6 key questions to ensure your communications strategy aligns with your strategic plan

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Guest Blog Post by Ally Dommu, Director of Service Development and Worker-Owner at Big Duck

Nearly every big organizational decision a nonprofit makes—new programs, leadership changes, refined fundraising strategies, upgraded technology—has a communications opportunity attached to it. But it can be challenging to regularly take a step back and think strategically about what’s most important to prioritize. Take advantage of the window of time immediately following strategic planning, when so many significant organizational decisions are made, to take a fresh look at your communications strategy and plans with the future in mind.

A strategic communications plan serves as an overarching blueprint for making communications decisions, and every nonprofit should have one. Don’t stress—these plans come in all shapes and sizes depending on the needs of the organization. It could be as simple as a one-page high-level strategic framework or a more detailed set of plans and activities for hitting specific objectives. Regardless, what’s key is that the plan should make a direct link between the output of communications and the goals and objectives of the organization at the highest level. Strategic communications plans should be mission-driven, audience-specific and—to state the obvious—strategic (i.e. consisting of clearly articulated goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics). For a primer on what strategy is really all about check out our recent free ebook, Achieve more: Putting strategy to work for your nonprofit. The best moment in time for an organization to develop this strategic communications blueprint is when the organization’s strategic direction is at its most clear — and typically that moment in time is just after a strategic planning process.

A nonprofit’s strategic plan has the power to be the north star of your communications strategy. Of course not all strategic plans are created equal and some do a better job than others establishing a powerful strategic direction for the organization. Usually, strategic plans are not written to be communications plans or actual copy or language that you use externally, and they may need to be re-written or packaged for broader and more public use. But the concepts and ideas inherent in the strategic direction set forth in the plan should guide how you prioritize communications efforts and set goals for the years ahead. They should help you decide what you’re pursuing with communications and—sometimes more importantly—what you’re not pursuing because setting priorities can mean everything when nonprofits are understaffed and under-resourced. In a recent blog, my colleague Laura Fisher wrote about how developing smart communications goals using your strategic plan can not only help you stay clear on what’s most important during times of urgency, but will also serve you in times of stability and growth.

If you are planning for a strategic planning process or have recently wrapped one up, seek to answer these six simple questions. Your answers should help get you on your way to evaluating whether you need a significant rethink of your communications strategy.

  • Does our strategic plan suggest that we need to establish new communications goals or objectives?
  • Does our strategic plan suggest that we need to be reaching different or new audiences?
  • Does our current brand strategy and/or brand identity (e.g., messages, visuals) need to change to align with our strategic direction?
  • Do our current communications strategies, tactics, and channels need to change based on what we’re trying to achieve as an organization?
  • Do we need to rethink our resources for communications based on what we’re setting out to achieve as an organization (e.g., people power, financial investment)?
  • Do we have the tools and processes to regularly reflect and assess our progress?

The more you answered yes to the questions above the more likely that there’s some communications work to do. More no’s suggest you might be able to keep the trains running as scheduled. Keep putting pressure on your answers and you’re on track to create truly mission-driven communications.

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