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Career Guides

Nonprofit VP of Communications: Career Guides

Posted by Mitch Corlett on Jan 21, 2015 12:15:54 PM

Who is your competition for that Nonprofit Vice President of Communications job in the Washington DC job market?

When you see a job advertisement, some aspects of the job are obvious. You can envision the kind of work you would be doing, and recognize the new skills you can learn. Maybe you can even take a peek at the 990 tax filing to see the salary of the last person in that job.

But you almost never see your competition for the job, or know what truly drives the hiring decision.

That’s why we’re bringing a little transparency to the hiring process, by pulling back the curtain on the data we’ve collected from our executive searches for nonprofit Communications professionals.


So how will your experience stack up against your serious competitors?

Hiring requirements vary widely and are unique to each employer’s situation, but there are a few things that employers usually tell us they want to see in executive-level Communications professionals:

  1. Do you have 10-15 years of solid experience covering all facets of the communications function including managing a budget, staff, and vendors?
  2. Are you an integral member of your organization’s executive leadership team? Do they come to you about communications matters before making decisions that are relevant to the strategic planning process or communications function?
  3. Have you worked with a board of directors? Do you present to the board?
  4. Are you integral to the creation of communications and messaging strategy for your organization? Have you developed a strategic communications plan that ties directly to the strategic or business plan for your organization?
  5. Have you created a value proposition? A branding strategy? Do you develop tactics and communications to promote your organization? To reach and engage the public and external stakeholders? Do you represent your organization externally?
  6. Have you developed or enhanced a social media presence? Do you have expertise in multi-purposing a message through multiple communications channels? Are you expert at leveraging a variety of dissemination tools?
  7. Are you experienced with crisis communications? Are you able to develop media responses on the fly?
  8. Do you work collaboratively throughout your organization? Do you proactively assist internal stakeholders to develop communications strategies to promote their programs, products, or services?
  9. Do you supervise a team of communications specialists? Do you have both direct and indirect staff, managing through others? Are you disseminating the workload, establishing priorities, and ensuring deadlines are met?
  10. Are you a capable and practiced writer? Do you develop and integrate a variety of messages and appeals, both online and in print? Do you write speeches and talking points for the executive leadership? Press releases and media statements? Op-eds?
  11. Are you responsible for managing a communications program budget? Do you find creative solutions to achieve goals with limited budget resources?


And what might prevent you from getting the job?

The most common reason candidates do not move forward in this kind of a role is because they are perceived as not understanding the goals of the organization or grasping what message is important to disseminate to help the organization fulfill its mission. Hiring managers are interested in candidates who appear open, willing to learn the lay of the land and adapt to the hiring organization’s culture.

If you do not have nonprofit experience, consider doing some volunteer work at a nonprofit, or joining a nonprofit board, to gain an understanding of the nonprofit sector and how it operates.


If you aspire to be a nonprofit VP of Communications, how can you set yourself apart?

We recommend that you:

  1. Be the go-to person for the executive team for all communication-related matters for your organization. Identify emerging issues and challenges; recommend solutions and strategies to meet them.
  2. Find opportunities to interact with the board on a strategic level. Contribute to your organization’s strategic planning process, where able.
  3. Boost your communication skills by developing a framework to expand your organization’s media presence. Develop and implement a strategy to increase social media engagement rates and grow your organization’s network.
  4. Interact with staff at all levels and proactively engage with internal departments to build your understanding of their goals and communications needs. Build an integrated, overarching communications plan that supports your organization’s business goals and mission.
  5. Develop and implement a public relations initiative that will bring your organization visibility or advance its brand identity. Continuously build your network of media relationships.
  6. Work collaboratively with staff to generate content optimized to appeal to your organization’s constituents.
  7. Identify a new target audience with links to your organization’s mission and develop strategy and messaging to engage and build the community through social media and other channels.
  8. Initiate a new channel of communication for your organization’s messaging. Start a blog or provide guidelines for others to do so. Produce a newsletter. Start a twitter feed. Create a YouTube series. Develop a mobile app.


How do you get yourself noticed by employers?

Just doing the work and developing the right skills is not enough. If you want more career opportunities to come your way, you need to make yourself visible. Highlight aspects of your background that employers will seek out most often. Frame your experience using the same language that employers and recruiters use for the job description.

At a minimum, your resume, website bio, and LinkedIn profile should reflect key concepts that help you stand out from your competition. One of the best places to find the right language is in the job advertisements that you find attractive. But to get you started, here is a short list of key phrases used in some of our recent searches:

Leadership: member of the executive management team, report to executive director, relationship manager, partnership development, work closely with board, manage executive level communications committees, work with executive directors, media training
Management: manage staff, supervise writers, negotiate vendor contracts, manage budget, established content creation workflow, manage communications activities, vendor management
Strategy: targeted communications strategy, strategic development, marketing strategies, guide strategic direction, social media strategy, strategic marketing plan
Advocacy: media campaign, supervise media relations, messaging campaign, cross-divisional campaigns, national networks, directed outreach efforts
Communications: design communications initiatives, advocacy, call to action, leverage integrated media, exploit digital media, crisis communications, align messaging
Branding: directed brand redesign, brand creation, implemented new brand identity, increase brand awareness


We hope you found this overview helpful.

All of our open searches can be found here. If none of our current searches are a match for you, you are welcome to send us a copy of your resume so we can keep you in mind for future openings. Please email your resume to resumes@staffingadvisors.com, subject line: "Keep me in mind."

As a candidate, what can you do to make hiring more personal?

What exactly improves your odds of creating a strong connection with another human being? How can you get the attention of the hiring manager and make your case? How can you get your point across even when the hiring process is trapped in the land before time? Your ability to tell the right stories about your experience is every bit as important as your experience itself.

The Staffing Advisors team has successfully completed hundreds of executive searches. We know from experience that the job search process is stressful for even the most accomplished executives. But it doesn't have to be. It’s what our Job Search Guide is for.

 The Senior Executive Guide to Job Search

Other Communications Career Guides:

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