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Developing a communications plan for nonprofit organizations
I’m giving a presentation this Friday to a group of executive directors who are members of the Maine Association of Nonprofits. The topic is ‘developing a communications plan for nonprofit organizations.’ I’ve been working on a handout and a PowerPoint presention and thought I’d share some of my thoughts here.
In the most basic terms, when developing a communications plan, there are four things to consider.
1. The recipient of the message.
2. The sender of the message.
3. The message.
4. The tools used to send the message.
If you are the sender of the message or messages, you need to succinctly define your message and consider the best means to send the message so the recipient will receive it. You should think of the best tool to communicate a message. For example if you want to communicate with a 14 year old, you might consider text messaging on a cell phone, whereas if you are considering communicating with a 65 year old, you might send a letter in the mail.
That’s the kind of groundwork you should think about and lay out before you even begin writing a communications plan for an organization. But here are the sections your plan should include:
- Executive Summary: Overview
You should write this last. It should be aimed at busy people who want to get a broad brush of your plan without reading all the details. Think of bulleted lists with general headings.
This section should include a brief history of your organization and perhaps a broad overview of how you are hoping to grow in the future.
- Situation Analysis
This is where you share your SWOT Analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
- Strategic Positioning/Competitive Analysis
Your positioning relates to how you want to be perceived by the ‘marketplace.’ Are you a high end organization that caters to an affluent clientele? Are you a totally accessible “drop-in” center that welcomes anyone who comes to your door? Do you welcome donors at any level, even if they can only give $10, or would you prefer only to deal with donors at the $1000 level and up? Your positioning is how you want people to think of you.
The competitive analysis summarizes what organizations do similar things and what organizations are after the same funders as your organization. Your competitors could someday become collaborators, and it’s worthwhile to make note of that in this plan. However this section allows you to think of what other organizations might have similar goals, similar audiences and similar funding sources.
In terms of your communications, where do you want to be in one year? Three years? Five years? Do you aim to have everyone in your town know about your organization? Your county? Your state? The entire country? This will dictate the next bullet, which is your audiences. It will also dictate your budget for this communications plan and what methods you employ to achieve your goals.
Each audience will need a slightly different message and strategy. We will create a marketing map and message map to differentiate between the messages and the tools for each audience. The audiences you communicate with might include: donors, participants or clients, government officials, employees, board of directors, media, local or state officials, regulators, parents of clients (if you deal with children).
- Key Messages
What do you want your audiences to know about you? It is important that you are consistent in your messaging. That’s why a message map will be important.
- Tools to implement plan and timeline for implementation
Are you focusing on the web? On newsletters? Or e-newsletters? Or simple emails? It’s important to not only think about what works for you and your staff but also what works best for your audiences.
Be mindful that you cannot depend totally on online communications if your targets do not have computers with online access. Don’t switch to an electronic newsletter if your targets prefer to read a hard copy….you cannot depend on the fact that everyone will be motivated to print out your newsletter in order to read it.
Tie your timeline in with your goals.
- Budget Spreadsheet
This spreadsheet should include a column for initiatives, a column to describe the initiative, an amount of money needed to implement the initiative, and perhaps the person responsible as well as a deadline or target date for implementation.
- Measurement and evaluation
What are your measures of success? Here are some examples for nonprofit organizations:
- The number of new donors
- The amount of dollars donated
- New members
- New participants
- Increased website traffic
- Number of articles in newspaper
- Number of press releases issued
What can be said about the process of writing the communications plan? How about commenting on the participants in writing the plan or new things that were revealed in the process of creating the plan? What did you learn? That is your conclusion.
Create a Marketing Map for your Organization
Show your organization at the center then draw lines out to show the various audiences you deal with such as donors, board of directors, governmental organizations, staff, media, etc.. Under each audience, show the tools you use to communicate with those audiences, ie email, mail, newsletters, magazines, personal meetings, press releases, word of mouth, etc.
Create a message map for your organization.
At the center, write a key message. It should consist of 21 words that you can say out loud in seven seconds and include the key information you would want every stakeholder to know about you. Then include peripheral messages around the key message that reinforce your key message, such as the history of the organization, the impact your organization has on the community, the approach you take to get your job done, the way you do your work.
Communications Tools Matrix
Tool Audiences Who Responsible Budget
Good luck with your plan. Although you do not need to follow this outline to the ‘T,’ the important thing is to put some thought into your communications and your messaging so you communicate consistently and appropriately with your targeted audiences.