Your starting point is really your destination

Your starting point is really your destination

YOUR ORGANIZATION’S mission and the research you’ve conducted are the starting points for developing your strategic communications plan. Ideally, your plan should be linked to your organization’s overall strategic direction. At the least, it must define your unique position in the market and frame your organization and its key issues in a way that resonates with your audiences.

In writing your communications plan, avoid generic goals such as “raise awareness” or “increase media coverage.” Be specific. Which audience do you want to make aware of your organization – community leaders, those you want to serve, prospective donors? Even if it’s all of the above, you need to segment those audiences and develop strategies to effectively reach each target group. What actions do you want your audiences to take?

Your goals must be measurable. If you run a theater company and your goal is to boost attendance, state how many people you want to attract. If you want more media coverage, identify the number and quality of placements (e.g., one placement each month in major national media).

Now it’s time for a reality check. Do your goals match your available resources? Are you being realistic about what you can achieve and how much it will cost? Do you have the wherewithal to support the increased volume if your communications efforts are wildly successful?

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Be prepared for success. Many campaigns fail because of implementation issues; an overwhelmed call center, faulty business-reply cards, ineffective donor tracking. Be ready. Think through all of the steps, from developing your concept to reaching your intended audience. For instance, don’t forget to include a distribution plan for your print materials. If you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of creating an annual report or a newsletter, make sure the publication gets into people’s hands and doesn’t just sit in boxes.

Don’t forget to include your Web site and electronic communications in your communications planning.

Tying your communications plan to your mission

Since your ultimate goal is fulfilling your organization’s philanthropic mission, your communications plan must be inextricably linked to your mission to keep you on course. Try the following exercise to help keep your communications plan mission-focused:

Ask yourself what the successful fulfillment of your mission would look like. Then ask what communications tools you will need at the macro level to make that possible. For instance, if your organization’s mission is to cure heart disease, your macro communications efforts would probably focus on educating those at risk and raising money for research. To educate those at risk, you might launch a national awareness campaign, produce a newsletter and/or host a health fair. To develop those programs, you would need to allocate financial and human resources, develop a timetable, and so on. Keep delving until you have a comprehensive implementation plan that is driven by your mission.

Be sure you have:

  • A clear tie to your organization’s strategic goals
  • Specificity about target audience and desired response
  • Flexibility to respond to market changes

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Elements of a Communications Plan


  • Summary/overview of plan
  • Goals (general)/objectives (specific)
  • Target audiences
  • Key messages
  • Strategies (approaches)/ tactics (tools)
  • Budget
  • Implementation plan with accountabilities, priorities and timetable
  • Evaluation (what success would look like)

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