Photo by Ann poan
3 min Read
May 8, 2024

Developing a communications plan that stays relevant, fresh, and actionable

You’ve created your three-year communications plan, and it’s a thing of beauty—every step sketched out, every outcome defined, and every project assigned. You’re ready to bring it to life and kick off three years of top-notch strategic communications. What could go wrong?

In a word…anything! We’ve all learned in recent years that the environment around us can change on a dime—whether it’s a global pandemic, a major technological breakthrough, or a dramatic change to the funding landscape—and our best-laid plans go right out the window.

So what can you do to make plans that are clear enough to get results, and flexible enough to pivot when the unexpected happens? We’ve got four tips to help you keep those communications plans fresh, relevant, and actionable.

1. Set long-term goals with change in mind.

If you’re setting out to make a three- or five-year plan, be realistic about how the landscape might shift as you pursue your goals. Set objectives or milestones that describe a future state—and avoid reference to specific tools or circumstances that may shift in ways we can’t anticipate. Keep the long-range timeframe focused on where you hope to be, and leave some openness for future iterations of your communications team to determine how best to reach those desired outcomes.

Example long-term goal: Our social media presence is robust and growing, with audiences and a content strategy clearly defined for each active platform.

2. Get specific about this year—and anticipate external threats and opportunities.

It’s realistic to get more specific about your goals on a one-year time horizon, with more detailed plans for not only what you hope to accomplish but also how. Look at your longer-range goals, and think about what you could do in year one to take a big step toward reaching them. Plan your activities around disruptions you know could occur—e.g., the continued growth and adoption of AI tools, or the presidential election in the fall. 

Example one-year goal: We’ve grown our email list by 10% and sustained our current levels of engagement metrics (opens, clicks, actions taken, unsubscribes) by implementing a social media engagement strategy and analyzing content performance monthly.

3. Take it quarter by quarter.

A one-year plan should have a good degree of specificity in terms of activities, tools, and channels, but we all know that the rhythm of the year can ebb and flow in unexpected ways. Set up a check-in each quarter where you take a step back to…

  • Look at the progress you’ve made so far toward your annual goals
  • Determine what progress you can make this coming quarter
  • Lay out your projects and next steps accordingly

Resetting once a quarter lets you take into account things like staff comings and goings, shifts in organizational priorities, and just the realities of things moving faster or slower than you expected at the start of the year.

4. Update your plan annually

It’s wise to have a longer-range plan to work towards, but by the time you’re in the second or third year of a three-year communications plan, you may find that things have changed so much that your objectives and strategies are no longer relevant. Establish an annual rhythm of setting the upcoming year’s communications plan, together with refreshing your longer-range three- to five-year goals. Taking it one year at a time ensures that what you’re prioritizing is timely and responsive to the shifting needs of your organization while making sure you’re pointed toward some bigger goals in the long term.

Ready to start planning? Here are a few additional resources you might find valuable: 

Big Duck has worked with dozens of nonprofits to help them create smart, flexible communications plans and teams. If you’re interested in learning how we can work together, please contact us!