Does your organization struggle to get the word out about upcoming events? Are you doing important work but feeling like the best kept secret in your community? Do you find yourself in a chronic cycle of just-in-time deadline chasing? This post was written for you!
Communications–especially in nonprofits–is often relegated to an unfortunate ranking on our to do lists: ‘when I have time.’ Since most of us will never find our way to this magical state of being, we lose a chance to put a valuable tool to good use. And yet, investing a relatively small amount of time to planning can enable us to advance key operational and programmatic goals through communications.
This post outlines a simple framework you can work through in a few hours to craft a strategy to guide your work, enlist the help of others, and demonstrate the value of communications to your team.
Establish Your Goals
Establishing your goals is arguably the hardest part. We often fail to identify meaningful yet realistic goals and accompanying performance measures. Spending time here—and working through the struggle—will make all the other elements easier to define, and ensure that achieving these goals actually advances your mission in a meaningful way.
When setting goals, the best starting place is your strategic plan (if you have one) or any clearly articulated organizational goals, whatever the source. Past funding proposals can be another helpful source of inspiration, as can your individual work plan if you have one. Spend some time thinking about how your current activities in support of these goals could be augmented by communications.
Identify Your Audience(s)
Its common to encounter major resistance to this step. The most common objection is some variation of:
- Why do I need a target audience?
- WE need to reach everyone!
- Our audience is the general public.
Unfortunately, the reality is that if you try to talk to everyone, you won’t reach anyone—at least not in a meaningful way. Or, worse, you become part of the noise and will be intentionally blocked out. ESPECIALLY when reaching out digitally. Rules governing email marketing (like the CAN-SPAM Act), as well as sophisticated user control settings on social networks, make it easier than ever for people to CHOOSE who they hear from.
So if you want a receptive, engaged audience, you need to know: Who are you trying to reach and why? And that WHY is two-fold: 1) Why do you need to reach them; and, 2) Why should they care about what you have to say? This will vary widely depending upon your goals, but might include groups such as patrons, funders, program participants, policy makers, staff, students, advocates, board members, donors, volunteers, or members.
Commit to a Calendar
WHAT are we going to talk about? and WHEN (on what schedule, frequency, or deadlines) will we share it? This the purpose of your communications calendar. Your calendar can take may forms—it may be comprised of a single or multiple documents, and it may be developed or organized using a suite of tools. In developing this guiding document, you’ll want to:
- Map out opportunities – don’t let them sneak up on you!
- Adopt a bin + batch approach
- Calibrate the timing + pace of your work load
- And identify opportunities to re-purpose content
Once you’ve created a communications calendar, how will you stick to it? This process is not effortless, but it can be streamlined to be efficient and manageable with existing resources. I would argue that you can implement a meaningful communications strategy in as little as two hours per week (mind you, I’m not saying that’s all the time everyone will need). AND, to make those two hours work for you it will take a little more time and effort upfront to identify and utilize resources available to you. Those resources include:
- Other people
- Dedicated blocks of time in your schedule (or that of whomever is responsible for implementing the plan)
- An assortment of tools
These elements are described in further detail in the remaining steps below.
Establish a Team
In developing your team, there are helpful criteria to keep in mind:
- Willingness: Don’t underestimate the value of willing team members. If I had to choose between someone with EXPERTISE and someone with ENTHUSIASM for the platform or tool, I’d always pick the latter as long as I feel they can be trained and trusted.
- Subject matter expertise: Keep your goals and audience in mind here. Team members will likely need some subject matter expertise as well as the ability to relate to the target audience. In some cases these are things folks can be trained to do, but remember to factor in time and resources for training to get them up to speed if that’s needed.
- Cast a wide net: Think beyond paid employees. You may have board members, volunteers, interns, or other people affiliated with your organization who can contribute to your communications efforts. A special consideration for web-based channels: before turning over complete control or access to ANYONE, ask yourself, “Would I trust this person to speak on our behalf if a reporter with a microphone and a cameraman showed up unannounced?” When you give team members a voice on social media or elsewhere on the web, you are entrusting them with the same level of authority to speak on your behalf. That said, there are usually ways to bestow varying levels of access or control—but first you need to decide whom to entrust with ANY access before delving into those details.
When scheduling time blocks to implement your plan, you want to be sure to allot time for:
- batched content creation
- real-time engagement
- team huddles
…because if it’s not scheduled, it won’t happen.
Selecting the right suite of tools to implement your communications strategy can be a huge time saver and allow you to significantly leverage limited resources, especially people power. Tools can be used to:
- collect and curate content (e.g, Scoop.it, Pocket)
- schedule and automate posts (e.g., Buffer, Hootsuite)
- monitor activity (e.g., Google alerts)
- automate tasks (e.g., IFTTT, Zapier)
There are thousands of app and software options available! Avoid overwhelm by figuring out what functionality you most need, and then focusing on the tools that best match your needs and budget (many are free, low-cost, or extend nonprofit discounts).
This quote from Napoleon Hill is great advice when it comes to communications planning:
Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.
My challenge to you is to download—or print—this ONE PAGE worksheet and commit 30-minutes on your calendar during the next week to work through the prompts and jot down short answers in each section. Then schedule a second 30-minute time block to revisit this post as a touchstone to help you refine your initial ideas and to begin working through the remaining elements of your strategy. A few more 30-minute sessions will get you well on your way.
If questions arise as you’re completing the worksheet, or fleshing out the rest of your strategy, be sure to share them here and I’ll be glad to answer them.