Focus your nonprofit's messages on the right people, place and time
A communications strategy is a customized plan to reach out to your organization's stakeholders — including a mix of stakeholders, donors, media, recipients, and so on — through multiple channels. Don't think of it as simply external communication. Rather, it's an active and engaged practice of helping stakeholders use or act upon the information you provide.
Use the following best practices to form your communications strategy.
Know your audience
First, know — or get to know — your audience. Without a sense of who you're reaching out to, your messaging will fall on deaf ears. Or worse yet, on no ears at all.
Create a master mailing list
If you don't have one already, create a master mailing list. You might start with a simple spreadsheet or more advanced donor management software. This list should include names, email addresses and postal addresses along with other relevant demographic details. Better yet, segment the list by key groups (such as donors, volunteers and so on).
Define your message
Can your board members, staff and volunteers quickly explain what your organization does? Successful communication requires an organization to define — and refine — its message. As a nonprofit leader, you're working to foster a sense of ownership over the issues your organization aims to tackle. Use your messaging to motivate people to take action.
Support your supporters
Listening is a key part of effective communication. The best nonprofit communication plans incorporate stakeholder input. Don't just talk at people — or send information into the digital thin air — but listen and then engage. Become your supporters' best cheerleader.
Likewise, there's no reason to go it alone when you can place your message in other people's mouths. Recruiting partner organizations and industry professionals who share your organizational views is a good way to begin. These people are likely to volunteer as (un)official brand ambassadors on social media or at local events.
Tailor your data
Resist the temptation to simply copy and paste your website content into email campaigns, newsletters or publications. Give some thought to tailoring your message for different segments of your audience, either on your own or with the help of online analytic tools or easy-to-use newsletter and email campaign management software. This is more effective than talking to all stakeholders in the same way — even if you categorize them into only a few key segments.
For example, let's say you're a human rights organization. If you send tailored newsletters on topical areas such as child labor or women's rights, you'll promote engagement and avoid subscriber fatigue by presenting articles and updates most likely to be interesting to your target audience.
Cover your digital bases
Your website or social media presence is likely the first impression of your nonprofit. An effective website should clearly communicate who you are, what you do and where you operate. Also important is insight into your mission, vision, accomplishments and structure. To support engagement, regularly update your website and social media channels with photos, videos, success stories and other relevant content.
Choose your tactics
Messages should be focused on the right people, place and time. Depending on your communications goals, you might:
- Post information on your website or social media channels — or on partner websites or other websites supportive of your project
- Ask other organizations that work with the same target audience to provide relevant information in their newsletters
- Mail or email strategic campaign notices or other news to your master mailing list or, better yet, segments of your mailing list
- Make personal phone calls to targeted and influential contacts to invite them to partner, participate or collaborate in your communications efforts
- Make presentations to targeted audiences at organizational meetings, conferences and training sessions
- Place notices or ads in publications or programming serving the nonprofit sector
- Contract with an external public relations or communications specialist, if you don't have in-house communications support
Network for Good: How to define your target audience: Is your nonprofit a match for your community? (2010)
Pulse Marketing Agency: How to build an effective nonprofit outreach strategy (2015)
Trail of Papercuts: Outreach for non-profits: Best practices for beginners (2013)
Strengthening Nonprofits: Outreach strategies