Seven tips to guide your communications in the new year
As 2022 (aka 2020, too.) comes to a wrap, our attention is focused on meeting year-end deadlines through what has been another difficult year for so many. While I’m excited about the rest and rejuvenation the upcoming break will bring, I also find myself thinking about what comes next–my hopes and dreams for a better 2023.
With our last post for the year, I wanted to share seven tips and lots of resources you can use to guide your nonprofit’s communications and marketing efforts next year (and frankly, every year). I encourage you to book an hour or so on your calendar NOW for early- to mid-January and go through these tips. Share it with your team to spark a discussion and apply what’s most needed for your situation. Cheers!
1. Set your destination.
Strategic and business planning conversations often start with a discussion of your desired future state… So let’s start there. Imagine it’s January 2026 and communications and marketing efforts are performing well to help achieve your mission. What does that look like? How will you know? We can’t manage what we are doing day-to-day if we don’t have a clear understanding of where we are going.
Your communications work should be advancing the organizational direction defined in your strategic plan. When was the last time you read your strategic plan? Is it alive and connected to the work your communications team is doing and how they are spending their time? Use these questions to connect your communications strategy with your strategic plan.
As you orient or reorient to the bigger future and where your organization is trying to go, set your goals for communications for the year ahead. We define goals as big-picture statements of what you are striving to achieve. They are usually specific, and may point toward a way of solving a problem or addressing an opportunity, such as “increase participation of NYC teens that have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity.” Some organizations set one overarching primary goal to guide their communications each year, while others have several. Once you set one or several goals, be sure to also define some objectives–which are measurable outcomes that indicate you’ve achieved your goal.
2. Root decisions in an understanding of who your audiences are.
To accomplish your mission and reach your goals, you must build relationships with the people who must engage with your work–the humans who need to know who you are. Understanding who you need to reach and how to engage them is at the heart of the strongest communications efforts. These resources can help you conduct research and increase participation among priority audiences.
It’s easy to list out the people for whom we think we should matter – but have you thought about their needs and motivations? Where else do they go for the services, information, or opportunities you provide? Know who your audiences are and map your role within a larger ecosystem–all the nonprofits, people, narratives, initiatives, trends, wins, defeats, etc. around your issue area. Watch this webinar to map your organization’s role in an ecosystem.
3. Zoom out of tactics and into strategies.
Is 2023 the year your organization gets on TikTok and off of Twitter? Are Wednesdays the best days to send your email blasts? Should you call or send a postcard to every donor? Most staff spend their days pondering questions like these. While the answers may lie in uncovering data and addressing them one by one, we encourage you to set strategies and use those to guide how you spend your time.
Strategy is the practice of defining what you want to achieve and identifying the best ways to achieve it. This ebook includes definitions, simple guidelines for organizing your thinking around strategy, and tips to help you create, communicate, and apply that strategy with clarity.
Pull back, set the right strategies or approaches o reach your goals and connect with your audiences, and then use that to guide your tactics–including which current ones to phase out and which new ones to phase in.
4. Map out a plan and refer to it regularly.
As part of getting outside of reactive and tactical mode is creating a plan to help guide your communications activities all year long. Your plan should recap your goals, audiences, strategies, tactics, channels, timing, metrics, and more. Once you have this plan developed, share it with your colleagues within and beyond your department so everyone knows what you are working on and for.
Want a template to develop your plan and a chance to learn from others? Sign up for our special four-part series to develop a marketing plan in January and February. These sessions can help develop your or your team’s skills and provide a common approach you can use in the years to come.
5. Clarify the purpose of your team and revisit how you collaborate.
Your organization has a mission statement that guides what you do – so why not create one for your communications team? A purpose or mission statement for your communications department articulates the primary purpose of the team itself and what you actually do. Bring your team together to develop this statement and share it with others. This will help motivate your team and help other departments better understand how to work with you.
Beyond defining the purpose of the team, I also recommend conducting an audit of your current vs. needed skills and capabilities. Building a plan is one thing, but do you have the right people and resources to get it done? We have been doing more work for organizations to define the structure of their team, including determining future hires or shifts to make to accomplish what’s needed. Whether you work with an outside consultant or take this work on yourself, it helps to examine your people power on an annual basis. Be sure to assess contributions from colleagues in other departments and consider taking a wider view of who is in your department.
The new year is also a great time to put new workflows in place. What information should other departments provide when they need your team’s help? What’s the best format to make requests and what sort of lead time is ideal? Where can people go to assign or review requests? The stronger your relationships with other departments within the organization, the stronger the results of your communications with those externally. Perhaps this is the year you prioritize internal communications and set your staff as your #1 audience.
6. Make time to analyze and reflect.
One of my favorite things to ask when developing a communications and marketing plan is, “What should we stop, start, or test?” Just because you’ve been doing something the same way doesn’t mean you should keep doing it. Before automatically repeating what you did last year, take time to reflect on what’s working, what isn’t, and what you want to try.
After setting up a few goals and objectives in tip one, use those to determine how you can quantifiably measure your success. Pull common data points into a shared spreadsheet every month and then hold time every quarter to review that data and draw some insights. Again, ask yourselves, “What should we stop, start, or test?”
Beyond the ins and outs of your communications activities, I also recommend that you conduct a brand check-up. Has or should the perception of your organization change? Does your name, tagline, logo/visual system, and messaging still reflect who your organization is and where it is going? Have you been clear, consistent, and compelling across communications channels? While most organizations only engage in a significant rebrand every five–ten years, branding should be an ongoing practice and you may need to make some incremental changes.
7. Expect the unexpected.
While I’m a big fan of planning, I also believe in being responsive to the world around you. Early in the COVID crisis, we offered guidance for how organizations can take things one day at a time and also keep an eye on the bigger picture. While it’s been almost three years, so much of this can still prove helpful.
One approach you might try, if you haven’t already, is to set up two internal teams: a Now Team, who meets weekly and focuses on short-term decision-making, and a Tomorrow Team, who focuses on the long-term. These teams should include folks from the communications team, but also bring in members from other departments. Even just convening these groups or setting up meetings focused on the now vs. the tomorrow, can help make sure you are responding to the moment and still making time to head toward that desired future state.
Which tips will you put into action? Share what works for you and learn from others in our upcoming online series about building a marketing and communications plan.