Seven Steps to Communicating Strategically

I recently attended Be the Media V, a conference sponsored by TSNE and the Progressive Communicators Network for the progressive nonprofit community. These are some of the points gleaned from the opening panel and workshop leaders during the daylong event.

I recently attended Be the Media V, a conference sponsored by TSNE and the Progressive Communicators Network for the progressive nonprofit community. These are some of the points gleaned from the opening panel and workshop leaders during the daylong event.

Too often, crafting a robust communications strategy is a low priority for a nonprofit already struggling with limited time and funds. It can appear less important than raising funds or giving direct services to constituents. But communications is the foundation of achieving your mission. Community engagement, sharing information about your services, fundraising, community organizing and mobilizing constituents for advocacy all rely on communicating.

A carefully-crafted strategic communications plan is essential to making sure that your message is both clear and focused. And, most importantly, a solid communications plan helps you reach the right people.

Make It Yours

Many organizations, intimidated by the idea of crafting a strategic communications plan, feel they need to spend thousands of dollars for an outside expert to write one for them. But the best person to write your communications plan is you. You know your organization best! Think you don’t have the know-how? It’s not as scary as you think.

Seven basic steps will have you on your way to communicating strategically – and effectively.

Crafting Your Plan – Step-by-Step

First, determine your goals.

How do you want your organization and its mission to be perceived? Pour over your press clippings and relevant news sources. What is being said – or not being said – about your nonprofit and its work?

Next, choose objectives from your organization’s strategic plan.

(What’s that – you don’t have a strategic plan? Start here.) You will be using communications to help achieve these objectives. Reaching more funders with mailings, letting your community know about your services and events with e-newsletters, and getting press coverage for your issues are a few examples of objectives.

Then, define your message.

What are you trying to say to people? Keep in mind that what you are saying may not be what people are hearing. Be clear and focused.

The next step is to define your audience.

It may not be the same for all of your communications. Get specific – graduate students aged 25-35, at-risk urban teenagers, reporters at community newspapers, and politicians that work for social change are all examples of potential audiences.

Once you define your audience, figure out which strategies and tools you will use to reach them.

Too many nonprofit organizations choose the tools before defining their audience. Where does your audience live? Do they read newspapers? Do they use social networking, and if so, which platforms are they using?

Again, look for mentions of your issues and see who is talking about what, and where they’re having those conversations. It’s not an efficient use of time to have a hard-copy newsletter, for example, when your audience gets its news online – and vice-versa. Go where your audience is!

Assess your resources.

Now we come to the ever-difficult issue of resources. How much money do you have in the budget to devote to communications work? How many staff hours will be required to do the work? Who will take on which tasks, and what will the schedule be? Remember the first paragraph of this piece: everyone at your organization is a communicator. The lack of a dedicated communications team doesn’t mean that you don’t have the capacity for communications. Get your staff on board and utilize their skills to make your plan work.

The final step is very important: evaluate your results.

Meet regularly with your communicators and use measures like funds raised, website hits, mailing list subscriptions, and press coverage to see how you’re doing. It takes several years for most organizations to be “on the ball” with a new communications plan. Be prepared to make some adjustments as you get more data on the effectiveness of your strategies.

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