Tools for nonprofit leaders: The communication plan
By Paulette Vinette, CAE
March 20, 2006
This is the second in a series of articles offering tools to not-for-profit leaders. The first article described the strategic plan - your roadmap to lead you to your desired outcomes. Your strategic plan focuses on supporting your mission and vision. A key tool to help you serve your mission and implement your plan is a communication plan.
A communication plan sets out the audiences you will be communicating with and describes the strategy and frequency of each communication stream. For example, a primary communication stream would be your members or donors, depending on your type of not-for-profit organization. Your strategy might be "to provide valued information on a consistent and timely basis to our members." Your plan would then outline details of how this will be accomplished. It could look like this:
|Vehicle ||Purpose ||Frequency ||Accountable
||As needed; no more than 3 per week
||Educate and inform
||Sent electronically at the beginning of each month
||To provide an in-depth examination of an issue
||Sent by mail on a quarterly basis
||Manager, Policy & Government Relations
|Event Promotional Material
||Promote participation at our events
Eight weeks prior to the event
|Manager, Programs and Events
|Calendar of Events
||To encourage members to schedule their attendance at our events
||To provide a repository of information members can access at their convenience
Your web site is a key communication tool. Canadians are significant users of Internet technology and know how to search the web. It will be important that they find your web site among their results when using search engines. Web site users want to get the information they need "in three clicks". By using a content management system, you can make populating your web site easy and finding information a positive experience for visitors.
Once you have mapped out the type and frequency of communications going to your members, you can step back and judge whether yours is an appropriate schedule given your resources and members' expectations.
Theresa Kane, president of the Piper Group (a savvy communication and marketing company) offers the following advice: "The strength of any communication vehicle lies in its objective. If you know what you want it to do, then you can figure out which vehicle is best suited to meet that objective and which audience is most receptive to the message. A little planning goes a long way in achieving success."
Every two to three years, you should send a "Member Needs Survey" to your members to probe what issues or services they would like your organization to cover as part of their membership benefits. There are a number very affordable online survey instruments that can make this task an efficient and effective exercise. When conducting a survey, always test your questions with real recipients to ensure they solicit the types of information you want.
Repeat the exercise of setting out a schedule of communications to each target audience in your orbit. These could include:
Governments (municipal, regional, provincial, federal);
Media (public and sector-specific);
Suppliers, sponsors and strategic partners;
Other associations or stakeholders.
A key activity in implementing any plan is to evaluate its results. At the onset, develop a set of criteria you can use to evaluate how well your plan is working. Criteria questions could include:
Are your communications being well received and appreciated?
Are your communications causing the desired results?
Your strategic plan could also include conducting a communication audit. It is best to use an expert, third party to conduct your audit as they will be objective and knowledgeable about how to interpret your audit results. A communication audit involves interviewing recipients of your communications to determine whether your goals and their needs are being met. An audit should also examine the physical aspects of your communication vehicles. Is your branding - your look - consistent and recognizable? Are the fonts and colours you are using right for your type of audience. Are you headlines informative and captivating?
As you develop your communication plan, look at what your competitors are doing well and consider doing that better. Look at what your counterpart organizations in other countries do well. Invest in working with communication experts to ensure that you are communicating in the very best way. And don't forget to evaluate your results on a regular basis.
Paulette Vinette, CAE, is the co-author of Risk Management - A primer for directors of not-for-profit organizations, which was recently published by the Canadian Society of Association Executives in 2005 (ISBN 0-921998-01-5). Paulette in President of Solution Studio Inc., a consulting practice that serves the not-for-profit association community. She can be reached at 1-877-787-7714 or Paulette@solutionstudioinc.com.
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