Non-Profit Communications: A Strategic Guide

After working in the non-profit field for several years there was one thing that really stood out to me: serious communication strategies are not prioritized.

It's hard to understate how severely this mistake can impact an organization.

Non-profit organizations are, by their very nature, missions driven. They rely on the passion and support of stakeholders, community members, and private funders.

When your organization is mission-driven (every organization is and should be), it's imperative that you tell your story, communicate your audience. The impact of not doing so will result in limited public engagement and limited development.

Most non-profit executives have said that they simply don't bear the resources to invest in a robust communications strategy. In truth, developing a meaningful plan for your non-profit isn't going to be a financial burden. Having one will pay you back dividends.

Now let's look at some of the key components of an impactful engagement plan for your organization, and how you can connect with stakeholders for little to no cost.

1. Know Your Audience.

This is Communications 101. This should be a relatively easy for a non-profit to identify. Your audience is your stakeholders, your community, and your funders.

Ask yourself: Who is interested in the mission of this non-profit and who cares about what we do?

Those are your people. That's the group you want to cultivate, speak to, and expand upon.

2. Define Your Message.

Can your board members, staff, and volunteers quickly and easily explain what your organization does, what your goals are, and what your mission is?

Having a successful communications plan requires a well defined message. Take yourself back to the principles of: 'who, what, when, where, and why.'

Defining, and consistently refining, your message is important in building and growing your organization, as well as building and expanding your base of support.

Part of this step should come in understanding what you want your organization to be. Are you education or action oriented? Maybe both. Either way, your stakeholders are looking for you to be a trusted resource in your field. Always be working to build trust with your community and claim some ownership over the issues your organization cares most about.

My previous blogs all touch on the concept of 'Content Marketing.' Look to those to further expand on this idea of ownership in messaging.

3. Create Your Mailing List.

An active and well-maintained mailing list is obligatory for a non-profit organization. You should have a running list of stakeholders, donors, and volunteers that you can regularly communicate with.

Your mailing list can be easily managed with a spreadsheet and your organization's email service. However, I recommend investing in management and email software.

A mailing list should include names, email addressees, phone numbers, demographic details, and anything else that pertains to your organization.

Having this list allows you to maintain your monthly newsletter, reach out to donors at the end of the quarter, connect with stakeholders for big events, and motivate volunteers for an important call to action.

4. Support your supporters.

A key component of communications that transcends the genre of organization is listening. If you don't know what your stakeholders are saying, you won't know how to respond. Make room for stakeholder input.

Non-profit organizations are fueled by the passion of the volunteer. If they don't feel welcomed into your space, they'll likely be turned off. Then you're left with nothing. Welcome people, listen to them, incorporate their ideas, and build a community.

5. Be Digital

The most disappointing thing that I've seen most frequently is a lack of public information made available by non-profit groups. In this industry, communications, transparency, and visibility are key. Hiding in the bushes is dangerous.

As is the case with any organization, your website and social media channels will likely be the first point of contact between you and a consumer. If you're not there, or if your house is old and messy, then that's the first impression you've given.

You should invest in having an effective website that includes tailored, organic content pertinent to your organization -- among many other things. You should have social accounts that are active and current.

It's true that these things take time but they often require very little resources to maintain.

There are so many things that a non-profit organization needs to do in order to win in their space. You have to connect with stakeholders, cultivate volunteers, and court donors. There has be a focus on the mission, community engagement, and action-oriented events. AND THE GRANTS.

Beyond that, a non-profit has to function just like any other organization. There must be an open line of communication between you and the public. You have to be present.

In short, building a strategic plan to communicate with your public is impactful, simple, and often yields a good return on investment.

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