July 2012
Communications: Tried, True, & New

When Less is Enough

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

Just over a month ago, Grace Episcopal Church bravely reincarnated “A Grace Home Companion,” a mock radio show something like “A Prairie Home Companion.” Together we laughed out loud at the local commentary and highlights from the congregation’s early days, while balancing sticky cake plates and coffee cups on our knees. Together we celebrated twenty years as a church.

In the weeks prior to the cake slicing, I dug through folders and scrapbooks and poked around old computer files, getting a first-hand glimpse of how various publications evolved with time. As the economy grew, as Grace grew, communications blossomed. And then as the economy suffered, so did our budget. Reductions in color copies and general belt tightening morphed into radical cuts.

What we are now, visually, is an accumulation of many steps, countless meetings, too many hours and a great deal of love. Our website reflects who we are. Our eNews reaches into members’ lives, keeping them up-to-date. Our printed bulletin insert and fliers do the same for visitors and for members who may not be electronically inclined. Our brochures give voice to the wonderful ministries thriving within our community. I have been given much to work with and I am continually grateful.

When budget dictated that the communications position be cut in half, the director who had grown the position and given so much stepped down. The position was intentionally left vacant for a few months as staff and leadership adjusted to the change and sought to redefine the role and its priorities.

In January, I stepped in, cognizant of the challenges. Strangely, amid all the loss, I saw opportunity in the questions. How does Grace keep shining in half the time? Is it possible to maintain the quality and reach of our communications with fewer hours?

Simplicity Through Streamlining
As a graphic artist with an unlikely knack for organization, my first step was to look at the specific tasks and see where they could be simplified. A good example is our Constant Contact Newsletter. For the sake of time, our eNews now only has 1 – 2 graphics per week. One sets the tone at the opening and the other highlights what’s currently showing at The Gallery at Grace. Despite our fondness for poetry, that, too, has been reduced. Our eNews is what it says it is –electronically delivered news with a splash of color. Perhaps not as elaborate as in prior days, but still highly effective.

Shining in the Details
Years of magazine work taught me the efficiency of templates, style sheets, and a good proofreader. Corporate design drilled in the value of sticking to a set of fonts, colors, and graphic styles across different mediums – especially during times of change. My personal experience as an artist reminded me and continues to remind me of the transformative power of creating something beautiful, even in the mundane. Sometimes, it’s as simple as searching for the right photo.

Converting for the Greater “We”
Building on my prior experience, I next needed to look at the current processes and workflow. To allow others to fill some gaps, and to encourage a smooth process with our volunteers, I have begun converting basic inserts and fliers from Adobe InDesign to Microsoft Word. Don’t get me wrong, I personally would choose InDesign in a heartbeat – but by creating basic templates in a common program, we achieve a consistent look and feel no matter who creates the document.

Encouraging Leadership
For any project, sticking to deadlines and word counts is the best way to reduce the time it takes to edit and lay out content. For the printed bulletin insert and eNews, that means copy needs to arrive by noon Tuesday in order to make it to our volunteer for proofing on Wednesday. In an ideal world, everything wraps by Thursday at 2:00pm.

As for “special projects,” Bill, our rector, is asking everyone to limit requests to what is truly essential and to what has been clearly defined in my job description. This is tough. To help with expectations and workflow, the staff and leaders are creating larger planning windows and developing the understanding that even the “little” projects take a minimum of 2 - 3 hours.

Changing expectations has proven over and over again to be one of the greatest challenges. This comes as no surprise. After all, we are just being ourselves. Grace is creative, lively and loves artful details! Although the budget and time have been reduced, the need to communicate has not.

To date, we have yet to expand online as envisioned, our new annual magazine is but an infant, and our website needs a little updating and TLC. As I continue my quest for time, I remind myself that change comes in baby steps. At 15 hours a week progress is slow but steady. Along the way I treasure the chance encounters with beauty: a poem here, a picture there, a scripture passage that says just the right thing, a member who stops by to say hello or thank you.

At Grace, we believe opportunity lies dormant in every nook and cranny – even a dramatic budget cut. In understanding that, we give way to the divine wisdom that blooms with age – even at a mere twenty years.

Mary Kay Thompson is communications coordinator at Grace Episcopal Church,
Bainbridge Island, Washington


This article is part of the July 2012 Vestry Papers issue on Communications: Tried, True, & New