Communications Plans For Nonprofits Strategic Shortcuts For Planning On The Fly

By Sherri Garrity

Many organizations, large and small, do not have the luxury of preparing well-researched, detailed communications strategies for every opportunity that comes along. Much of the time, project management and communications are ‘just in time’ activities.

Whether or not you already have an annual communications plan, you’ll likely have some ideas or things you’d like to do next year. Your organization’s strategic plan or a priorities document will outline the broader goals for your organization, e.g. to secure sustainable funding, to launch a project or initiative, to build relationships with group A, etc. Let this plan be your guide. To define your audiences, think of the groups of people you need to collaborate with, or influence in some way to achieve your goals.

Now, as you encounter opportunities, such as an invitation to participate in a conference or event, or the chance to work with another organization in an area of mutual interest, you’ll need to decide whether it’s strategically worthwhile.

Ask these questions:

1. What objective does it serve?

There’s a reason why this is the number one question on the list. If your idea or opportunity doesn’t get you closer to achieving at least one larger objective, preferably from your organization’s strategic plan, you probably shouldn’t pursue it.

2. Who is the audience?


Secondly, if the audience reached by the opportunity isn’t one that you have defined as a key audience for your organization, it may not make a lot of sense to spend too much time communicating to it. There are many promotional opportunities that fit into this category; they are often nice to haves rather than have to haves.

3. What do you want to achieve?

If you determine the opportunity is a good fit to advance a larger objective, and that it reaches the right audience, you’ll want to identify specifically what you intend to achieve. For example, if you have accepted a speaking presentation, your goal might be to use it as a platform to announce a new initiative. Deciding this will help figure out what you’ll need to focus on in developing material for this opportunity.

4. What’s the payoff?

At the end of the day, there has to be a return on your investment. This can be measured in hard results, for example, the number of media calls, new clients or donations, or softer results, like making your cause known to a new organization or community. Events are a great example of this. They are labour intensive and not always a huge money maker, but they can’t be beat for cultivating relationships and raising profile quickly.

5. How much will it cost – time plus money?

Even ‘free’ opportunities have a real cost. Be sure to factor in staff and volunteer time, as well as budget into your decision making and planning.

6. Is the timing suitable?

Sometimes the best opportunity comes at the worst time. The timing should line up with your organization’s timeline. For example, participating in a newspaper supplement that comes out in a season your organization doesn’t offer programs, or when your audiences’ attentions are focused elsewhere, may not provide you with enough return to make the expense worth your while.

7. Who will do the work?

Beyond the actual delegation of tasks and deadlines, it’s important to think about who will need to be available and who else might be affected. You will need to identify and plan for this in advance. Examples that create communications mayhem are sending out a news release when the spokesperson isn’t available to interview, or not having people available or prepared to answer inquiries.

8. How will you define and measure success?

Back to number three, take the time to verbalize or document what you will consider as achieving your goal. Without doing this, you can only rely on subjective impressions to measure your success. When your action is complete, make sure you evaluate it and note any lessons learned for the next time.

9. What work have you already done that you can reuse?

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Reuse information you have developed for other projects, by adapting them for this. Tip: keep a sample binder with speeches, ads, funding proposals and reports, etc. and use this as a source.

10. How can you leverage it after it’s done?

Sometimes the value in the opportunity is what it leads to. If you’re going to put a lot of effort into something, seek other opportunities to take it to the next level. A presentation is a good example. Identify other places you can present it, write an article based on it, make it available on your website, and use it as a basis of a cultivation letter with your donors or others important to your organization.

Use this list and you will feel the satisfaction in seeing an objective set, a strategy implemented and evaluated to a successful conclusion, even without the advantage of a fully documented plan.

About the Author: Sherri Garrity is a consultant and coach who specializes in helping organizations achieve greater results through better communications from the inside out. She is the president of Make It Count Communications and author of the Ready, Aim, Inspire! blog for nonprofit organizations.


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