OPINION: Success rests on the way you communicate

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

American business guru Jim Rohn said "effective communication is 20 per cent what you know and 80 per cent how you feel about what you know". Recently returning from one of our regular roadshows with supporters and clients, I reflected on how important that realisation is in the voluntary sector, where passion, commitment and vulnerability are key drivers.

For those of us working in the sector, I believe that "good

communication is the key to effective management. As the black art of spin-doctoring becomes more widely recognised, it is all the more important for voluntary organisations to invest in developing effective communication strategies to combat cynicism and build trust and public confidence. We need to tell our story, inspire our supporters and enthuse the public.

So how do we do this well? Identify and invest in your best communicators.

Develop clear, simple and consistent messages and communicate them over and over again. You can never say important things too many times.

Be clear what you want to communicate to whom and in what order. It's important to have staff on board (i.e. by having an effective internal communications strategy in place), before going to wider audiences. Be clear on the purposes of communication and don't communicate uncertainties.

Being an old hippie, I remember 60s guru Marshall McCluhan's phrase "the medium is the message

- something I believe is trite but true. We should be imaginative in how we communicate, using roadshows, helplines, newsletters and focus groups to keep the message fresh. At Guide Dogs, video briefings and project bulletins worked particularly well in times of major change.

Finally, nothing beats face-to-face communication. Failing that, use the phone. When I get letters expressing concern, I often pick up the phone and talk directly to people before I write. After all, communication essentially has to be two-ways. Only by being on receive as well as transmit mode can we understand, hear and reflect the views of our stakeholders, which is the key to being a successful voluntary organisation. So to twist an old adage, judge us by what we say and do.

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