Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Setting up a small team to communicate more strategically

Associations and foundations

CFLeads connects community foundations across the country to the tools and resources to create positive change. Following a period of rapid growth, they needed a smart communications plan and messaging to propel them forward.

A shifting landscape called for a leading voice.  

CFLeads was founded when the community foundation field was changing from a singular focus on grantmaking to broader community leadership work. Their mission is to accelerate this change by defining what community leadership looks like and providing high-value educational programs and opportunities for collaboration to community foundations across America.

After completing their strategic plan, they sought to tie their communications goals to organizational goals. We developed a comprehensive plan that defined their communications goals and mapped out key projects for the next three years.

Setting priorities starts with research

Before recommending strategies and tactics, we researched how CFLeads was communicating with their audiences—community foundation leaders and professionals—and what motivated those audiences to engage. We reviewed performance data of their recent marketing efforts, took stock of their peer landscape, interviewed key audiences, and conducted an online survey completed by over 120 community foundation leaders.

We uncovered that CFLeads was generally well-known within the community foundation field and had an opportunity to make their resources, content, and educational opportunities more accessible. Though many of their target audience members knew about and understood CFLeads’ mission, they hadn’t used their educational resources. Our initial recommendations included investing in easy-to-access communications tools and developing short-form content––all of which would make it easier for audiences to engage and see the value of CFLeads. We also recommended that they hire one person to focus on this effort and outlined job responsibilities.

Clear steps forward

Building on our research insights, we created a pragmatic three-year communications plan to help CFLeads strengthen its voice and motivate audiences who were aware and interested in them to engage more deeply. Because of their lean staff size, we outlined realistic priorities across how CFLead’s brand, team, and communications systems should evolve over the next few years and assigned accountability for every task.

Big Duck also delivered a dashboard with key metrics to track communications efforts. Finally, we developed key messages that clarified who they are and what they stand for—and gave CFLeads staff a clear structure and language to tell one unified and compelling story.


Big Duck is an invaluable partner. Their team was authentic and direct throughout our work together. I’m excited that we have the tools to use communications strategically to reach more community foundations and help them step into their leadership roles and create positive change.

— Deborah A. Ellwood, President and CEO


The CFLeads team is getting the foundation of their communications strategy in place, shifting how they use email and their website to connect with supporters, and enhancing how they’re communicating in-person.

Tune up your nonprofit’s communications efforts. Let’s talk.