Avoiding Church Communications Staffing Layoffs

Church Communications Layoffs Are Painful

It is so painful for Church Communications Directors to hire people on, train them up, and then let them down when you lay them off.

As Church Communications Consultants we see a recurring cycle where church Communications Departments hire and train too many people and then have to let them go. The sad part is that oftentimes the church could have outsourced the work they needed done for less money and way less emotional damage.

The Recurring Growth Layoff Cycle

Here is the cycle we see: The church goes through an exciting season of growth. They experience a spike in congregational generosity and budgets increase. This leads to a period of hiring. However many of the church’s new attendees are too early in their Christian walk to really “get” tithing, so the giving tapers off. At that point the church’s costs have outrun their member’s giving.

Then the church’s financial administrator has the burden of putting on their black hat and mandating staff reductions. This is followed by stress and anxiety when the Executive Pastors and department directors carryout the excruciating process of laying off the people they had hired and poured into.

Outsourcing Work Averts Communications Layoffs

Much of what a church Communications Director needs to get done can be outsourced. For example:

  • Writing
  • Graphic design
  • Video editing
  • Digital advertising
  • Web analytics
  • Web design
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Keyword research
  • Keyword content creation

Rationals For Not Outsourcing

Here are a few of the reasons we have heard for not outsourcing work:

  • We’ll have more control if they are on staff
  • We’ll have faster turn around time if they are on staff
  • It is easier to communicate when they are in our office
  • It will be cheaper to do it in-house

Let’s examine the merits of these reasons.

Control

Control is not a function of whether a subordinate is an employee or an independent contractor, it is a function of managerial skills, assertiveness, and economic authority. So in both the employee and the contractor relationships the Communications Director has to plan what is needed; communicate the work and the expectations; and oversee the payment for services. They need to let them know the quality level that is expected, the due date, and the cost range you have budgeted. So control is about their supervisory skills.

Turnaround Time

Many times the outsource option has more people than you do and their people are more skilled because they are specialists. So they can do things faster.

When you outsource work it is wise to communicate your due date upfront and get them to agree to it. If they are too busy to meet your deadline you can take the work to another outsource.

On the other hand, if you are asking a staff member to do the work but they are too busy to meet your deadline, you usually end up having to do it yourself. Has that ever happened to you?

Communication

Most communication projects happen on somebody’s computer. Whether it is a video, a postcard, a bulletin, or an advertisement, it needs to be viewed on a computer screen.

Perhaps it used to be easier to communicate with a staff member in-house, but not anymore. With modern screen-sharing technology it is actually easier for two people to each watch their own screen than it is to sit side by side and crane their necks. So talking on the phone while sharing a screen is easier than sitting side by side.

Interestingly, we have noticed that people use screen sharing even when they are in the same office because both people can see the screen equally well.

Church Communication Staffing Costs

The simple fact is that it is often cheaper to outsource specialized skills than it is to staff for them. Here are the reasons why:

  • Staffers get paid whether there is work to do or not, but outsources only get paid when there is work to do.
  • Overtime is notoriously hard to control whereas an outsource is typically paid a contractual amount and it is their problem if a project takes longer to do than the amount they bid.
  • Some skill levels are so high that people who possess those skills should do nothing but work at their skill level. This is especially true for coders, campaign programmers, SEO experts, database experts, etc. So it is especially important to consider outsourcing these things.
  • Specialists are much faster at doing things than in-house staff who could often forget process steps, menus, and procedures in between the times they do these specialized tasks.
  • During tight times, ending outsource contracts is way cheaper, faster, and easier than laying off employees. It is also has a less emotion impact.

Delegation Helps Church Communications Staffing Success

One pitfall we see Communications Directors fall into is doing things they could or should delegate. This usually happens with a skill they are fond of. For example, a Communications Director who likes graphic design often chooses to do their own graphic design.

The problem is that they are robbing the time to do graphic design from the time that should be spent on planning, budgeting, monitoring, and resourcing. So they end up running a department that produces overbudget work completed past deadline while everybody is overworked and stressed out.

There is a better way. There is a reason the word ‘director’ is in the job title. You are supposed to assemble a team and direct them to create the work product on time, on budget, and on brand.

Assemble Your Team

Assembling your team of in-house and outsourced talent is one of the most important things you do. You should plan to spend 25% of your time on it. You need to err on the side of outsourcing work to control your staffing levels.

Watch Every Project

It is your job to communicate with your team and get things done on time. Rather than getting mired down in the details of any given project, you need to watch every project that is underway. Here are some signs that a project is slipping and what you should do:

  • When a team member is unresponsive to your calls and emails that is a bad sign. You need to amp it up and text them (repeatedly if necessary).
  • When a team member uses spongy language like “I think we can hit that deadline”, or “probably”, you need to tie them down and get a commitment to deliver what you need. If you can’t tie them down, you need to assign the work elsewhere. By being alert for this spongy language, you’ll learn that they can’t meet your deadline at the earliest possible moment, and you’ll still have time to get the project done on time by reassigning it.

Be On Budget, On Time, and On Brand

According to the head Pastors and financial administrators we talk with, your success as a Communications Director comes down to doing things on budget, on time, and on brand.

Because of the church growth layoff cycle described earlier, you are better off to err on the side of outsourcing work. This gives you more human resources who possess more highly developed specialized skills.

Budgets are easier to control with outsourced work because the outsource has to do the work at the contracted price so your budget isn’t exposed to risks of paying overtime or hiring more people to get the work done.

Getting things done on time is also more likely to happen when you are operating from an outsourcing paradigm because you can add additional outsourced help when needed without permanently increasing your departments staffing costs.

With respect to keeping things on-brand, here is what we see effective Communications Directors doing:

  • Create a style guide for your church and share it with your team
  • Plan on spending more time with new team members during the early stages of the relationship in order to teach them the nuances of your brand.
  • Early in the relationship with team members, approve every draft, every proof, and every edit yourself.

IRS Rules

The IRS has rules about outsourcing. In a nutshell, they won’t allow an organization to treat an employee as an independent contractor.

If you outsource your work to an arms-length company such as a professional communications agency you won’t have any problems. However when you outsource work to an individual, your financial administrator should review the guidelines provided by the IRS on this page.

When Budget Cuts Come

Because of the growth layoff cycle, budget cuts will inevitably come around. When that happens, here are some additional benefits of having an outsourced team:

  • Projects and communications channels can be scaled back rather than ended
  • Projects and communications channels can be ramped back up when budgets loosen up again
  • There is continuity on projects and communications channels through the whole growth layoff cycle

Scale Backs

When a Communication Director has over staffed with in-house people, budget cuts often result in abruptly ending projects and communications channels. When they have outsourced their team, they can scale them way back, yet keep them going.

As an example, if a communications team has been doing digital advertising but are compelled to layoff the staff member who was overseeing that, then there might not be any more digital advertisements at all. By contrast, if they have outsourced digital advertising, they can simply call their agency and instruct them to drastically reduce the budget for the time being.

Ramp Ups

Once the church goes into the growth cycle again, the Communications Director can simply ramp their outsources back up using the same talent they have worked with through the whole cycle.

Continuity In Good Times and Bad Times

Oftentimes when a staff member is laid off, they are no longer available to help with things on a part time basis because they get another full time job. This dynamic causes a break in continuity.

By contrast, outsources are usually still available even after a scale back, so there is good continuity in the projects, the communications channels and the working relationships.

Conclusion

To avoid layoffs, Communications Directors should create an “outsource team” and then focus their own time and effort on overseeing the budget, the schedule, and the brand.

To Get Started

Missional Marketing is a dedicated Christian communications firm working with Christian Churches and Organizations across the country, and we are also a Top 5% Certified Google Partner. So get in touch today, and we give you advice.

Contact Jason Hamrock or Kevin Peck, or use the Contact Us button.

Jason Hamrock – Phone: 480-773-9115 | Email: jhamrock@missionalmarketing.com

Kevin Peck – Phone: 602-481-2991 | Email: kpeck@missionalmarketing.com

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