Any great nonprofit communications strategy is built on a foundation of consistency. For your messaging to have power and purpose, the story you tell to your community – internally and externally – should follow patterns of predictability and standards of high-quality.
It takes some time to get to that place, but the work is worth it! However, you can’t depend on your teams to understand what you expect of them by osmosis. One of the best things you can do early in your organization’s life is build an institutional communications plan, applicable no matter what type of content is created or whether that content is internal or external facing.
As you start to construct a plan, keep front-of-mind any primary Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) against which you’ll measure your communications strategy’s success. We like to place them on a whiteboard and reference them as we go.
The Four Elements of a Well-Constructed Communications Strategy Plan
Well-constructed communications strategy plans include four elements:
- Strategic Communications Overview
- Audience Analysis
- Visual Strategy
- Digital Strategy
Let’s take a look at each of these.
Strategic Communications Overview
Your plan’s strategic communications overview section should focus on your nonprofit’s North Star – your mission statement.
Everything sprouts from one question: What drives the work that you do?
Accordingly, choose from one (or maybe two) voice tones so your strategic comms content has a similar feel for both your internal stakeholders and your constituents.
Here’s a list of potential tones of voice from which to choose:
Which did you choose? With those tones of voice in mind, review your existing content and ensure that the style matches what you want in support of your mission.
If necessary, tweak some of your content to ensure it better aligns, and then focus on aligning the tone of voice for any newly-created communications going forward.
Audience analysis is another important element to consider when auditing your communications strategy. When you develop a content strategy on the platforms you prefer, we imagine you have an audience persona in mind.
Imagine your intended reader each time you create content. And imagine that person within your community – one you hope becomes an important part of your movement.
There are three important elements to consider here:
Demographics include your ideal community member’s physical and personal characteristics, including age, gender, physical location, income level, education level, and professional status. In a lot of our work, this also explores intersectionality. Working through demographics gives you a high-level overview of your ideal community member. Then, you can dig into psychographics.
Psychographics are the elements of a person’s personality, attitudes, and aspirations, which includes other psychological criteria. Examples include values, opinions, interests, lifestyles, goals, dreams, and fears.
When you deeply understand a person’s motivations and how they align with their demographic characteristics, it’s easier to understand why they behave as they do.
When paired together, demographics and psychographics help you develop a more nuanced understanding of how people are motivated and how they will act accordingly. For example, a middle-aged, affluent man who values health and wellness might be likelier to purchase a long-term gym membership or buy organic food.
That said, it’s important to note that while demographics and psychographics can help you predict behavior, they certainly aren’t foolproof. People are complex, and their behavior is easily influenced by factors outside these categories, including individual differences, situational factors, life changes, and cultural factors.
While demographics and psychographics can provide valuable insights and guide your predictions about behavior, watch for presumptive, shallow analyses. It’s essential to verify your gut instincts and ensure you’re accurate so your communications plan – and the plans you create to do your work – hit the target.
A visual strategy is essential to any communications strategy, offering increased accessibility and simplification of complex ideas. Visuals – whether videos, infographics, or images – grab more attention than text and engage audiences by sparking stronger emotional responses.
This engagement also enhances the memorability of your message, as illustrative information tends to be retained more easily than written content.
In our fully-digital era, shareability is crucial, and graphically-appealing content earns more shares and reach on social media platforms giving your messaging a large boost. Visuals and graphics also have the advantage of transcending language barriers, making them a universally accessible means of communication.
A consistent, strategic visual identity bolsters your brand and amplifies recognition across different platforms and contexts.
But the story has to be cohesive and one your community wants to hear. It’s essential to consider these styles – and possibly, a mixture of them – that will form the foundation of your identity:
- Black & White
- Digital / Internet
- Text Heavy
You should consider a digital strategy built on four key pillars:
- social media goals
- a defined purpose
- cohesive calls to action (CTAs)
Setting clear, SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) social media goals is vital. These goals, which might include increasing brand awareness or driving website traffic, present a clearer roadmap for your online activity.
Here is a more complete list of goals to consider:
- Increasing brand & organizational awareness
- Building an engaged online community
- Running pre-made advertisements to increase conversion
- Engaging potential donors, founders, or sponsors
- Measuring how the public perceives your brand
- Monitoring the market & key industry players
- Building a more inclusive & diverse presence
Strategic Selection of Social Media Platforms
Each platform has its unique demographics and usage patterns, so it’s crucial to understand where your target audience is the most active. The platforms you choose to focus on should, therefore, directly align with your primary goals and the preferences of your target audience.
The most common platforms where you should consider building a strong social media presence include:
Defining a Purpose for Your Strategy
You must define a purpose for each of the social media platforms that you’re going to use within your strategy. Whether the goal is to share institutional updates, build the voice of your movement, or strengthen community, having a defined purpose guides your content strategy and gives your audience a reason to engage with your content.
Here are some actionable, simplified examples of common strategic purposes which nonprofits and cause-driven organizations lean in on:
- Help others
- Build community
- Spark discussion
- Shift a mainstream narrative
Which of these makes the most sense for your messaging? Your plan will likely include a combination of several, and that’s just fine!
Cohesive Calls to Action (CTAs)
Cohesive CTAs guide your audience toward specific actions that align with your social media goals. These CTAs, which could include prompts to visit your website or to sign up for a newsletter, are critical in moving your audience toward a desired outcome.
When evaluating CTAs, it’s important to consider how often, who the CTA is best for, and which format is best for your target audience.
To find the sweet spot, consider testing out the following:
- Single image
- Article link repost
- Image carousels
- Short & long-form video
- Stories & reels
- Quote graphics
- Tweet reposts with commentary
Wrapping Things Up
Consistency, predictability, and quality are fundamental in building a powerful nonprofit communications strategy.
From establishing the right voice tone in line with your mission to crafting the appropriate content for your target audience, the principles of strategic communications, audience analysis, visual strategy, and digital strategy meld together to help you build a compelling narrative and drive your community to action.