Tag Archives: evaluation

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.

4 Easy Things You Can Do to Measure Your Nonprofit’s Communications

In PR, variables and exceptions go on forever. There’s no one answer to any question, and there really aren’t any blanket statements that help your nonprofit (except maybe don’t give your social media passwords to your intern).

So when a nonprofit wants to improve their communications, it takes some research. There are too many variables to just assume that X is better than Y for every nonprofit. Determining what works takes time, and often money.

But if you’re a small nonprofit, with little or no budget, how do you measure your communications? Well, here are a few free tips that may help.

ONE: Set up Google Analytics

Just do it. Set up the web tracking code and get going (in fact, Google has a whole program just to help nonprofits and they’ll even help you get analytics set up). Here’s a blog post that helps in figure out what you should be tracking on analytics. My suggestion? Just pick 2 key performance metrics (KPIs) to track for 6 months. Maybe it’s arrivals to your donation page, maybe it’s how people get to your site, maybe it’s an advocacy link, you decide. Just track it and see how your other communications are supporting that.

TWO: Start measuring social

I know, I know. It’s a pain. But trust me, it’s worth it. Here’s a handy social media tracking spreadsheet from Nonprofit Tech for Good that is an awesome start. My only suggestion is to add in some qualitative data as well. Save images of some of your best-performing posts or high-quality conversations. They will make your board report much more interesting, and give then real-life examples of how your work is helping the organization.

THREE: Try A/B testing your subject lines

When you’re about to send an e-mail, take your list and split it in half. Write one subject like for one group (“Are You an Alien?”) and another for the other group (“10 Reasons You’re Probably an Alien”). See which one performs better, and record it. I would recommend keeping a simple word document of all the good subject lines in one list and all the bad ones in another. After 20 or so e-mails, see what trends emerge.

FOUR: Sync fundraising and communications

Odds are good that even if you are looking at opens and clicks, you aren’t comparing that with how many donations came in from each action. So, sit down with your development person (or if you do both, talk to yourself loudly in a public space), find spikes in donations and determine where they came from. Did a certain e-mail message cause a spike in donations? Do you ever get visits to the donation page from Facebook? Twitter? Instagram?

Now, these are by no means an exhaustive list. But if you only have an hour a week to spend measuring, I promise it’s worth it. The data you glean from these four metrics will help you improve your organizations work and give you data to prove just how awesome you are at your job.

Any other tips for free or low-cost evaluation tools?