How does a nonprofit communications plan work with a strategic plan?

Posted by Danielle Cyr on Wed, Apr, 17, 2013 @ 09:04 AM

Our agency often engages with nonprofits after a new strategic plan for the organization has been put in place. With growth objectives, team roles and responsibilities, and the most up-to-date mission clearly defined, nonprofits are ready for a marketing communications plan that supports their larger organizational goals.

marketing_strategy-1.jpgHow does the process work?
Similar to the process of creating a nonprofit’s strategic plan, there is a discovery period where past plans and activities are reviewed, and effectiveness, evaluated. This provides a baseline for building the new marketing communications plan. Additionally, key stakeholder insights are collected, as appropriate. The goal is to aggregate data that can inform the communication strategies and tactics that may be included in the plan. 

Why does a nonprofit need a strategic marketing communications plan when a strategic plan is already in place?
While marketing and communications can play a significant role in helping a nonprofit to achieve its organizational goals, one doesn’t want to put all of their eggs in one basket. Take development goals, for example. Clear, concise and compelling communications play an important role in securing donations, be they funds, goods or services. However, the development program’s success will be limited if only one communication channel is implemented and/or a member of the nonprofit’s staff or board isn’t cultivating and sustaining individual relationships.

The strategies and tactics included in a nonprofit communications plan can help to achieve objectives, such as:

  • Increasing event attendance
  • Establishing consistent touchpoints with individual donors and key funders
  • Garnering media coverage for organizational milestones and other significant accomplishments
  • Engaging new and different audiences
  • Furthering understanding of an organization’s mission and community impact

While marketing and communications can take a guiding or supporting role in achieving these objectives, they are best integrated with other strategies and tactics to help achieve the organization’s goals.

Who executes the plan?
The beauty of a carefully crafted strategic nonprofit communications plan is that it can be executed in whatever way best suits the organization. Depending on the size and in-house resources of the organization, some nonprofits opt to execute their plan internally while others outsource execution. In some instances, a nonprofit may opt for a hybrid solution that leverages internal and external resources.

The keys to ensuring effective execution of the plan are:

  • Ensuring everyone executing the plan (from staff to Board Members) has bought-in to the plan
  • Ensuring all key players have a common understanding of the objectives, strategies and tactics
  • Assigning deadlines to key deliverables
  • Setting benchmarks for evaluating and tweaking the plan

How does one measure the success of two unique plans?
Success metrics are unique to each and every nonprofit. A 15% increase in donations may be overwhelmingly positive for a small community-driven organization, while a larger, regional nonprofit may reap limited rewards from this level of growth. An organization whose target audiences are active social media users may grow its community of supporters exponentially through a creative online campaign, while a nonprofit that deals with sensitive populations and has a niche offline audience of supporters may find a campaign of this nature had no impact on its bottom line.

Just as the communication strategies and tactics included in a nonprofit communications plan are unique to the organization, so are the metrics for quantifying success. To ensure consistency with the nonprofit’s strategic plan, the role marketing and communications will play in helping achieve these larger objectives should be evaluated carefully and the success metrics, defined appropriately. 

A marketing communications plan can be a tremendous asset to a nonprofit but requires an ongoing commitment to execution and evaluation. When embarking upon the process of creating a strategic nonprofit communications plan, evaluate how the recommendations will support the organization’s overall goals and what internal resources are available to support execution. While an ambitious plan can help team members to envision the future and provide exciting goals to work towards, the depth and breadth of the plan needs to align with the bandwidth and resources available to support its execution.

Topics: nonprofit marketing plan, nonprofit communications, nonprofit communications plan