Critical Communications

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I often encounter nonprofits – those with budgets ranging from under $1 million to several millions – that tell me that they simply can’t afford a strategic communications program. My response is always the same: You can’t afford not to have one.

The fact is, nonprofits that get their story out and make their case to stakeholders do better than those that don’t. They experience smarter growth, they attract more funders, they have stronger and more productive relationships with supporters, and they have better outcomes for clients. Communications pays off.

Several years ago, Michael Clark, the outgoing president of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York (and the man who founded the New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards), challenged me to come up with a list of measurable outcomes that could be achieved by smaller nonprofits that invested in consistent communications.

The list included increased fundraising, volunteerism, attendance, participation and government funding. Additionally, organizations that make their case help shape government policies and practices that are better for them and their clients.

Clark and the management committee of the Nonprofit Excellence Awards, including the trust’s Pat Swann and Philanthropy New York’s Ronna Brown, recognized the importance of “regular and effective communications and use of communications technology” as one of the eight areas of management excellence for the awards program.

According to the program, excellence in communications includes: active and effective branding; telling your story; strategically integrating a communications plan into all organizational planning; establishing regular formal and informal strategies for gathering feedback on services from target audiences; and incorporating feedback into practices.

So, what is a small nonprofit to do? With as little as two hours set aside per week for communications, you can make an impact. Start by setting a measurable goal and then identify some tactics that could help you achieve your goal. Here are some ideas:

1. Share good news with your stakeholders by sending a short, monthly email about a client whom you have helped, new funding you have received, a program you have grown, or something similar.

2. Invite a local reporter to see one of your programs or events. It doesn’t have to be a new program or the first event of its kind – you just need to give them a good reason to report on it. Remember to share any press clips on your social media pages, and with funders, donors and your board.

3. Outdated website? Spend an hour a week cleaning it up, adding new content and uploading new, engaging photos.

4. Put out a monthly statistic about a program outcome and tell the story of a client you helped. Post these stories on your website and social media, and send them to your supporters or potential supporters.

You won’t regret starting a communications program. You’ll just regret not doing it sooner.

Even a modest communications program can have a positive impact. It will help you:

1. Raise more money from individual donors.

2. Secure funding from government.

3. Shore up relationships with corporate donors, leading to continued and increased funding.

4. Increase attendance.

5. Improve participation.

6. Successfully influence policies.

7. Keep important constituencies – your board, community members, financial supports – engaged and committed.

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