Tag Archives: communications planning

Why Summer Is the Best Time to Start Communications Planning

Sunshine, beaches, barbecues, the vacation you wait for all year…these are all the things that nonprofit professionals look forward to. What’s even better, most of us aren’t as busy because the constant craziness of event registrations, blog posts, interviews, and social media pushes dies down in the summer.

This calm actually makes the summer one of the most valuable times of the year for communications folks. It means we get to sit down and actually think for a moment, if we give ourselves the chance to do so.

However, I will be the first to say that the timing of this “summer” thing sort of sucks. Most communications plans run January-December, which leaves the majority of the planning to happen in November or December (also known as end-of-year-craziness-Ragnarok for nonprofit staff). For this reason, I suggest my clients shift the bulk of their planning to the summer, instead of December. You know, that time of year when you’re busy huddled under your desk crying into a donated box of White Blend wine.

This blog post will outline how you can use the summer to jump start your planning, making December suck way less. Heads up, I’ve designed some of these tips so that you can even do while on a beach (that’s called strategic planning, my friends).

Get in touch with usually busy people
Sometimes there are people who are impossible to get together with, such as board members or partner agencies. You’ll have to contend with competing vacations, but summer can be a very useful time to get in front of people whose calendars are complete madness during other times of the year.

 Read some great books
There are some incredible books about communications and marketing that will help you in your job. Read up anything by Social Media for Social Good by Heather Mansfield, Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout, The Story Wars by Jonah Sacks, and if you’re up for a book that’s VERY helpful but dry, I would recommend Strategic Communications Planning for Effective Public Relations and Marketing by Laurie Wilson. There are countless other books, so do some research and find some you think would help you in your job!

Reflect on your biggest wins of the year
Now that you have some space, take stock of the year and what went really well. What social media posts were memorable? What e-mails had the best opens? Visit your website statistics and see what pages were visited most, and what biggest channels lead to your site (social media pages, e-mails, etc.). Write these down.

Reflect on your biggest gaffes (or missed opportunities) of the year
This happens to all of us. You launch a report and forget to put a link to it on your organization’s home page, missed a deadline for submitting a session to a conference tailor-made for your organization, or didn’t start planning your giving day fundraising early enough (these are definitely not personal examples).  Write down a few of the biggest things that could be better next year.

Consider what professional development you need
The best way to get professional development funded by your organization (if you have the budget for it) is to make a long-term plan about how you want to grow. When you’re considering the next year’s communications plan, think about skills you need to develop and do some research about the best ways to do that. Is it a conference, an online course, or coaching? Something else entirely? Consider your learning priorities and make a plan.

Benchmark some metrics
One of the hardest aspects of writing a communications plan is figuring out the numbers. How many more Facebook likes should we put down? How much will we increase our website visits? Instead of coming up with a blind number, conduct a mini test for the next few months. Track the numbers you think you will include in your plan, and then check up on them every month. Here’s a blog post giving you some ideas of where to start in evaluating your communications.

And of course, there’s nothing better for your future communications planning than nachos. Definitely remember the nachos.


How to Create a Nonprofit Communications Plan from Scratch (Part 2)


This month, YNPN Seattle is posting blogs about “starting from scratch.” They’ll be giving you tips and advice on how to build things from the ground up—without burning out.

My installment in is focused on creating an attainable, effective, and measurable communications plan.

So last week, I shared some tips for sketching out the main goals and audiences for your nonprofit’s communications plan. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you take a look to get prepared for this second post: creating a plan for implementation.

The first thing is to get your document prepared. I prefer a Word document, but you can use Excel if that’s easier for you. Many people, all smarter than I am, have created templates for you to use, so feel free to start off with this one, this one, or find another that works for you.

Step 6: Write down all the major events that your nonprofit cares about.

Elections, awareness days, events, galas, holidays…it all counts. This may take some checking around to see what awareness days are important and who is officially hosting them, but due diligence at this stage pays off big time.

Step 7: Cross check your major events/days with those of your main audience.

The folks you discovered in Step 2? Write down that days/holidays/events their care about. Even if they’re not a perfect fit for your organization, write it down. This is a brainstorming phase, so just make sure it’s on the calendar.

Step 8: Highlight two to three “Action Days”

These are days where you need people to take that action in Step 1. Do they need to vote? RSVP for an event? Volunteer? Make sure you know when you need those people to move their arms and legs to do that thing.

Step 9: Plan out your message in advance of those days.

Take advantage of the events in Step 6 and 7, and use the information you gathered in Step 3 to figure out how and when you will be sharing those messages. Will you be doing a social media campaign? A paper mailing? A billboard? Once you know the best ways to share your message, just time them out in advance of that action day.

Step 10: Plan your content.

These three words are jam-packed with the most work. By doing this, you plan when you need to get your blogs, op-eds, mailings, copy-editing, web edits…you name it. Content is king, but it’s also difficult to produce. So try to space it out so you don’t get slammed one month before a major event.

Step 11: Implement the plan…and fix it as you go.

As you go, you’ll find things that don’t work. Maybe a wrong assumption you made at the beginning of the plan, or a message that just isn’t working for your audience. Instead of repeating it over and over, try something else. Save a space on your document to write down what didn’t work, and review it at the end of the year.

Take a look at a few simple things you can do to evaluate your nonprofit communications as well.

And that’s the way to start off a basic nonprofit communications plan. Want to do something more complex? Talk to a consultant 🙂

Good luck!

How to Create a Nonprofit Communications Plan from Scratch (Part 1)

cookie_dough_ingredients_0This month, YNPN Seattle is posting blogs about “starting from scratch.” They’ll be giving you tips and advice on how to build things from the ground up—without burning out.

My installment in is focused on creating an attainable, effective, and measurable communications plan.

If you’re anything like me, starting from scratch is terrifying. You’re watching the cursor flash on a blank screen or holding a pen to a notepad devoid of notes, and the only thing you can think about is how many other things you could be doing.

Well, I get it. It’s tough. But the beginning of the year is a great time to take stock of the next 12 months, catalog the opportunities in front of you, and make a plan to have a great (or at least effective) 2016.

Step 1: Write down one big thing your nonprofit wants to achieve this year.

And no, it’s not “make a viral video.” Do you want to move legislation? Get more volunteers? Raise awareness* about a cause? Raise money for a new project?** Get more people to vote in an election? Think of that one thing (you may need to talk to program staff or leadership to figure out what that is) and write it at the top of your document. All of your activities should support that goal.

Step 2: Write down the people you’ll need to reach to get there.

And no, it’s not “the public.” Whom will you need to move their arms or legs to get that goal done? Is it middle school students? Graduate students? Senior citizens in your neighborhood? Teachers? People recovering from addiction? Think of 2-3 groups and write them down.

Step 3: Write down how you reach them.

And no, it’s not “social media.” First of all, are these people even on social media? What associations (if any) do they belong to? Are they in a specific geographic community? What websites do they visit? Whom are they already listening to? Likely, there will be many answers to this question. If there’s too many, first brainstorm all the ways to reach that audience, and then pick the top three you think are a good fit.

Step 4: Come up with your message.

If you had one thing to say to them to get them take that action in Step 1, what would it be? What are their self-interests and how do those intersect with those of your nonprofit? If possible, try out your message on a few people first to see if it works.

Step 5: Plan how you’re sharing your message.

So you know whom you’re reaching, where you’re reaching them, and what you’re saying. Now it just comes to making a plan to share the message to the right people at the right time. How do you do that?

Well, you start by tuning in next week!

* A goal for awareness for a small nonprofit is incredibly difficult to measure. Make sure that whatever your goal is, you have a way at the end of the year to measure your progress. So if your goal is to “Raise awareness of the health risks of snowmobiling,” consider changing it to “Ensure all Washington state snowmobile rentals include written warning labels.” That way, even a general awareness campaign helps you get there, but at the end of the year, you know if you succeeded or not.

**It can be a fundraising goal, but make sure you have a purpose to it. “Raise $10k” isn’t a good communications goal. “Raise $10k to revamp one of our classrooms” gives you content as well as a measurable goal.




Why Millennials Are Not your Target Audience

Every organization is looking to reach more people. Companies are looking for more clients, nonprofits are looking for donors, and millennials (people aged 18-33) seem like a great target group. But there’s one problem. Just like all 60 year-olds are not the same, neither are 30 year-olds.

Millennials are not an audience.

There are about 92 million Millennials in the country. That’s much larger than Generation X or even Baby Boomers. And that generation, according to the White House, the largest and most diverse generation in country. Just take a look at the racial and ethnic breakdown of millennials from the report.

Screen shot 2015-09-08 at 11.53.44 AM

According to Pew Research Center, millennials are now the largest segment of the U.S. labor force. Just take a look at Pew’s breakdown of Millennials in comparison to other generations. Or, take a look at the variation in their religious affiliation.

So, what is your ideal audience? High school educated? College educated? Working a full-time job? Living in an urban area? All of these factors make a big difference when you’re creating messages and strategies that speak to your target audience. It can mean the difference between finding your audience at a community center, a high-end shopping mall, or a Twitter chat.

Of course, there are things that many Millennials have in common. Many grew up with technology, many are politically liberal, and many are unmarried. And those can be helpful for frames when you decide to target that generation. But those factors do not make a homogenous audience for your organization to target.

So, when you are building your marketing and communications plan, still consider Milliennials as an audience. After all, they’re young, many have disposable income, and they are one of the largest demographics in the U.S. now. Just remember that they are not a homogenous group: they are diverse just like every other age group.