When leading a nonprofit, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Especially when you’re in the middle of trying to keep the lights on and ensure the programming you’re developing best serves the people you have a mission to help.
This scenario often leads to the “good enough” content problem.
Because there are so many different things vying for your attention, content creation and marketing messaging become items on a to-do list that need to be marked off. Something that’s a chore. An annoyance you know you need to take care of, but it’s the last thing you want to worry about on a busy day.
It’s normal, but it’s also troubling.
When you run into this “good enough” scenario, it’s important to take a step back and audit your communications strategy to ensure your message matches your organization’s mission of serving others.
Four elements comprise the core of any well-executed nonprofit communications strategy audit. They flow linearly and are also intertwined to help you see where there are communications gaps, where you need to tighten messaging, and where there’s additional room to add power to your storytelling.
The Four Elements of a Nonprofit Communications Strategy Audit
Here are the four elements to work through in an audit of your nonprofit’s communications strategy:
- Mission Alignment
- Visual Identity
- Messaging & Storytelling / Content
- Community Management
Let’s dive into each in some detail.
You spend countless hours working on your mission at the dawn of your nonprofit. Multiple stakeholders are involved in the process: your leadership team, your employees, your board, external stakeholders, and client stakeholders.
The list goes on forever.
It’s both a collaborative and iterative purpose that requires precision and forethought. After all, your mission is the backbone and catalyst for all your work to serve people who care about your cause.
However, the mission starts hiding in the background somewhere along the way.
When this shift happens, you risk your messaging and communications becoming misaligned with the core of your mission.
It’s easy to rectify, though, by asking yourself these questions:
- What is the impact of your organization’s mission?
- Is this made clear in your communication?
- Who is your primary target audience?
- What is your primary call to action?
- Is this made clear when necessary?
- What do you hope people will take away from your message?
- How do you want your community to feel when they engage?
It’s one thing to rehash your mission in your content.
It’s rather robotic if you’re repeating it as you would in the “Mission Section” of your website. Instead, consider how you can speak more about how your mission leads to impact – how it leads to change. Your community is more interested in the impact they’ll receive in working with you than the fact you have a mission.
For the impact of your message to pack a punch, you need to attract the right group of people. At the outset of your nonprofit, I imagine you sketched out what an ideal audience would look like. And the messaging you’ve created since then is to pull that ideal audience closer.
There’s one thing, though: that audience can change.
Take some time to see who’s engaging with your message. Do they fit the profile you think they should? If not – it’s either time to refine the sketch of your ideal audience or shift your message’s tone.
Great communication falls flat if you don’t have a consistent and cohesive call to action.
People will not do anything if you don’t tell them what you want them to do. Calls to action aren’t “salesy.” They’re a way to gently move people along to take the steps required to work with you or become a community member. This isn’t to say you should use CTAs with every piece of content.
But you definitely should share them more often than not.
As long as your mission shines through, the right people absorb it, and you’re providing a call to action as necessary, you’re in a good place with a communications strategy. The final piece is the emotional hook. As a nonprofit, your mission is your passion.
Therefore, considering how your audience feels when engaging with your storytelling is essential. You can’t make assumptions here. Ask them. Do surveys and see if what you believe they should feel is validated by how they actually feel.
And make adjustments as necessary.
Your nonprofit’s visual identity is how you present yourself to the world. A strong visual identity is cohesive. It includes key elements that help tell your nonprofit’s story through colors, brand marks, symbols, logos, and taglines.
The overarching goal of a cohesive visual identity is for people to know it’s you when they see you. No matter where you’re creating content – whether it’s social media, on a blog or website, or somewhere else – when your visual identity is cohesive, your community recognizes you immediately. You draw them to the message you have to share.
When your visual identity isn’t cohesive, it’s confusing.
Therefore, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions to ensure it is cohesive:
- Do you have a primary color palette?
- Are you using the same fonts across all graphics?
- Do your photography, illustration or visuals properly support your primary message?
- Does the visual style match and support the mission?
- Are all profile pictures (for individuals) clear and on-brand?
A primary color palette helps establish a baseline “look and feel” that you can use across your content. Without this palette, your content will seem scattered. You have an undeniable brand when you combine that palette with uniform font usage. That consistency develops trust in those absorbing your message and signals professionalism.
The visuals and imagery you use support your feel.
On the Team DB website – and in the blogs we share – we use the imagery you’d expect from us: images of activists and changemakers. There’s no doubt what our content is about when you see that visual mark. When you use the same imagery with consistency and that imagery supports the core of your mission, people ‘get it.’
And when they get it, they’ll get closer to seeing you as a resource and a trusted partner.
Messaging and Storytelling
Your messaging and storytelling bring your mission to life. Regardless of how well your mission and visual identity are considered and constructed, it won’t matter much if you aren’t telling a strong enough story.
The “good enough” content problem often enters here as well. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of telling a story surrounding your nonprofit that was once accurate but may no longer be because things have evolved and the community you’re serving has changed.
Removing yourself from the story for a little while and asking yourself a few questions objectively is important to ensure you’re still on the right track or find out where you need to make tweaks and approach those intelligently:
- What is the highest engagement you’ve received on a post? What was the format of that post?
- Have your followers been increasing or decreasing?
- Do all your bios on different mediums accurately reflect your role and what your organization does?
- Do you always share links in your bios/email signatures? If so, what is the link? Is it still the best link to share based on current initiatives?
- When I share graphics on blog posts or on social media, do the captions for those images drive home the context of the image?
- Are you using consistent hashtags on all social posts?
- Are you doing enough collaborations with influencers in your niche?
- How quickly do you respond to DMs? Do you make folks heard, or do you not respond in an adequate amount of time, etc.?
In general, it’s a good idea to double down on what is working with your messaging and content and experiment on the edges. Social media platforms – in particular – are always changing their algorithms and the types of content they reward, and to make sure you keep your message front and center, it’s your responsibility to stay on top of those changes and react accordingly.
As long as your followers – and your website traffic – are increasing naturally (2% month over month is a good benchmark for social), then you’re doing something right. You may have struck a nerve if your following decreases after a particular post!
This effect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s important to stand your ground and be opinionated occasionally to ensure the right people engage with your content, but more importantly, align with your nonprofit’s mission.
Your bios must align across mediums so it’s always clear who you are, what your organization does, and how people can contact you. These bios may need some editing occasionally as you re-brand or as your priorities and the clients you serve change. And that’s ok! It’s a good rule of thumb to revisit them at least once per quarter and see what needs updating.
As social media – in particular – becomes increasingly watered down with shallow content (some of which is written by AI), it’s more important than ever to build relationships with like-minded folks and approach collaborations as a means to increase your influence.
It’s not enough anymore to lean purely on social media as a marketing strategy. The right social media strategy also includes an element of networking to tie all the pieces together and foster conversations that move the needle.
The last piece of the puzzle is community management. Once you’ve developed an audience, you need to foster relationships, build trust and keep people coming back. That’s where engagement comes into play.
There are a few important questions to consider about community management:
- How frequently are you posting updates about your nonprofit’s activities?
- Do you actively engage with your followers by supporting their content?
- Do you regularly express appreciation for your community’s support?
- How often do you request their feedback AND implement it?
Community management is more than posting updates and responding to comments – it’s about building relationships, fostering trust, and creating a sense of togetherness. This development is crucial in a nonprofit where your biggest supporters are clients and thought partners helping to craft and refine your mission.
Wrapping Things Up
Auditing your nonprofit’s communications strategy is an essential and continuous process. It ensures your organization remains transparent and focused, with the mission always front of mind. Regularly examining and updating your communications strategy ensures that your nonprofit remains a relevant and powerful force in your community.
Despite the challenges that may come along, remember that your mission is your beacon!
Strive to align all your communication efforts with your message to create a consistent, impactful narrative that builds meaningful connections with your audience and inspires them to join your cause.
The strength of a nonprofit is in its ability to unite a community around a shared vision, and your communication strategy is the lever that makes this happen.