Building authentic connections with the people most likely to support your organization is key to your long-term success. While this lofty goal may seem unattainable, it’s not as hard as you may think, as long as your communications are purposeful and intentional.
Whether raising awareness of your cause, recruiting volunteers, inspiring employees or soliciting donations, your communications should be tailored to resonate with your key audiences. What motivates one audience may not necessarily influence another audience segment. That’s why it’s vital to have an end goal in mind for every communication that comes from your organization.
A well-developed communication plan lays the roadmap for your messages. It ensures your communications reach your organization’s various constituent audiences at a frequency that results in engagement. The communication plan should serve as an outline, spelling out exactly who you need communicate with along with the when, where and how to do it.
So how do you create one? Here are some things to consider.
First, think about what you’re trying to achieve and who you’re trying to reach. Are you trying to build a volunteer base? Raise funds? Reach potential clients? In all likelihood, it’s all of the above, and that’s perfectly OK. You just need to account for each audience segment in your plan so that your message reaches the people who need to receive it.
Identify Markets and Audiences
Your target market is most likely geographically-centric to your organization. That is, your market is made up of people who live and/or work within your organization’s service area. Identifying the market becomes a little trickier if your non-profit serves a broader or undefined geographic area. For example, a breed-specific animal rescue may work in many locations within a region instead of a single city, county or even state. In these cases, you’ll need to think more about specific audience segments instead of an overall geographic market.
Audience members are found in your market. While they won’t be the same for every non-profit, there will be some similarities. For example, audiences may include:
- Donors and prospective donors,
- Volunteers and prospective volunteers,
- Event attendees,
- Elected officials,
- Organizations with a similar or complementary mission,
- Thought leaders/influencers.
This is where the rubber meets the road. You’ll use the platforms you identify to reach your audiences. Platforms will vary by geographic area, but in general, think about ways to build an audience organically (without spending much money), like:
- Newspaper, television and radio editorial coverage,
- Local or regional magazines,
- Social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram,
- Electronic newsletters,
Press releases are a good way to tell your story to media outlets and solicit news coverage. They can be event specific (a fundraising dinner your organization is hosting) or you can localize a national or regional trend, setting up your staff or volunteers as subject matter experts on an issue of general interest.
You can also write blog posts, sharing them via electronic newsletters and social media platforms. While you can certainly use these options to build an audience for specific fundraising events, they are also good mechanisms to tell your story on a daily or weekly basis. They put a face on your organization and serve as its “voice.”
Your communication plan should also include paid advertising options. Print, television and digital advertising, billboards and brochures are common examples. You will need to learn the cost of each option so you can reflect it in your annual operating budget, ensuring you have funds available for this strategy. Paid advertising is particularly important when you’re promoting an event or a large-scale fundraising campaign.
Think broadly to reach certain audience segments while reinforcing what you’ve done through earned media and paid advertising. Consider speaking engagements at community functions. A professional presentation is a great way to give your organization credibility among decision makers. And don’t forget your internal audiences: employees, volunteers, donors, board members. Give them ways to show support for your organization and tell your story to others they encounter in the community.
Your communication plan should include the mechanisms that will help you reach your audiences. For example, Hootsuite and Buffer are applications that allow you to simultaneously post to several social media platforms. MailChimp and Constant Contact are email marketing tools that allow you to create and distribute newsletters to your audience members. Fivrr, Thumbtack, Upwork and Writer Access are platforms that allow you to hire writers, videographers, photographers, graphic artists and other professionals to create content and collateral pieces.
You get to decide how best to measure the results of your communications plan. Metrics could include things like year-over-year donations, program participation, event attendance, digital engagement and media coverage. However, be sure to keep the metrics the same from year-to year so you have an accurate reflection of your efforts.
Yes, creating a communications plan is time consuming. Yes, you will need to think broadly to ensure you’re creating strategies for every audience group. But once the work is done, you’ll have a model on which to base subsequent communication plans. A little elbow grease on the front end will pay off for years to come.
Need some help getting started? We have the resources and tools to take the guesswork out of crafting your communication plan. Call us today. We look forward to helping you craft a communications plan that gets results.
Ginger Keller-Ferguson, MBA