A day in the life: Communications coordinator

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It's hard to know what a job is really like until you actually do it. And with an increasing number of job titles and roles emerging in the sector, it's sometimes unclear what people do each day in their particular role. What skills do they use most often and how do they spend the bulk of their time? What are the biggest challenges in their work? And what would they do differently to prepare for such a position, knowing what they know now? CharityVillage®'s A Day in the Life series gives you a glimpse into the professional lives of people working in a range of jobs in the nonprofit sector.

This month we'd like to introduce you to.....

Name: Allison Smith

Organization: United Way Centraide Canada

Size: About 30 employees

Job title: Communications Coordinator

Education: Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management (Honours), Specialization in Strategic Public Opinion and Policy Analysis, Carleton University

Previous jobs and related activity: Integrity Operations Officer, Service Canada. Previously served as media spokesperson for a local chapter of a national charity, and contributed to communications and public relations plans for numerous local charities.

Key responsibilities:

Internal communications within United Way Centraide Canada and communications with the more than 110 local United Ways — Centraides across Canada; production and distribution of bilingual, biweekly e-newsletter to more than 900 staff and volunteers in the United Way — Centraide movement; media, trademark, and brand monitoring and providing support for the brand management program; writing and production of annual report and other publications; communications support for conferences and special events.


9:00 a.m. Check and respond to email and voice messages; review morning’s media clippings and scan and contribute to conversations on social media
10:00 a.m. Weekly meeting with agency contracted to help develop a social media handbook for United Way Centraide offices across Canada
11:00 a.m. Format copy and graphics for e-newsletter; send to team member for review before sending to offices across Canada
2:00 p.m. Consult with rest of communications team on breaking issue in the media; send message from the president to local offices to keep them informed
2:30 p.m. Check and respond to emails; monitor and contribute to conversations on social media
3:00 p.m. Meeting with team member about compiling report on website, e-newsletter and e-store analytics
4:00 p.m. Impromptu meeting with supervisor to discuss status of the e-newsletter and work on other files

I spend most of my time... Writing and editing, whether it’s for the e-newsletter, reports, messages to local United Way — Centraides, letters or any number of other communications materials.

Three common challenges:

As for so many other nonprofit staff, a key challenge is keeping on top of everything that needs to be done. We have an ambitious but small team, so doing everything we want to do with limited staff and financial resources is always a challenge.

Another challenge is how quickly priorities can change when you’re working in communications — if there is a breaking issue in the media, everything else you were doing goes by the wayside. This requires flexibility as it can be unpredictable, but it’s also exhilarating.

Lastly, it is becoming more and more important to keep on top of social media, which is constantly evolving. It can be difficult to keep up with it.

Most rewarding moments: My rewarding moments are always when working with the local offices, which are doing so much to help their communities. One that stands out is from April 2011, when we launched a new brand and released our annual report using the new brand. The positive response our local offices had to both the brand and the annual report was extremely gratifying. It’s also been a lot of fun seeing the creativity with which they are applying the brand to their work.

Recommended education to get this job: A journalism or communications degree helps, but more important is communications experience, a sharp eye for proofreading, organization skills and flexibility to deal with shifting priorities.

Knowing what I know now: Think creatively about how you can develop communications skills; it does not always mean formal education in the field. Volunteer for organizations that need communications support. My first experience developing a communications plan and working with media was when I volunteered with a nonprofit while in university, and I know that experience helped me land my current job.

Also, develop your own presence on social media — if you want to be a communications professional you have to be familiar with Twitter and Facebook, at a minimum.

Help others with their career research and choices by sharing information about what you do. If you would like to be featured in A Day in the Life, please contact us at editor@charityvillage.com.

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