Kivi Leroux Miller recently joined us for a webinar in which she gave a straight answer to what your communications plan should look like.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven Shattuck: Alright, Kivi, my watch just struck 1:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Let’s do it.

Steven Shattuck: Cool. Alright. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Need to Create a Communications Plan? Here is What It Should Look Like.” And my name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin, I want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation and we’ll be sending out that recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon. So, if you have to leave early or perhaps you want to review the content later on, have no fear, I’ll get both of those things in your hand this afternoon so you can review all the content and even share it with some friends and colleagues if you want.

And as you are listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end. So, don’t be shy about asking questions or sending comments our way. Kivi and I will both see those throughout the hour and we’d love to answer just as many questions as we can before the 2:00 Eastern hour. So, don’t be shy. You can do the same thing on Twitter. You can send us a tweet at @BloomerangTech or use the hashtag #Bloomerang. I’ll be looking at that during the presentation as well. So, if you’re a Twitter person, we’d love to have your tweets as well.

And if you are listening via your computer today, if you have any audio problems, we usually find it’s a little bit better by phone. If you don’t mind dialing in by phone, give that a try if you have any technical difficulties since these webinars usually are only as good as your own internet connection. There is a phone number you can use in the email from ReadyTalk that went out around noon eastern today if you didn’t already get that.

And if this is your first webinar with us, I want to say a special welcome to you. We do do these webinars just about every Thursday here at Bloomerang. But what we do the rest of the week is we offer really awesome donor management software and if you are in the market for that and maybe thinking about switching or just want to know more about Bloomerang, you can visit our website and download a quick video demo and see the software in action if you’re curious. So, we’d love for you to do that if you’re interested.

But for now, I am super excited to welcome back to the reigning queen of Bloomerang webinar registrants. We have more registrants for this webinar, Kivi, than even your last webinar, which you were also the top registrant gatherer. So, over 1,700 people want to listen to Kivi.

Kivi Leroux Miller: All I care is that I’m beating Tom Ahern. That’s all I care about.

Steven Shattuck: You do. You always beat Tom. You shouldn’t be surprised anymore.

Kivi Leroux Miller: We have a very friendly rivalry about these silly things.

Steven Shattuck: That’s okay. I’m happy to egg that rivalry on. How’s it going, Kivi? Thanks for being here.

Kivi Leroux Miller: I’m good. Thank you for having me back.

Steven Shattuck: Oh, I would not dream of not having you back. We love you at Bloomerang. You’re one of our greatest friends. You’re a BloomCon speaker. I’m going to brag on you. I doubt many people don’t know you based on the amount of people who are tuned in and registered. But just in case Kivi is new to you, she is the founder over at Nonprofit Marketing Guide. You can visit her at In fact, that website should probably be your homepage because there are so many awesome blog posts, free downloadables, books, templates.

Her annual Nonprofit Communications Trend Report is unmissable. It is absolutely essential to everyone who cares about nonprofit communications. Whether you’re a fundraiser or nonprofit marketer, you’ve got to check that out. Go to her website, download the latest one. Buy her books—two awesome books, “Content Marketing Guide for Nonprofits” and “The Nonprofit Marketing Guide,” both of which are on my bookshelf. I love them.

Kivi is awesome. She is a perennial conference speaker, webinar presenter, a wealth of knowledge. I’m going to shut up so that she can teach us all about communication plans. So, Kivi, take it away, my friend.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Alright. Thank you so much, Steven. It’s great to be here with you all again. As Steven said with Nonprofit Marketing Guide, we really see ourselves as dedicating the entire company to keeping communications directors happy in the nonprofit sector. We want you to love your jobs and learn your jobs and stay in the sector and make really good stuff happen.

So, we are all about training and mentoring communications staff. Sometimes that means your development and communications, sometimes it’s just communications. But if you’re responsible for the communications for your nonprofit, we consider you our people. And we are very glad to be partnering with Bloomerang on lots of educational content as well. I do have a third book coming out. My deadline is next week. So, “Calm Not Busy” will be coming out later this summer. So, you can watch for that as well.

I would love to know what your number one question about a communications plan is. So, go ahead and type that in for me now. That will help me focus the comments as I go today. Just go ahead and go right to the chat and type in your number questions for me today and I’ll go ahead and get started with the presentations and I’ll come back to those questions as we go along.

So, my goal for this webinar is to give all of you the fundamentals so that you can participate and even lead really smart, intelligent conversations about what it means to have a communications plan at your nonprofit. Every time I see a strategic plan for a nonprofit that says, “Create a communications plan,” as a strategy, it just makes me sort of shudder and laugh at the same time because you need to be making actual strategic decisions about your communications in your strategy. And if you’re not, then that’s going to be part of your communications plan.

So, I get this question all the time, “What does a communications plan look like?” And the answer really depends on who you ask and what you’re really looking for. So, I say that there are really three different documents that make up what I would consider a comprehensive communications plan. And they’re three very different documents. Some of you may need all three and to develop all three. Some of you may just need one of these because you feel like you have a pretty good handle on the content and the answers in the other two.

So, I’m going to explain all three to you, but keep in mind that you may not actually really need to do all three and we’ll talk about which is really going to help you the most depending on the different problems you might have right now with managing your communication. Regardless of what the thing actually looks like and which pieces you actually do, there are three marketing questions that you should be asking and answering all the time. So, these three questions are really the foundation questions that are behind any of the different communications plan pieces that you might create. So, I want to start with those and then we’ll actually get into the different planning documents.

So, these are the three questions. Really, all nonprofit marketing, regardless of what you’re trying to achieve through your marketing comes down to these three questions. So, you are constantly, constantly, constantly talking about these. Every time someone has a brilliant idea about what you should be doing with your communications, you should ground that brilliant idea and these three questions.

So, the first one is the who question—who are we trying to reach? Or another way to think about that is who really cares about this. Who’s really leaning our way? Who has some sort of propensity to care about this issue or this thing that we’re talking about. The next part is what’s the message. So, what do we want to say to that specific group of people? Within that, there’s often call to action. So, what is it that you want them to do? Is this really a fundraising message? Is it an advocacy message, an education message? Are you trying to get people to change their own behavior, eat healthier, exercise more, whatever it may be?

And then why they should do that thing—so, some of that motivational, relevant messaging that wraps around that call to action. Another really simple way to think about that is so what. You want to be asking yourself, “Who cares, so what?” all the time because that’s really the essential of any communications strategy, who you’re talking to and what you’re saying to those people.

And then the third question is what’s the best way to deliver that message to those people. So, this is really about your communications channels. Is this an online strategy, an in person strategy, a direct mail strategy? Is it an integrated strategy? Who is the messenger? Lots of times, you have content that you want to get out to a target audience, but they don’t really trust you or know you or want to listen to you.

So, you actually create a communications strategy to empower your messengers to then deliver that message on your behalf. So, all of that would be in this third question. Nonprofits talk about this and want to talk about their question all day long. When you were getting brilliant ideas from your board members or even your own head of the staff members about what you should be doing, nine times out of ten, it is a question about a tactical way to deliver a message.

And what you need to do then is to go back up here and talk about so what and who cares. Who’s using that channel? Who’s going to be driving by that billboard? Who’s going to be listening to that radio station where you want to advertise? Who’s actually going to look at their mail, whether it’s email or print and then what is the message that goes in that channel? Okay. So, these are the core questions. I’m going to talk a little bit more about these because they are so important.

So, on that first question, the who, forget the general public. There is no such thing as far as you’re concerned and there really is no such thing in marketing in general. Even multinational corporations—the Coca Colas of the world, the Nikes of the world that have more money than they know what to do with, they don’t even think about the general public. They break up the public into specific target audiences and create messaging and use delivery channels that are most appropriate to reach those kinds of people.

So, you’ve got to do the same kind of thing. You have to really figure out who your people are and target the majority of your messaging to them. Now, that doesn’t mean that you exclude anyone kind of on the edge of that group or just random people who see it and find your messaging attractive. It’s not like you shut the door on those people, but you do need to really target. There are lots of different ways to do that.

But first of all, you want to really think about, “Am I trying to reach a brand new audience or do I just need more of the kinds of people I have?” So, I really encourage people to think of like who’s already in the glass? If you need to fill up the glass, can we just pour more of what you have in the glass? So, it’s finding people who are very similar to the kinds of people that are already doing the thing, whether they’re donating or they’re showing up at your events or they’re advocating on behalf of your cause, getting more of those kinds of people, really understanding the people that are leaning your way. I think it’s a lot easier to make progress than trying to reach an entirely new demographic.

So, for example, we hear lots of times people say, “Our donors are getting so old. We need to reach millennials.” And that’s an entirely different new communication strategy for them. And what would probably be easier is to stay with the older donors and maybe just try to edge back the age a little bit instead of jumping an entire generation. So, that’s what I mean about—find the people that are already leaning your way and already doing what you want them to do partially. Maybe it’s just about converting them a little bit further.

And there are lots of ways to do this. Demographics is one option, so, how old they are, that sort of thing. But really, I don’t find that to be that helpful. Certain organizations, your target audience, if you’re meant to serve children or you’re meant to serve seniors then fine, you’ve got very clear demographics. But for a lot of you, age, gender, ethnicity, those things don’t necessarily matter to your mission. What’s going to be more important are people’s behaviors or their interests. So, figuring out what really makes people tick and what they care about, that’s going to be more helpful in really getting you to target your communications correctly and really figuring out who those people are.

Once you figure out who your people are, who’s really leaning your way, you’ve got to come up with messaging that’s really relevant to them. A lot of the messaging that nonprofits put out is really boring. The reason it’s really boring is because you’re trying to talk to everybody. You’re trying to do the general public. So, you don’t want to offend. You want to seem like you’ve got something for everybody.

And in the end, that means you have nothing for anybody because it’s just too generic and people don’t consider themselves generic. We all think we’re very special and very interesting with very interesting behaviors of our own. So, we want stuff that appeals to us. We don’t want generic boring content. So, really focusing in on target audiences actually helps your messaging a lot because you can be more specific to those people and they can really recognize themselves in your content.

You also want to get really clear about your calls to action. We often see nonprofits asking people to either do nothing—so, there’s just nothing that you ask people to do for months on end, and then you ask them to do 50 things at once. You need to find kind of that happy middle ground there, where there’s always at least one thing that somebody can be doing to support your organization.

A lot of times, that’s going to be donating, but you’re not focusing on asking people for money 365 days of the year. There are other things you can focus on that are more kind of engagement activities. Maybe they’re sharing a story with you or they’re doing some kind of advocacy action or they’re sharing a photo with you about how they’re putting to work something good that you’ve asked them to do or you’ve taught them to do. But you want to think about what those calls to action are and sort of spread them out. That’s a really important part of your messaging to.

Then you get to the delivery. Then you can pick the best set of communications channels. Often it is a set that’s a coordinated approach to getting that message out to those people. It’s very rare these days that you’re just using one communications channel. So, again, you’re talking about target audience, message and communications channels. Those are the three really super strategic questions that you almost need to be coming back to regardless of what your actual plan looks like on paper.

Any questions I can answer about that right now? I will put a plug in for you, Steven. I believe you have a new guide on segmenting your target audiences.

Steven Shattuck: I do. I’ll send the link out. Thanks for the plug.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Yeah. Did you see any questions? I’ve been reading a few here and there, but did you see any questions about what I’ve covered so far that I should hit right now, Steven?

Steven Shattuck: Yeah. There are a lot of interesting ones. I don’t want to delay you too much, but one from Kelsey—what’s the ideal frequency of communications with a donor? Is there a sweet spot for the quantity, the amount of touches within a certain time or would it change depending on who you’re talking to?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Yeah. I think a lot of it really does depend on your capacity as an organization. So, I would say ideally your donors are hearing from you twice a month, but for some of you, your hair is probably like caught on fire. You can’t handle it. It’s fine. Obviously having good technology like Bloomerang can really help with these things. But for some of you, it’s going to be a lot less and if you work for a really big nonprofit, you’re communicating several times a week. Now, that’s not always asking—it’s the ask, think, report. But I would say for a small nonprofit in general, your donors should be hearing from you at least once a month.

Steven Shattuck: Okay. I see a lot of people asked a variation. Cool.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Okay. Let’s go ahead and go on. So, we’re going to talk about these things that you would write and make and have people look at and approve. And there are really three documents that I consider to be what you need to develop a complete plan. And so I’m going to talk about each of these three and they’re very different. So, this is where you may not need to do all three of these. If you feel like you have the answers from some of these already, then you probably don’t need to go through the paperwork exercise of actually creating it.

But for some of you, if you really have no idea what your communications strategy is, then working through all three of these is probably going to be a good idea. I suspect a lot of you are the first communications director at your nonprofit. If that is the case, you may have been hired so that everyone else didn’t have to think about this stuff anymore, but that also means that you may not have a lot of strategic direction. So, using some of what I’m going to share with you about what belongs in a plan to ask good questions and to lead good conversations within your organization may be all you need to do. You may not need to actually create a written document.

Now, some of you need to do that. Your board wants to approve something. Your executive team wants to approve something. Maybe you feel like you need it to better manage your work. That’s great. I’m all for having things in writing. But at the same time, I don’t want you to feel like, “Oh, I have to do this thing and if I don’t get it in writing, then I can’t do my job.” That’s not really true either. As long as you’re thinking through the questions I’m going to present in these different pieces, you’re going to make progress with your communications plan.

I know a lot of you have asked for a template. I do not give out templates. I used to and then I would see what people did with them and it was always appalling because people would just sort of cut and paste pieces of the template into their thing and when you would ask them what it meant, they had no idea what it meant or it just made no sense. So, I’ve stopped doing that. So, I’m not giving you templates. I’m giving you outlines. I’m going you all the questions you need to answer and how to do it, but I’m not giving you stuff that you can copy and paste.

Okay. In addition to what you’re getting during this webinar, I do want to plug our trends reports because there’s a ton of data in these two different reports. We do it every year and we ask different questions each year. The frequency questions—a lot of you are asking questions about, “How often should I do this? How often should I do that?” We have a lot of data about just how often and how many different nonprofits are doing these different frequencies in the 2016 report. So, you can go download that if you’re really interested in communications frequency.

If you’re more interested in I would say sort of broader communications management questions—team size, how teams function, collaboration internally, how you measure effectiveness of your communications team, the 2017 report is going to be much more interesting to you.

Alright. So, let’s look at that first document. This is what I would call the real strategy document. So, it’s higher level. We’re going to start at the much bigger questions, higher level questions and then work our way down to the nitty-gritty thing about how often you post on Facebook. But right now, we’re at the really big question part.

So, here’s your outline. This is as good as you’re going to get from me in terms of a template because like I said, I’m not giving you a complete plan. But you’ve got this strategy outline and we’ll go through these different steps here. I recommend that you do this for about I would say 18 to 24 months on the outside. If someone asks you to do a three-year communications plan, it’s a paperwork exercise.

You’re going to be pulling stuff out of the air. You’re going to be making stuff up because none of us really know what the communications media landscape is going to look like three years from now. 24 months is even kind of on the outline. We don’t know how Facebook is going to change. We don’t know how TV and mainstream media is going to change. In three years, that’s an eternity in our current media environment. So, I recommend people do this somewhere between 12 and 24 months looking out.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is really understand which mission-oriented goals your marketing and communications are helping you achieve. This all has to be tied back directly to the mission. Even if you’re doing marketing mostly for fundraising, fundraising is not a good enough goal at this point. You need to tie that all the way back to the mission. So, what are we fundraising for and why do we need money from these specific people do this work? We’ve got to link it all the way back, correct the breadcrumbs all the way back to your mission statement.

When we talk about communications, there are really sort of 12 different goals that are more communications oriented goals that can then help you achieve your mission’s goals. So, first, you have to know what your organization is all about, what your mission is and what your strategic plan goals are. Then you can talk about your communications goals to help you get there.

So, in the red, these little honeycomb things here, these are really what I would consider the community engagement goals. So, it’s raising awareness of issues not of your organization but of your issues. So, you’re trying to educate people about maybe there’s a birth defect that you work on, if there’s changes to diet or those sorts of things that you can do, the whole Zika thing, raising awareness of Zika and what pregnant women can do to protect themselves and protect their pregnancy, that would be raising awareness of an issue.

Then there’s advocacy on issues, which is getting policymakers, elected officials, other influencers and people who control things in your world to do something. So, again, just staying with the Zika thing, maybe your organization would advocate both with lawmakers to appropriate money for mosquito whatever, abatement. Maybe it’s a CDC kind of thing to deal with the health effect. That would be advocacy communication.

Then there’s sort of this more general one about engaging community, which can be measured in lots of different ways, but it’s really basically people expressing their interest and desire to be included in your work in some way. That’s just one potential communications goal.

Then let’s look at these green ones. So, this is where it’s really more about the organization. So, you have brand and reputation management. What you all call raising awareness of the organization falls in this, really. So, if you’re one of those people who is like, “Oh, we’re the best kept secret and my job is to make us not a secret anymore,” that’s what this is. That’s brand and reputation management.

Thought leadership is when you’re really seen as an expert on something and you’re really positioning usually your executive team or some of your program staff as leaders in your field. This is very often more of a professional relationship with others in your sector, other influencers. Internal communications is what it is—board communications, if you have very large staff or staff that are spread out all over the world, you’re probably going to end up doing some internal comms as well.

Then we have these purple ones. This is really about recruiting people to do things other than give their money. So, recruiting new membership, recruiting volunteers, recruiting program participants. Some of you have waiting lists for your stuff, but others of you need to go find people who will actually engage with you and your work. That would be under here. And then we have the fundraising ones. So, we’ve broken this out into small-medium donors, major donors and then fundraising events.

You have 12 communications goals here. You need to pick which ones you’re really going to focus on to achieve your mission. That’s not an answer I can give to you or Steven can give to you or anybody can give to you. This is an answer that has to come within your organization. Which of these communications goals are going to be most important to helping you achieve your mission? Some of you may be saying all of them, but just like you can’t say the general public, you don’t get to say all of them either You really do have to prioritize and put these in order of some sense of priority.

When we ask nonprofits overall how they would put these things in order, how communications staff and nonprofits prioritize, this is how it shakes out. So, broadly engaging community and brand awareness and reputation are big ones followed by raising awareness of the issues. And then some major donor work—internal comms, recruiting and then additional fundraising down here.

Now, if you’re a really small organization, odds are you’re going to have more fundraising unless you’re grand funded. If you’ve got a lot of institutional funders and you don’t need to do a lot of individual fundraising, these will probably be pretty small for you. But you need to figure out the relative size of these goals for yourself.

So, go back to the chart where they’re all the same size and then figure out which ones should be bigger and which ones should be smaller for your organization. This is what you need to do first. This is a big strategy question. Which of these communications goals is going to help us meet our organizational mission goals?

Then you start to get into some of the typical strategy elements. So, a lot of you I’m sure have done a million different SWOT analysis. You can include that part here. You want to talk about what else is going on that affects your communications strategy in your particular part of the world. Maybe there are some things going on in your city, some things going on in your sector. You can also do a marketing audit to see what you’re currently doing and how that relates to different best practices in the field.

The next part of your strategy is going to be the target audiences. Again, we’d like you to focus on just a few key groups to reach. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about everybody else. It just means that you care more about certain groups and figuring out who those targets are, who’s going to be really most important to your success. Who can you not really live without? What are those people like? What do they care about? So, you’re going to talk about that a little bit.

And then you’re going to get to the messaging section. So, you’re going to want to talk about what your different call to action are going to be to those people so that you can achieve your communications goal, so that you can achieve your mission goal. You’re always tying everything right back up to your mission.

You want to do some framing of the message. What’s really going to be most relevant to people? What are they going to have maybe trouble with that you need to acknowledge in your messaging and work that out? Then you’re going to get to your approach to the communications. This is more about the specific communications strategies.

Is this a strategy that’s really all online? Is it a multichannel strategy? Are you doing more of a thought leadership approach? Are you trying to position yourself as being a friendly, helpful resource in your community? Are you trying to position yourself as being a one-stop shop for people, the expert on your issue, someone who is a convener of other organizations in your sector? Like what do you want to be known for? What approach to your communications do you want to be known for? This is the part where you would start to articulate some of that.

Then you would get into the tactics. This is where you get really specific about communications channels is this—is there a direct mail piece of this? Is there a public speaking piece of this? That sort of stuff—what is the combination of communications channels? Then you get into the resources. So, this is where you lay out the budget and the staffing that’s going to be required to implement this plan. I strongly recommend that you take a menu approach to this. My little chalkboard font didn’t convey over very easily.

But I recommend that you do the if/then approach to your budget. So, if I have half an FTE and $5,000, this is what I can do. If I have two FTE and $25,000, this is what we can do with our communications and so on. So, pick where you are now even if you don’t actually have a budget. And we have all kinds of information about appropriate budget for different kinds of organizations in the 2017 trends report that you don’t have to be completely making stuff up. You can base it on some good national data.

This is what I can do with what I have now. This is what I can do with a small increase. This is what I can do if you all really invest in this organization’s communication strategy. I recommend that you give them those three options. So, where you are now, what a small increase would look like and what a real investment would look like.

And as you’re doing that, you’re going back through your strategy and you’re sort of layering it out in this menu so that your organization can see that it does take staff and it does take a budget to do all this great stuff that you want to do. They don’t get to just lay this massive to do list on you and then now fund it. So, you’ve got to show them how that works.

Of course, benchmarks and measures are helpful too. And lots of times you’re just sort of making up what the goal would be, but you can always start with where you are and then do incremental increases. So, look at how many people are on your email list, look at your donor retention rate and just sort of bump those things up a little bit.

So, that’s your communications strategy. This document should not be more than five pages. You’re wasting your time if it’s much longer than that. You’re including too much detail and you’re probably making too much stuff up and guessing too much because again, the media environment we’re in changes so fast that it’s really hard to predict and plan very far out. So, that’s what I would consider a strategy document.

The second document I would highly recommend that everybody does, whether you have a strategy document in writing or not is what I call the big picture communications timeline. This is an exercise I do with almost all of my private clients and it really helps get everybody on the same page within the organization. So, what it does is it sort of maps out the life of your organization and therefore lets you create a communications strategy that makes sense for the life of your organization.

So, you are getting your communications fundraising program staff, the people who make decisions about those things in a room together and you’re talking about the next 12 months or a 12-month period of your choosing and you’re mapping out a couple of different elements physically on a big whiteboard or some big sheets of paper.

So, if you have access to one of those really cool conference rooms where the entire wall is a whiteboard, that’s great. I’ve done this on living room floors with big pieces of butcher paper or flipchart paper that we’ve just torn off and taped together so we have a big old piece of paper on the floor and we’ve done it there. So, it doesn’t matter. But I do think you want to do this together in the same physical space before you try to do something like this online.

And this is basically what you’re going to create. So, I’m going to go through these from the bottom up. We’re going to start here and then work our way up explaining what these different things are. So, this is your big whiteboard or your big butcher paper thing and you’re going to draw your timeline across down the middle. So, then we’re going to start down here with events or milestones out of your control.

What you want to do is think about the stuff that happens every year, the stuff that’s on your seasonal to do list. But it’s really the things that are the milestones, the pegs that are really set by people outside your organization. So, when school starts, when Congress goes back in session, kitten season—it’s all of those sorts of things that you’re really reacting to. You want to go ahead and map those out in the proper place. So, these little grey dots are just placeholders.

But let’s say something big happens in May in the field that you work in. Again, it’s outside your control, but you would write this under May. You would write it in here. You would fill in this block. So, all those different things out of your control that are important milestones in the life of your organization go here somewhere. Now we’re going to move up and we’re going to talk about events within your control. Same thing—you would just map them out where they belong on the schedule.

So, this is things like maybe you always do your goal tournament, your gala, whatever it is, your different fundraising events. You always do them in certain times of the year. But you could technically move them if you needed to. So, that’s why they’re not on the lower level. These are the things within your control. So, you’re looking not just at fundraising and communications but this is where your program staff are going to have a lot to say or should about the sort of life and times, the natural rhythm of their work. When do things happen programmatically that are going to need the support of communications? So, you map that out.

Then you move up above the January through December and you look at the primary calls to action. When are you asking people to take a step forward on a particular thing? Now, some of you may be saying, “Well, we want to fundraise 365 days of the year.” Fabulous. The reality is that you’re not doing that actively. You’re not actively asking people.

You’re probably really asking people a few times a year. There may be other times, some of you maybe have a lot of events where there’s a little ask involved. That’s fine. But you want to map all of that out. When are you open—if you do a couple of big events a year, whether they’re program events or fundraising events, when do you open up registration? You want to map all of that out so that you can really see how things overlap.

So, if you go back to what this looks like, you’ve got your stuff filled in. You’ve filled in your stuff here and you’re starting to map out now when you’re really asking to do different things. Fundraising programs, other communications engagement activities, map it all out. You’ll start to see that you’re building the real life of your organization in each month. What this exercise allows you to do is to see how all of this overlaps and where things are too busy and where they’re not busy and where things just don’t make sense, where there can be better alignment between the program work and the fundraising work and the community engagement and marketing work.

When you go through this exercise, you’ll discover that some things are really off kilter and you may not know how they got that way. You may know how they got that way, but this lets everybody really see it and piece it together and every single time I’ve done this at a client’s organization, you can just see the light bulbs popping off above people’s heads, like, “Oh, that’s why you got so mad at me when I asked you to do this other thing in September. It’s because you already were doing five other things to get ready for October,” or, “Oh, I’ve actually got a little bit of breathing room in April.

So, if you’re going to make me do something new, can we talk about doing it then. This is also really good for management to really understand the impact of their decisions because lots of times they don’t get a full understanding of how that trickles down to the communications workload. So, this really helps clarify some of that too.

The other things that you want to add to this are your story arcs. So, are you running campaigns? Are there themes for different times of year? Think about the beginnings, middles and ends of those campaigns or themes and go ahead and layer that on there too. Again, this is really to help you see where you can better take advantage of messaging opportunities at different times of year based on what else is going on or where you may be asking people to do too many things at once, really layering that all out can help you be much more strategic in your communication.

I also encourage you to think about what else is missing. This is often a topic that you want to be known for, you want to be an expert on, you want people to associate with you, but it’s not really tied to any particular month of the year. So, you could talk about it any time it’s very evergreen, but you don’t want to lose it just because it’s not attached to a specific season or month. So, I encourage you to go ahead and put that back onto this too. If you can layer it with a timeline, that’s fine. Go ahead and put it here. If that feels too artificial to you, you can just put it up at the top so you don’t forget it.

So, again, this is a little more tactical than the strategy document, but you can see there’s still a fair amount of strategy embedded in this because it’s really about what you’re doing and when and how those things relate to each other and how they overlap and don’t overlap and that can lead to some really good strategic conversations as well.

I see a question about the difference between story arcs and core topics. So, let’s just say that you are Friends of the Library. I use this example a lot. So, you want to do a book drive and a book sale to fund the library. So, maybe that is an event that’s within your control. Let’s just say you’re going to do that in March. So, your call to action is going to change over time, right? So, your first call to action is going to be like donating books and then it’s going to be coming to the book sale. So, that’s how those two relate. How the story arc would come into play is what you’re going to use that money for.

So, maybe you are trying to buy a new book mobile. So, your story, the beginning of the story when you’re trying to get people to drop off books is maybe about the need for a new book mobile. Maybe you’ve got this totally broke down book mobile and it’s just very sad and pathetic. Maybe it’s sitting there with a flat tire, whatever. So, you’re talking about that at the beginning of the story as you’re getting people donate.

As the donations come in, you’re getting people to come to the book sale. There’s this great momentum, “Oh, you guys are going to raise so much money. It’s going to be great. We’re already starting to plan out the book mobile.” And you have the event and you find out how much money you raised.

Then so the end of that story—the real end of the story is like when the book mobile hits the road, which is probably more like here or next year or whatever. But the end of this little campaign story is, “Hey, we raised this much money. That’s going to mean we’re 80 percent to funding our book mobile.” That’s the story arc. It’s not necessarily about the book sale. It’s not about getting people to donate to the book sale or to buy books at the sale. It’s bigger than that. It’s why you’re having the sale. It’s really about the book mobile story. That’s how you layer them over.

Let’s talk about the third document. This is a much more tactical document and it’s called the editorial calendar. An editorial calendar is a tool that you use to manage your communications channels. It has three essential pieces. You are scheduling, so there’s time, the publication of strategic content. This is what you’re actually talking about, your messaging and your topics across multiple channels and you have to get very specific—am I sending this out via email or Facebook or whatever?

So, you have to have all three of these elements. You have to have the where. That’s the communications channel. I recommend that you include all of your major channels on your editorial calendar. So, again, you see that overlap and you can see how they’re connected and how they’re related. Some people include social media and some people don’t. If you’re not doing social media that often, you can go ahead and throw it on there.

If you’re an organization that tweets ten times a day, you don’t probably need to calendar every single tweet. You might want to plan out some so that you make sure that on Thursday you have two tweets about XYZ. You may want to use it as a reminder to yourself about what’s most important that day, but you’re not necessarily going to plan out every single tweet.

It has to have an element of timing. This is often just the day when the content is going out. Occasionally, it’s morning versus afternoon. Sometimes if you’re doing something with the press and you’ve got content that’s embargoed or there’s a big speech or something like that that’s going to be televised or you’re responding to a big speech by somebody, then you’re going to have that down to the hour. For the most part, this is just the day that the content is going out. And then you have the messaging itself. So, what is the call to action? What is this article about? What are we asking people to do?

You have to have all three of those elements for it to be an editorial calendar. There are lots of other layers that you can include. So, optional elements would be things like, “Who’s responsible for this thing?” Internal deadlines—so, when are drafts due? You might have some information in what we would call a creative brief or creative direction. So, that is often who is this thing for, what it should look like, how long it should be. You can have what stage the content is in.

So, if you, for example, blog every day, then you’ve got blog posts in various stages, from tiny little idea or concept to first draft, second draft, third draft. It’s being reviewed. It’s approved. It’s published. You can keep track of that kind of stuff, communications with other staff about the content. And then you can also bring back in your metrics to the editorial calendar, if you want so you have it all in one place. How well did a post do?

What software you use is a personal decision. Some people have calendar brains. Some people have spreadsheet brains. Some people have to do list brains. So, you can use a spreadsheet. At its most basic level, this is what an editorial calendar might look like. So, you have the element of time down the side. You’ve got your communications channels across the top and then you would fill in your content in the blogs here.

If you have calendar brain, you might choose to have different color calendars for each communications channel. So, in this example, this light green is a weekly email newsletter. The darker green are single topic email asks of some sort and you could have different colors for Facebook, etc. You can use the meeting description and different sections that you would usually put who you’re meeting with and what it’s about to talk about what that content actually is or who’s responsible for it, kind of convert the meeting form to a content form.

If you are really more of a to do list tracker kind of person, you probably want to use project management software and tools like Asana or Trello, which is a very visual tool. If you’re a post a million post-it notes on the wall type person, Trello might be more of a better tool for you. Asana is great for those of you that love a to do list. If you love spreadsheets but you need something a little more project management like than just Excel, then Smartsheets would be a good choice for you.

Any of these work. We’ve seen great editorial calendars in all of these formats. It’s really just a personal preference thing for whether you’re a spreadsheet, calendar or to do list kind of person.

So, those are your three documents. You’re going to have the strategy document, the big picture communications timeline and your editorial calendar. All three of those documents together should answer all of your significant questions about what your communications plan should look like and again, whether you need them all really depends on what you feel like you’re missing right now.

So, I would encourage you to think about what is holding our communications back? Is it big picture strategic decisions? Like I don’t really know why we’re communicating. Don’t feel bad if that’s a question in your organization. You are not alone, trust me. There are a lot of people that are just doing it and going through the motions and they really don’t know why. There’s never been a real communications goals conversation.

So, in that case, going back to those 12 goals I talked about and really hashing that out could be really essential for you to make any kind of progress. For others of you, you kind of know what you’re supposed to be doing. The strategy is in place, but tactically you’re just kind of all over the map and disorganized. In that case, you probably just need an editorial calendar to help you kind of get your act together.

The big picture communications timeline exercise, again, is really helpful to get everybody on the same page. So, if you have advocacy staff going in one direction, fundraising staff going in one direction, community engagement people over here, program directors running off doing something else. The big picture communications timeline is a great exercise to sort of rein all of the cats back in and get everybody to understand how their piece fits into that bigger communication picture at all times regardless of what your document ends up looking like or what kind of combination you use.

Remember the three questions. These are the questions that will save you every single time. Who are we trying to reach? Who cares? What’s the message? So what? What’s the best way to deliver that? Which communication channels are we using. Those are your three documents. That’s what your plan should look like. You need to take this and figure out what’s going to be most useful and helpful to your organization and what you can actually get done given the culture within your organization and make it happen.

With that, I think I’ve got a few questions or time for some questions. Steven, would you mind moderating those for me because I know a ton of—

Steven Shattuck: I would not mind. I doubt we’ll get to all of them. This is awesome, Kivi. Great job. This is really interesting and I love all the freebies you shared as well. If we don’t get everybody’s questions, are you willing to take questions by email or Twitter or both?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Email would not be good because I’m going on vacation soon and you will never hear from me again. But I’m happy to do them on Twitter or Facebook. I can do that while I’m at the airport.

Steven Shattuck: Very cool. Well, cool. Let’s just run through some of these I picked out here. Here’s one from Jay. Jay looks like he works a small public library wondering how common is it for a communications plan to develop strategies for people who aren’t leaning towards your mission or using your services. Is that something that should be on your radar or should you just concentrate solely on the people that are your stakeholders right now?

Kivi Leroux Miller: So, that takes a lot more work. So, it’s a strategic question about where the bulk of your time, effort, energy, resources should be spent. And in some cases, going after people who are not leaning your way—I think you said you worked at a library and I’ve coached a number of communications folks at libraries who had to deal with public officials who were cutting library funding. Those elected officials were not leaning their way. So, it was really an advocacy and communication strategy to generate support for the library to turn those people into supporters or at least people who weren’t actively opposing funding for the library.

So, I think that’s different than just saying, “Oh, we need to get millennials involved in our cause generically,” just because that seems like a great idea. Those are two very different scenarios. So, I think if it’s really important strategically to the life and success of your organization, you’ve got to go all in on that. It just means you’re not going to be able to do much else. Converting people that are not leaning your way is a lot more time and energy intensive than those who are.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah. It makes sense. Here’s one from Jennifer that I know a couple other people asked a variation of this question. So, you’ve been listening today for an hour. You love all this stuff. How do you get buy in from the board or the ED or leadership for doing all these things? Any tips for getting buy in from folks?

Kivi Leroux Miller: So, there are a couple things. People see what other organizations are doing. This is where you can really use the grass is greener over there to your advantage by showing them organizations that they may already know because they’re local like you are or they’re in your field and say, “This is what these people are doing. This is how it’s staffed.” I have found that people are very open to talking about their resources. Everybody in nonprofit complains about how little money and staff they have. So, call up people and just say, “Who’s on your team? How big is your team? How much money are you investing?” And show them what other people are doing and then give them the menu, say, “If you want to do this. We need this much. If you want to do that we need this much.”

Steven Shattuck: Make sense. Speaking of being overworked and under-funded and staffed, Hannah was asking about that. “What advice would you have for a one-person communication department who wants to do all these things you just asked, but the workload is too much and we don’t get to the editorial calendar or the communications plan?” What advice would you have for those small shops with a one-person communications team?

Kivi Leroux Miller: Right. You have to prioritize in some way. You have to pick what’s most important. You can do that in a million different ways depending on your organization, depending on your relationship with your executive director. You can decide a certain target audience is more important or you can decide a certain program your organization runs needs more communications attention than all the other programs or you can decide that a certain communications channel is the one you want to be excellent at and you’re going to be mediocre at the rest.

You have to pick and choose in some way. You have to. Sometimes you don’t have any help making those decisions. That’s where you need to do a lot of professional development, attend webinars like this one, read books and decide for yourself and prioritize and do it and do it that way until someone tells you you’re wrong and they want you to do it differently. That’s great because at least they’re engaging with you in a conversation about what the heck you’re doing.

Steven Shattuck: Makes sense.

Kivi Leroux Miller: So, I’m very much about grabbing the reins and going for it when you’re not getting leadership. Lead yourself.

Steven Shattuck: Apologize whether than ask for permission, maybe.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Absolutely. And a lot of you were hired to just deal with it. A lot of first time communications people, you were hired because everybody else got sick of doing the work and dealing with it and they still don’t want to deal with it. They want you to deal with it. So, go for it and have fun doing it.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah. Along those lines, we probably have time for this one last question, but is there a role in this process for the board? Do you like communications committees within the board? Do you like involving these people? What’s sort of your take on board involvement here?

Kivi Leroux Miller: This is always such a dangerous question for me, Steven.

Steven Shattuck: I’m sorry. That’s why I save it for last.

Kivi Leroux Miller: I’m generally not a huge fan just because I’ve seen it go so terrible wrong. But let me focus on where it can work. So, if you have people who do communications for a living, they are marketing in the corporate world or they’re really good writers or really good designers. If they have a clue, I think it’s great to get some support for them, even if they’re just a sounding board.

But the problem is that everybody thinks they’re a good writer or have taste or that communications is easy. If you have a bunch of people on a board who just want to tell you what you should be doing and don’t want to help with it and don’t want to answer the strategic questions, then it’s really worse than not having help at all. It actually hurts you, I think. I think you really have to look at who you’ve got on your board before you push that. If you’ve got great people that can help and be a sounding board and bring in additional resources and find you interns and all that kind of stuff, fabulous.

Steven Shattuck: Right. Well, this was awesome, Kivi. I’m really sad that we’re out of time because I think we can talk about this all day, but thanks for sharing all this knowledge. It was really great. I think everyone else enjoyed it as well.

Kivi Leroux Miller: You’re welcome.

Steven Shattuck: Send her a tweet. Don’t send her an email unless you don’t want a response until September because she’s going on vacation.

Kivi Leroux Miller: It could be a while, I’ll be honest.

Steven Shattuck: I’m going to send out the recording and the slides here in just a couple hours, so be on the lookout from that. It will come from my email address. But visit Kivi’s website. There are a ton of awesome downloadables—no templates, but there are some guides and some really awesome things that will help you get started. Buy a book because it’s really awesome too. Thank you also for listening and taking an hour out of your day. There are lots of great resources on our website as well, not as good as Kivi’s website. So, go to hers anyway.

But you should attend our next webinar. We’re going to be back one week from today with Claire Axelrad. She’s going to talk about nonprofit thank you mistakes to avoid. So, if you’re struggling with gift acknowledgements or maybe not sure if you’re struggling with gift acknowledgement and you want some validation or maybe you want some pointers there, join us one week from today. Same time, same place. It’s going to be a great one. We’ve got some other webinars scheduled throughout the summer as well if that one doesn’t quite tickle your fancy. So, visit our webinar page for more webinars.

But with that, we’ll call it a day. Have a good rest of your afternoon and a good weekend. Look for that email from me and hopefully we will talk to you again next week. Bye now.

Kivi Leroux Miller: Bye, bye.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.