While having communications related positions in the non-profit sector is not something unheard of in the past, the rising value of development communications roles in the sector is a relatively new development.
A simple look into job listings at non-profit organizations will most likely result in at least a handful of openings that involve communications roles.
So, what exactly is development communications and what does it involve? According a report from the World Bank, it is “communication that supports sustainable change in development operations by engaging key stakeholders.” Depending on the organization, the role itself can involve a number of different things. For the most part, the major responsibilities include materials development, public and press engagement, messaging, and in some cases, event planning and fundraising as well.
A development communications role involves creating materials such as newsletters, reports, marketing and donor materials etc. geared towards different target audiences. From customized materials to attract donors to videos and website content to engage the public, the range of materials may vary, but what is of growing importance in a communications role is the ability to use a multitude of communication tools to effectively tell an organization’s story. Going hand in hand, a communications position (particularly a higher-level role) would also involve overseeing the strategic message of the organization as a whole and ensuring the delivery of a common message. In smaller or mid-sized non-profits that do not have an entire team, one can be found wearing multiple hats. Along with public and press engagement, some communications roles also involve engaging in fundraising activities, scheduling and event planning.
With rapidly growing rates of information exchange as well as the tools to get the information across, the rise of development communications in the non-profit sector has as much to do on the technological end as it does on the evolving nature of NGOs and the public. The need to stay connected with the public, donors, peers and various other stakeholders continues to grow and also plays an important role in the overall well-being of an organization.
So, what are some of the basic skills for someone interested in development communications? For starters, most job listings seem to specify a degree in Communications, Journalism or a related field. However, having knowledge in development related issue areas such as health, microfinance etc. in which the concerned organization focuses its work on is also as important. It also requires excellent written and verbal communication skills, along with copy editing skills. Being able to effectively write content that is catered to different audiences is a must. If you have samples to demonstrate your work, it will only make your case stronger. Expertise in social media applications and multimedia tools is expected. Being proactive early on in this area by creating profiles and mastering the use of these tools could prove to be beneficial. There are a number of blogs and other online resources that can be used easily, many of which are free. Experts also suggest creating a blog where you can demonstrate your work readily.
While basic proficiency on applications such as Powerpoint will be expected, having some design experience (Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop etc.) could also be very useful. A recent emerging trend that continues to be adopted by organizations is the use of infographics and data visualization to tell stories about specific issues and demonstrate an organization’s work (see infographics from the Gates Foundation and Amnesty International for examples). In smaller to mid-sized organizations, there may not be a complete team, which means that being flexible and willing to take up multiple projects is something one should be prepared to do. Lastly, getting experience through an internship or volunteer opportunity would be the best way to go about exploring the field and honing your skills.