- Clarify your purpose
- Fine-tune your budget
- Know your audience
- Choose your channels
- Craft your message
- Timing is everything
- Measure your results
- Refine and refocus
As a non-profit organization, your mission is clear – to positively impact the world. But how do you effectively communicate that mission to the masses? With our current crowded digital landscape, a well-crafted communication strategy is essential. But what makes an effective non-profit communication strategy, and how can you create one that truly sets your organization apart? Get ready to discover the key ingredients of a successful non-profit communication strategy, and learn how to craft a plan that will help you achieve your goals and make a real difference. Read on for strategic experts Laura Coomber and Megan Mayzelle’s 8 steps to an impactful non-profit communication strategy.
1. Clarify your purpose
Non-profits often have a different mission or purpose than for-profit businesses, and your communication strategy should reflect this. Take the time to define your goals and objectives and ensure that your strategy is consistent with your overall organizational objectives. This can be especially challenging for non-profits working to solve complex problems. Try to communicate in one sentence what you hope to achieve. Consider:
- What’s the impact?
- How are you doing it?
- Where are you doing it?
2. Fine-tune your budget
For non-profits, budgets can often be tight, and finding the resources to implement a communication strategy can be a challenge. To make the most of limited resources, consider the following tips:
- Look for low-cost alternatives: You don’t always have to spend a lot of money to get the results you want. For example, you can create eye-catching graphics using free design tools (we love Canva!), or leverage community volunteers to help with outreach efforts.
- Utilize metrics to track impact: By tracking the impact of your communication efforts, you can make informed decisions about where to allocate resources. Web analytics and social media metrics are powerful tools that can help you determine which initiatives are working and which ones are not. See step 7 for more on this!
- Prioritize essential communication channels: see step 4 for more on this.
3. Know your audience
The majority of for-profit businesses only need to convince one person: the customer. In the non-profit world, there are many more stakeholders to bring on board. Is your current message directed to funders? Governments? Donors? Beneficiaries? You’ll need a different message and a different voice for speaking to each of them. Focus on one at a time, and tailor each message and channel directly to their needs and viewpoint.
The most common error we ALL make in communication is attempting to speak to everyone. We don’t want to ‘exclude’ anyone who may have been interested in what we have to offer. This is a natural instinct that you’ll have to defy to communicate effectively. There are two psychological principles behind this reasoning:
- Humans connect with your offer when they feel like it was made for them. If you’re a remote career advisor, for example, a “time management course” might catch your eye, and a “time management course for career advisors working remotely” will stop you in your tracks. Keeping things so general to avoid excluding anyone results in generic words that speak to no one.
- Humans respond the best to a reliable, constant presence. Unless your communication budget is massive, you can’t be everything all the time for everyone. So narrow down your audience so far that your communication budget will allow you to regularly communicate with them in the same way for an indefinite period of time.
4. Choose your channels
There are many social media options for getting your message out to the world. When deciding what channels to use, consider where your target audience already spends most of their time– you can’t expect them to change their habits to hear from you. LinkedIn, Facebook, and TikTok are good options to consider. Rather than trying to establish a presence on all of them, choose one and focus on a targeted strategy. Just as in choosing your audience, the key to success in choosing a channel is identifying where you’ll be able to remain a constant communication presence for your selected audience for an indefinite period of time within your communication budget.
5. Craft your message
Non-profits often work in fields that elicit strong emotions, such as health, the environment, or social justice. And emotions are exactly what helps people engage. So avoid statistics, and lean into photos of the people who benefit from your work and their particular stories. Then, tell your audience how they are personally impacted by your work – whether it’s a safer community, the well-being of someone they love, or better prices at the supermarket. Empathy plus personal interest creates a sense of community and shared purpose.
6. Timing is everything
Timing is a key component of your strategy. As discussed above, being a reliable presence in your chosen channel for your chosen audience is essential. Define how frequently you can reasonably communicate via your selected channel to your chosen audience. Consider how much time, effort, and budget you have to give, as well as how often you have something to share that helps your audience. Communication shouldn’t be an advertising blast, but rather extending a hand to give them information that makes their life better. Additionally, identify events that you can and should speak to – for example, if your non-profit’s mission is environmental justice, Earth Day and the Climate Conference are important dates for you to speak out.
7. Measure your results
Non-profits are highly practiced in impact measurement. Communication is another area of your work where impact should be measured. Identify what the goal of your communication is; this may include raising awareness, gaining trust, increasing donations, or instigating a policy change, among many others. Decide in advance what the most accurate and the most practical ways to measure progress toward your goal are. Just as in an impact assessment of your work, sometimes the more accurate measure of your communication effectiveness is difficult to measure, so some combination of more practical measures can be more useful. Social media likes are a tempting measure, but it may be worth looking a bit further for a measure of success; the individuals who enjoy “liking” things on social media aren’t necessarily the audience you’re trying to reach. Consider web analytics and back-end social media metrics as more fine-tuned tools for evaluating your impact. Establish a goal for yourself – by X date we’ll have achieved Y milestone, and decide what actions you’ll take if you meet or fail to meet this goal. Having a data-informed plan in advance about how you’ll shift your strategy based on your audience’s response makes necessary change easier.
8. Refine and refocus
Communication is an ongoing process requiring refinement and adaptation. You’re doing things to change the world every day, so the world today is different than it was yesterday. That means adjustments to your strategy are crucial. You shouldn’t be changing the ultimate goal – who you are talking to and what you want them to hear – but you’ll certainly be changing the tactics you use to reach that goal. Since you’re deeply involved in your work, you’ll be aware of the latest trends and developments. Consider how these affect your audience, the information they want, and how they’ll receive and perceive your message. This will help ensure your content remains relevant and useful to your target audience.
A well-crafted communication strategy can skyrocket your non-profit’s impact. These 8 steps are a roadmap that will guide you to communicate effectively with the key stakeholders who need to know about your work. Effective communication is a journey of adjusting the way you move toward an unchanging goal. Creating a plan and a method for evaluating and readjusting that plan will help you create a lasting impact and achieve the results you strive for.
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