One of the documents we recommend every nonprofit have in place is a 12 to 18-month communication plan.

Why? While improv may serve as the creative heart of street smarts and jazz, it doesn’t hold up so well in content marketing.

Benefits of a Communication Plan

  1. A documented strategy marks one of the biggest differences between effective content marketers and those who fail, according to research cited by the Content Marketing Institute.
  2. A plan helps keep the communication team on the same page and your messaging consistent.
  3. A plan allows you to measure whether you’re meeting your objectives and continually improve your communication strategy.

What It Includes

So what exactly should be included in a nonprofit’s communication plan?

1. Strategy Overview

  1. Communication Objectives. What do you want to achieve with your communication efforts? This should be as concrete as possible so you can measure it. For example, grow your list of email subscribers, increase membership, bring in 25% more new donors, promote X, Y or Z service. List your objectives in order of priority.
  2. Positioning Statement. Who is your organization and what do you offer that is unique? What makes you different from the thousands of other nonprofits out there? All of your messaging should reinforce this difference.
  3. Target Audiences. Who are you trying to reach and what do you want them to do? Here it’s useful to think of both your primary target audiences (donors and beneficiaries) and the people who influence them, also known as your secondary or tertiary target audiences (parents or local businesses, for example). Again, the more specific you are, the easier it is to research your audiences and understand what they’re interested in and which platforms they’re using.
  4. Desired Action. What concrete action do you want your target audiences to take? Do you want them to donate? Become a member? Sign up for events? Spread the word about your campaign? How will you measure action taken?

2. Communication Platforms

  • Which platforms are you using?
  • Who are you trying to reach through each one?
  • How frequently will you be messaging through each platform? (Take a look at our social media and email marketing resources for some best practices)

3. Messaging

  • Article Topics. Create a list of topics to generate articles for your website and email marketing strategy. These topics should appeal to specific target audiences and somehow contribute to your overall positioning.
  • Daily / Weekly Message Themes. Themes help guide your social media manager in his/her daily messaging. Include the proportion of messages for each theme. For example: 50% educational resources; 15% advocacy campaigns; 15% fun, quirky stuff; 5% inspirational quotes; 15% testimonies. Include multiple examples of each.

4. Key Dates

Every organization has key dates that recur each year. Whether it’s an annual conference, fundraiser, or legislative session, map these out so your communication team knows when they’re coming, can plan to generate excitement in the weeks beforehand, and report back when they’re over.

5. Campaigns

Campaigns are critical for harnessing all the time you’ve invested in your communication strategy. People usually don’t donate unless you ask clearly, as part of a compelling fundraising campaign. People don’t take action on an issue unless you motivate them through an advocacy campaign.

So schedule your campaigns in advance whenever possible, and make sure to launch one at least every quarter. The more campaigns you launch, the better you’ll understand your audience and improve your results over time.

6. Benchmarks for Success

This is one of the most important parts of the communication plan. Here’s where you measure the impact of all your communication efforts, both in terms of intermediary benchmarks (like the size of your Facebook following or email list) and organizational objectives (like total donations or total members).

Be sure to include:

  • Baseline (where are you starting in terms of your social media community size, website traffic volume, total donors, total members, etc?)
  • Intermediary goals (every three months, what type of growth would you like to see?)
  • End goals (where will you be in 12 or 18 months?)
  • Metrics for each platform you’re using

Make sure to monitor and analyze your website analytics and designate someone responsible for reviewing and updating the benchmarks each quarter.

Activity Plan

Organizations with larger teams should make sure to take the time to define a detailed activity plan that includes key activities, target dates and responsible parties. This can be done as part of the communication plan, or better yet, in a dedicated project management tool like Trello, Zoho or Basecamp.

Nonprofits with just one communication manager might just highlight key activities throughout the year with target dates.

Strategy Review Meetings

We also recommend scheduling a strategy review meeting each quarter. During this time you can sit down with staff and examine what’s working and what isn’t:

  • Which benchmarks have you met or exceeded?
  • Which ones are elusive?
  • What can you do to give the weaker ones a boost?
  • What were your biggest successes? Why?
  • Do you need to adjust and update your plan?

The quarterly meetings offer an opportunity to reflect, return to the plan, and think strategically about everything you’re doing.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and highlight any mistakes. Sometimes our mistakes give rise to our most creative ideas.

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