If you’re responsible for the planning or delivery of communications on behalf of an organization or cause, then you know how easy it is for things to sneak up on you and— *poof!* —opportunity missed! Committing a few hours to develop a communications calendar can help you make the most of your limited time.
Your calendar can take may forms: it may be comprised of a single or multiple document(s), and it may be developed or organized using a suite of tools. Don’t feel locked-in to a particular format. Start with something that feels do-able and iterate as you learn what works. Regardless of your chosen format, at minimum your calendar should answer two basic questions:
- WHAT are we going to talk about?
- WHEN—on what schedule, frequency, or deadline—will we share it?
This the purpose of your communications calendar.
While I’ve chosen to refer to this as an communications calendar, others will refer to the use of an editorial calendar. I encourage you to use whatever name is most meaningful to you or your team. Instead of calling it your Editorial Calendar have fun with it, it might be your Conversation Starter, your Friend-raising Formula, or Mission-possible Matrix. The point is, communications should not be drudgery—take inspiration from how you hope to benefit from your efforts and bestow a title worthy of those outcomes.
Map out opportunities—don’t let them sneak up on you!
If you’re starting from scratch, it can be helpful to begin by simply plugging-in known events, deadlines, holidays, and other punctuating events that will shape your communications. Use these worksheets to plot out key communications priorities and opportunities by month and year:
- Communications calendar by month*
- Communications calendar by year*
*both documents are formatted with fillable fields that can be completed on your computer, or printed and filled-in by hand
After you’ve had a chance to work through the additional steps that follow, be sure to revisit these worksheets to add any other content you plan to share on a consistent basis.
Adopt a bin + batch approach
One of my favorite approaches—especially for more frequent communications like social media—is to identify the consistent content ‘bins’ or categories that we’ll need to generate content for, and then schedule time to create these posts in batches (vs. creating them one by one).
Start by asking yourself: WHAT are we going to say, share, and celebrate with our audience to reach our goals? Taking the time to identify core content categories, what I’m refer to as bins, will clarify what information you need to gather and translate into social media posts and other communications. Once you have established your bins, you can set-up systems to collect this raw content on an ongoing basis. Use this worksheet to brainstorm your content bins:
There are countless ways to divvy-up and organize content types, so I’ve shared a listed some ideas below. Consider these examples a starting place for crafting bins that suit YOUR needs:
- VOLUNTEER ALERTS: calls for volunteers, ways for people to contribute their time and talent
- SUCCESS STORIES: document case studies, communicate impact, share testimonials
- BEHIND THE SCENES: this might include program updates, teasers for upcoming events, a sneak peek into a new service
- NEED TO KNOW: how to find resources/support, tutorials—whether it be something YOU provide, or redirecting folks to external resources that you recommend
- JUST FOR FUN: inspirational quotes, relevant memes, humor—this is especially useful content on social networks
- HERO SHOWCASE: donor recognition, partner shout-outs, staff profiles, volunteer spotlight
Remember that you might also have bins for specific INITIATIVES or CAMPAIGNS. Identifying your content bins is about coming up with themes or categories, not crafting the content.
Calibrate the timing + pace of your work load
Now that we have some content bins, it’s time to start crafting our content. In the same way that we typically bake cookies by the dozen, BATCHING your content creation is more efficient than attempting to come up with each item in real time. Crafting content on-demand is probably the biggest reason why many organizations fail to keep their social media profiles engaging, their websites updated, or their email lists active. If you have limited people-power or other resources to allocate to communications, this strategy is essential.
This is where you can start thinking about how frequently you intend to communicate, and then SCHEDULE time in someone’s schedule to create this content on a weekly or monthly basis. Having a dedicated block of time to focus on your audience and get your creative juices flowing will yield better content and save you time. This is particularly effective in the case of:
- themed weekly posts to social media
- regular updates shared on your website
- email newsletters
- an event count down
- a series of video interviews
…but really, this strategy can be applied to ANY of your content bins. And keep in mind, this strategy does NOT preclude you from communicating on demand when something timely or unexpected pops-up. It just makes it easier to keep in touch with greater frequency and in less time. Spend a few minutes to think about what resources you might put to use to create systems to batch content creation for each of your content bins:
In addition to time blocks for batched content creation, be sure that your team is also scheduling time for things like:
- real-time (social media) engagement
- team huddles
…and other elements of your plan, because if it’s not scheduled, it won’t happen.