“Failing to plan is planning to fail”
All your communications work should be done with the aim of achieving the overall objectives of your organisation. While that may seem obvious, many organisations operate without even a basic communications plan. “Communications” cannot exist in a silo with little or no connection to organisational objectives, yet this is a very common scenario – particularly when it comes to online media. Are the people responsible for Facebook and Twitter conducting this work in line with your organisational objectives? Your communications plan, which includes your online media plan, is key part of your strategic plan.
While many balk at the thought of putting together a comprehensive communications strategy, this does not have to be an arduous task. In a nutshell, a basic comms plan is simply outlining:
- What are you trying to say? (your message)
- Who are you saying it to? (your audience)
- How are you going to say it? (your communications channels)
To take this a step further, think about what you want people to do with the information.
Basic steps in creating your communications plan
The first step is to address the purpose of your communications plan, and evaluate the current state of your communications. What are your biggest communications successes? What are your challenges, both in terms of achieving your goals, but also in terms of actually completing the communications work on an ongoing basis?
Looking at your organisations strategic plan, think about how communications can be used to help achieve that goal.
Remember that your goals must be: SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (to your mission), and Time-bound.
Defining your goals
Often, “raising awareness” is listed as a communications goal. But is “raising awareness” enough? Once people are aware of your issue, what do you want them to do next? Make this next step clear in your communications. How will you evaluate if you have succeeded in “raising awareness”? Instead, a goal could be that you reach 5000 with your message in one month. This will be measured by: increased traffic to your website, and likes, shares, and re-tweets on social media.
List the specific tasks needed to achieve each goal.
Think about your different audiences (for example, beneficiaries, donors, potential donors, staff, partner-NGOs). Which channels will be best to target each group? Remember that you have to meet your audience where they are, rather than expect them to join a new platform to interact with you.
NGOs are notorious for using acronyms and jargon that can be inaccessible to most people outside the organisation. Make sure that not only does your message address your goals, but that it is written in a clear and accessible way for your audiences. With the fast-paced world of social media, you must grab attention and define your message quickly and concisely. Can you do this without jargon, in terms anyone can understand?
Define the core message of your organisation with this simple exercise:
Our organisation is the only ……… to ………
What makes your organisation stand out from all the other NGOs in your sector?
Plan of action
Now that you have defined your goals, your message and your audiences, you need to outline the next steps in this process. You know where you want to go, and your plan is your route to get you there.
Put simply, ask yourself what it will take to make your strategy work, and who will do what, when and how, and then write it up.
There may be several levels of involvement for each activity/message. Use a calendar to plot activities and deadlines, making it clear who is responsible for each activity. For each month, summarise what you hope to achieve, and list specific tasks that need to be carried out. At the end of each month, assess what has been achieved. Use this information to improve your plan for the next month.
Prepare an evaluation tool
Prepare an evaluation tool before you implement your strategy so that everyone knows what is expected from the strategy and how the strategy is to be evaluated. This doesn’t have to be anything more complicated than a series of questions around the goals you set. Not everything is easily quantifiable. Address this in your evaluation tool. In which cases will anecdotal evidence suffice? In which cases will you need verified data for your assessment? The results of your evaluation should be used to update and shape your future plans.
Do not spend months producing a lengthy communications plan that will ultimately gather dust in a filing cabinet. In my experience, the long-winded tomes may look very impressive, but are seldom actually used. Your comms plan should be a “living document”, which you regularly consult and update. It should guide your daily work and help develop your content calendar. It should give your work focus and clarity. If it does not, go back to the start, and work on creating a much simpler, focused, and achievable plan.
Ruendree Govinder, Interiority Consulting. For more about Ruendree and her work in the sector, view her practitioner profile here.