Tag Archives: 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.


The Missing Link in your Storytelling Strategy

It’s easy to find advice on how to write the perfect story. We’ve all read those blogs and we’ve attended those webinars. But the truth is, writing the story is just one piece of the puzzle.

Every story has a lifecycle. Collection, writing, editing, sharing. And this process takes an enormous amount of time.

What do you do after it’s written and shared? How do you make sure that you’re using the story effectively? Or that in a few years, you can revive it to do an update? How do you make sure you’re not retelling one or two stories over and over again?

If you’re asking any of those questions, you need a storytelling strategy.

This strategy (which hopefully fits in your communications plan) should make the most out of every story you produce. It makes sure you aren’t retelling the same, tired tales over and over, but it also ensures you aren’t producing one-hit wonders that you never use again.

The key aspect of this strategy is to have a place to keep your stories (And no, it’s not your blog or your website). It’s a place where all your stories are catalogued to easily copy and paste, tailor to different audiences, and even filter depending on demographic data pertinent to your clients.

It’s called a Digital Story Bank, and you need one. Using this spreadsheet, you’ll be able to save time and increase the efficacy of your stories.

This is a simple Excel document that allows you to collect all your stories in one place, customize each story depending on audience, and filter your stories based on crucial data. It’s fully customizable and doesn’t require any new software. Just a simple solution made by someone who’s worn all the hats. And you can download it for free.


Increase efficiency by saving long- and medium-length stories to reuse again and again


Make each story more effective by customizing it for three core audiences and goals


Use drop downs to help you filter stories based on crucial information on demographics, saving you valuable time when grantwriting

Visit my Free Digital Story Bank page to download it. While it won’t completely create your storytelling strategy, it will give you a place to start. If you need more help creating one, drop me a line. I’d be thrilled to help your best stories get to your most important stakeholders.

The Easy Elevator Pitch for your Nonprofit (Part 2)

Last week, I shared a simple equation for making an easy elevator pitch for your nonprofit. Take a quick look at that post before reading this one.

We all know that creating a plan is half the battle. Implementing is where it can get very tricky. This blog post will detail how to implement it with your staff once you’ve written the elevator pitch itself.

And the truth is, this process begins before you’ve even written the pitch.

One: Get buy-in from the staff on the need for a consistent elevator pitch
If staff or board members think there isn’t a problem, your solution can just seem like more work or more meetings for them to deal with. My suggestion here is to talk to staff one-on-one, explaining how consistent messaging can help them in their job (grant writing, talking to clients, networking, etc.). Once the problem is widely understood, then the solution is easier to sell.

Two: Get input on your work as you do it
This can be difficult, but it’s beyond necessary. First of all, it’s good to get buy in. But more importantly, it gets you a better product. Asking program staff for input is absolutely essential, because they are the ones most intimate with your (wait for it) programs. They know the technical language, which, though it may not be appropriate for the elevator pitch, helps you understand your nonprofit’s clients’ perspective on hearing the message.

Three: Prep for the training
Once you have semi-final messaging, schedule the elevator pitch training for 1 hour with the entire staff. Recruit a partner on the staff to help you present. Buy snacks. I would recommend a fairly informal agenda, but make a handout that explains, step by step, how the elevator pitch goes. Remember, the order of the pitch is critical to the message.

Four: Host the training
Now this can vary greatly depending on your staff culture. But here’s a start:

  • Set the emotional stage. How do you want people to feel about your organization? Playful, academic, adventurous? Get the staff in that frame of mind, preferably through an interactive exercise.
  • Go over the handout to explain the thought process behind the pitch (both order and wording).
  • Demonstrate with your partner, with each of you giving the pitch to each other. This should show the variation that can exist between pitches.
  • Ask for volunteers to try it. If possible, ask other staff members to give positive/constructive feedback on the pitch. What did they do well? What could they have done better?
  • At the end of the training, assure them that this is an ongoing process. The elevator pitch is not set in stone for eternity. Tell them that in a few months, you’re going to be checking in and asking them questions about it.

Five: In a few months, check in and ask questions about it
Schedule some time during a staff meeting to check in and see how it’s going. Are people finding the pitch effective? Are they having trouble with any sentences in particular? Are they even using it? Use those questions to refine the pitch, if needed. Remember, even though your messaging should be consistent, small changes can be okay.

The purpose of your easy elevator pitch process is not to get the 100% perfect, will-use-it-forever elevator pitch, but get one that’s 85-90% of the way there. By getting close and trying it out, you’ll be able to, for little to no cost, come up with an elevator pitch that meets your needs and keeps your messaging consistent. It can always be improved later!

Good luck!

The Easy Elevator Pitch for your Nonprofit (Part 1)

There is one question that can strike fear into a nonprofit employee’s heart.

“Oh and what does your nonprofit do?”

We all know, of course, what we do. But everyone’s answer may be a little different.  And there is nothing worse than hearing a board member or volunteer’s response and immediately thinking, “Where did THAT come from?”

But how do you fix it? Well, usually it’s to hire a consultant or a firm to do some research (since all nonprofits are different) and come up with a messaging platform. But not all nonprofits have the time or resources to do that. So, here’s an easy (and free!) way to develop a concise, simple elevator pitch that can be used throughout your organization to describe what you do.

The point of this is to make the listener understand the gist of what you do, not every single aspect of your organization. So, when you start writing, think of an audience of 4th graders.

And here is the equation:

Why- What is the problem your organization is trying to solve? (i.e. the need)
What- What do you do to solve the problem?  (i.e. your solution)
How- How do you implement your solution? (i.e. your programs)
Results- What has your organization accomplished? (i.e. proof points)

Let me give you an example: Brewery-to-Home Inc.

Why- Research has found that people are very unproductive when there is no craft beer in their refrigerators.
What- Since everyone’s busy, brewery-to-home delivery is the best way to ensure they never run out of delicious craft beer.
How- Our organization runs a delivery service that provides these people with their beer every week, so they never run out.
Results- We’ve served about 100,000 pints of beer right to peoples’ homes, keeping them happy and productive since 2005.

So, let’s say you’ve done the hard work to write it out. You’ve sat down with your boss and it’s been approved by everyone and you’re ready to go. Now what do you do?

Well, you stay tuned for Part 2.

See you next week!

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?