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Nonprofit Communications Plan: How To Determine Communication Objectives

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This is part 1 on communication objectives in a 4-part series. Read part 2 and part 3. 

Does it ever feel like you’re throwing emails, newsletters, and social media posts at anyone who will listen–but aren’t really sure if your efforts are working or not? This method is sometimes known as “spray-and-pray,” and it doesn’t accomplish your communication objectives.

You spend hours developing content and materials and then “spray” them everywhere you can think of in hopes that something will land with someone that will result in a new donation or new volunteer. In other words, there’s no real “method to the madness” but just a “hope for the best attitude.” The effort lacks clear communication objectives and no specified audience has been identified. The content could be great, but lacking clarity in the other two categories (goals and audience) can really limit success.

If this sounds familiar, no worries–you’re not alone! And this blog series will help to offer a little step-by-step structure to develop a nonprofit communications plan.

While this process may take a little extra effort upfront, it can help ensure you have more purpose and a greater impact with your communication efforts. And the good news is, once you have the process as a guide, you can lather, rinse, and repeat as many times as needed!

Identify Your Communication Objectives

The first step to developing a strategic communications plan is to determine your communication objectives. Communication helps to share ideas and information and solidify relationships.

Consider what you hope to accomplish with your communication efforts. Most communication objectives can be broken down into three categories–entertainment, education, or evoking action.

  1. Educate – Teach others about what you do and why you do it.
  2. Entertain – Cultivate interest and emotion in your audience so they will continue to engage.
  3. Evoke action – Persuade your audience to contribute, volunteer, or share the word about you!

Ultimately most nonprofits are hoping to cultivate real impact. Consider what that means to you and your organization. Are you hoping to increase awareness on a certain topic? Are you hoping to increase donations to run your programs? Are you hoping to create connections in the community? Chances are you are trying to do all three and more. But each objective will have its own communication plan because communication is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor!

Once you have your objective, think about what type of communication will help you meet that objective. Will you be sharing emotionally-engaging stories? Will you be sharing behind-the-scenes pictures? Will you be sharing stats and facts to support what you’re saying? Will you be introducing your staff?

Examples could include:

  • Building rapport with your audience by posting a series of “meet-the-team” photos and bios on your website and social media pages
  • Raising awareness about a particular subject with an infographic
  • Acquiring donations on Giving Tuesday through a “day-in-the-life” campaign
  • Increasing ticket sales to your next event by sharing testimonials from your last event

The ideas above are just inspiration to help get the creative juices flowing. Determining your objective is just step one towards crafting a complete strategy. One you have identified a specific objective, put it at the top of your communications plan. Again, you will have a separate communications plan for each objective. Everything that comes next will be funneled through the lens of your goal. After your specific goal is identified, you need to decide who you want to communicate to in order to help you reach that goal. Knowing which audience will best help you accomplish your goal will help you know how to craft a message that really speaks to them on a deep level. Knowing your audience will be the next step of the strategic communications process.

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