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6 min Read
January 16, 2020

Time to tidy up and spark joy in your nonprofit’s communications

Ever read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo? This small but mighty book encourages you to examine everything from those newish shoes you’ve never worn to the tchotchkes on your bookshelf and ask, “Does it bring me joy?” 

Kondo’s book is a primer for getting rid of what you don’t need and taking better, more thoughtful care of the stuff that actually works for you. While “sparking joy” isn’t the primary mandate of most marketing and communications teams, the basic idea still holds up: examining what’s working, discarding what’s not, and recommitting to the good stuff is a smart practice. And what better time to take a step back and get some perspective on your marketing and communications efforts than the start of a new year? 

Here are a few ways to Konmari your nonprofit’s communications. 

Start by looking back

Marie Kondo recommends a process of making a big pile and examining each item in it one-by-one. You can go through a similar process project-by-project or channel-by-channel to examine what’s been working and what’s not, jotting down notes along the way. Or try one of the following more traditional tools to get perspective:

Grade yourself 

How would you grade your marketing and communications department’s efforts over the past year? Would you get an A for exceptional results? Or a B for making a great effort but not achieving the outcomes you desired? If you set specific targets or objectives for the year it’s time to review them and assess your results. 

My new book, The Nonprofit Communications Engine: A Leader’s Guide to Mission-driven Marketing and Communications, includes a self-assessment you can use to score your team’s efforts. Your results will highlight where you’re crushing it and where you may want to spend more time in 2020. Download and take our self-assessment, then encourage your team to do the same and discuss your results. Where are you aligned and what do you need to work on?

Ask your colleagues in other departments for feedback, too— in whatever way feels most comfortable. What do they see as your department’s greatest strengths and successes? Where would they like your help in the year ahead? If you can solicit their input anonymously you may uncover some hidden gems— and confirm if the grade you’ve given yourself reflects how others see your work, too. 

SWOT it out

Examine your department’s work through the lens of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  Start by drawing a four-quadrant grid — noting that strengths and weaknesses are typically internal, while opportunities and threats are external variables. Encourage everyone to share their ideas and write them down on the grid (ideally, on a wall or in a shared document) to create a snapshot of the moment and a jumping-off point for future planning work. 

Dust off your strategic plan

A majority of organizations go through some sort of (formal or informal) strategic planning process every three-to-five years. Some will be actively used, updated, and referred to regularly— but others get dusty from disuse. Spend an hour at the start of a new year to review yours and explore how it might guide your marketing and communications efforts. This will help your team re-align on its core purpose: advancing the mission. 

Don’t have a strategic plan or comparable document? Ask your executive director to spend an hour talking with your team about their vision for the year. What will be the same? What might change? 

Review your brand assets

Does your visual identity still work? Is your messaging making it easier for your team to write and speak about the organization? If you’re not totally sure, this blog outlines a four-step process to give your brand a check-up


Sometimes the projects that went off course loom largest when looking in the rearview mirror. But a practice of gratitude has been proven to have profound positive benefits— and can offset the sting of discussing failures. And when those failures do come up, focus less on what went wrong and more on lessons learned and how to apply those mistakes to better decisions in the future.

Keep a list of “wins” and be sure to celebrate them. Consider giving our prizes for biggest successes and lessons learned to encourage folks to get into the spirit of it. Personally, I’ve been keeping a list of “wins” for years and using it to remind myself how much good stuff happens, especially during moments that don’t feel so great. 

Look ahead

Grounded in reflection, the next step is to do some planning or course-correcting. Here are a few practices that might help you spark marketing and communications joy in the year ahead.

Clarify your team’s mission

Does your department have its own mission statement? This helpful blog on how to craft one is a must-read for any communications director. Having a mission or purpose statement for your communications team will help with hiring, management, and conversations with colleagues who suggest projects that might need decluttering. 

Set some SMART objectives 

Setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) objectives for your department and then establishing a practice of reviewing them at least monthly will help advance bigger, important projects that can sometimes get ignored or pushed aside when things get busy. To really challenge yourself, tie those objectives to specific goals in your organization’s strategic plan and ask your executive director to hold your team accountable for meeting them. Big Duck’s ebook on nonprofit communications strategy can help jumpstart that process — as can this blog on writing smart objectives.

Get on the same page with the team

Meet with people who are essential to your organization’s communications to get aligned at the start of the year. This might include members of your department, freelancers, volunteers, consultants, or folks in other departments that you regularly collaborate with. Share what your team is planning for the year and, where relevant, help everyone see their role in advancing this work. Discuss and remove barriers that may get in the way and make sure everyone shares a common vision for “success” so you can move faster and smarter. 

Set up new systems

How often will you meet with your team to assess your progress against plans and debrief on your work? The start of the year is a good time to reset rhythms that have gotten stale and no longer suit your needs. Try something new for a few months to refresh and recalibrate. 

Get away

Getting out of the office with your team is a powerful way to get perspective, do some planning, and bond while you’re at it. You don’t need a professional facilitator or a fancy location, either: a day offsite at someone’s home or a peer organization’s conference room works well, too. Plan your day with 1-2 hour-long modules and scheduled breaks to avoid fatigue and give folks a chance to keep on top of urgent work. 

The life-changing magic of tidying up your communications practices might even spark joy by helping you advance your organization’s mission more effectively in 2020.