way(s) to get it (#npcollab) out to people?

Some of these questions we were able to answer, some we had to guess at in the moment and try to improve next time, and some we never resolved. Developing our policies is definitely a work in progress.

How does your organization deal with live tweeting while also hosting/organizing an event?

Personal Responsibility, Really?

Have you noticed that the phrase personal responsibility has begun to resurface as the country discusses the looming debt crisis, major budget cuts and the word “taxes,” which seems to have become profane? The last time the phrase personal responsibility was used this much by those inside the Beltway, progressive causes were under attack, and progressives appeared to be on the ropes.

When Meanings Become Meaningless

As a communicator by trade, I am still awed by the power of words — and still amazed at some people’s willingness to manipulate them until the original meaning is almost meaningless. As a nonprofit communicator committed to advancing justice, I pledge to work hard to keep the denotation of personal responsibility front and center in my own discussions and writing. I hope to help keep the connotation that some less-then-progressive people are trying to yoke to the phrase from becoming the norm.

I intend to write and talk more about the personal responsibility of politicians to tell the truth about what it costs to run the world’s largest economy. I want to call them on any obfuscation about who is paying for what, and who is not paying their fair share.

Do You Have to Be a Person?

Now that corporations are equal to one human being, I’d like to ask companies to demonstrate personal responsibility in caring for the environment, employee health and well-being, and customer satisfaction as much as “s/he” ;-) cares for the bottom line.

I would like those of us with jobs and who make a living wage to demonstrate personal responsibility in ensuring the health and well-being of those in our communities who are not so lucky right now. I would like us to demonstrate personal responsibility for our youth, modeling this behavior to help them figure out what being a good citizen means and calling young people out (instead of hurriedly walking away) when we see them being irresponsible.

What About Everyone Else?

Mostly, I want progressive nonprofits and their staff to use the phrase personal responsibility in ways that illustrate how crucial taking responsibility for oneself — and one’s community — is for ensuring the kind of communities and world for which we are working so hard.

AND, I think it is time to co-opt some language. What about civic engagement and encouraging democratic principles?