Getting the word out: Using smart communications to bring your strategic plan to life
Ah, nonprofit strategic planning. For some, just hearing the words “strategic planning” brings to mind stressful meetings and infinite planning documents. For others, it conjures up excitement and enthusiasm for meaty, existential discussions and a fresh, inspiring organizational direction.
Strategic planning is a process that every nonprofit should go through every few years. But, the process itself, and the plan that is generated from that process, varies tremendously from nonprofit to nonprofit. There’s not a one-size-fits-all strategic plan.
After months of deep thinking and hard work, the last thing that anyone wants is for the plan to sit in a file cabinet somewhere, unused, and for everything to return to business as usual (unless, of course, you’re not thrilled with the outcome of the plan. Then, you’ve got another problem on your hands).
So, how can you make sure that your strategic plan is kept alive among staff, board, and other key stakeholders?
At Big Duck, we’ve found that a strategic plan can be more than just an internal planning document for staff and board. In fact, it can be a powerful tool for involving stakeholders of all types — from donors, partners, and other participants and constituents who are engaged and excited about the future of your organization. We think there’s a lot to be said about using communications strategy (and smart design and copy) to breath life into your strategic plan.
Last year, we had the pleasure of working with Lycée Français de New York, an independent school that blends French and American bilingual education to prepare students to be thinkers, innovators and leaders. We worked together to excite their community of parents, faculty, staff, and Trustees about the changes the school would be making as a result of their strategic plan, to make sure everyone understood what those changes would be, and to inspire people to use the plan as a compass to guide decisions and future planning.
After we got to know Lycée Français de New York and got a strong sense of the school’s vision for the future, we honed in on a few ways we could leverage the power of communications to bring LFNY’s strategic plan to life. Below are three tips your organization should keep in mind the next time you find yourself rolling out a strategic plan:
1. Make it digestible. Take into consideration the actual structure and format of the plan itself. If your audience can’t easily approach the information, you’re already off to a rough start. We restructured Lycée Français de New York’s plan, simplifying and reorganizing the content around five clear themes. What started as a massive Word document, became a tool that would be useful for decision-making and ongoing reference. It’s now more memorable and easier to read and talk about.
2. Make it look good (and on-brand, of course). The materials you develop to help share your plan with internal and external audiences are hugely important. Take care in creating them and making them consistent with your overall brand. The poster, pamphlet (with both English and a French translations), and presentation we built for Lycée Français de New York helped tell the story of the plan in a clear, engaging way.
3. Make sure you’ve got the right tools. It’s crucial you have the appropriate tools to get your community on board and up to date on the progress of the plan. You might need to develop talking points, consider channels to use for sharing the plan, and more. For example, we worked with Lycee Francais de New York to hammer out a strategy for the rollout that included a roadmap for communicating updates about the strategic plan over the next few years.
Making a big hype about your strategic plan isn’t necessary for every organization, especially if the changes in the plan are not dramatic ones. But, after a strategic plan is developed—or even better, as it’s being developed— every nonprofit should ask two key questions: Who really needs to know about the plan? And what do you need to do in order to make sure those people understand and are energized by it? The answer to those questions will help you determine if you need to do some work to make your plan more accessible, or if keeping it in its current form works well enough.
What do you recommend nonprofits keep in mind when presenting a new strategic plan to key audiences? Tell us in the comments!