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3 Steps to Building Your Communications Strategy in the Digital Era

This post was originally published here (The TechSoup Blog)

Building a viable communication strategy can be a daunting undertaking. Whether your nonprofit is well-established or just getting started, communication frameworks are rapidly shifting. They’re fueled by the ever-expanding world of Internet-connected devices (also known as the Internet of Things). Behind the emerging digital backdrop, a new breed of broadcasters are seeding a cascade of diverse voices.

The question you may ask is how can you possibly be heard amid the Internet’s digital chatter? Good question. Let’s unpack this a bit and start at the beginning, before the digital landscape shifted so quickly beneath our feet.

Let’s start with your nonprofit, your mission, your people, your constituents, and the great story you can tell. Let’s think about all of them, together.

1. Figure Out Your Story

Every Nonprofit Has a Great Story to Tell

Having cut my teeth in the for-profit world, I have marveled at the ease to which nonprofits, every single one of them, have a great story to tell. Typically, if your organization isn’t mission driven, crafting a story is far more challenging and can result in an external narrative that perhaps falls flat. Relying on catchy slogans and millions of dollars for ad agencies, a story is carved out.

Chances are very good that your nonprofit does not have millions to spend. But you do have the expertise. Your story embodies your expertise.

Remember Your Nonprofit’s Original Roots

One of the first things you can do is earnestly remember your nonprofit’s original roots. What made your nonprofit take flight? Ultimately there’s a sincere desire to be of service. With deep, venerable recognition, give yourself, your volunteers, your staff, your stakeholders, and your constituents a big, hearty thank you! Don’t forget to mention how much they have meant to you over the years.

Decide What, How, Why, and with Whom You Communicate Your Story

image containing 4 symbols: a target, a comment bubble, a communications tower, and a bar graph

Now you just have to figure out what, how, why, and with whom you communicate your story. But don’t worry: the heavy lifting happened when you recognized the vision and passion behind your mission and embarked on an incredible path to fruition.

In other words, nonprofits have it easy when it comes to crafting a communication strategy. A nonprofit communication strategy is an authentic hand and glove that fits with your constituents.

2. Do a Communications Audit

image containing 4 symbols: a microscope, a monitor displaying a graph, a chart, and an eye

Take a deep dive into your current communications environment. What’s in place already? For instance, do you have brand guidelines? Even if they’re rudimentary, it’s a start. If not, you’ll have to take the time to figure out what your brand represents. Begin with understanding the essence of your mission and weaving it into your brand.

Here is a communications strategy starter list:

  • Survey — Begin to ask questions of your constituents and get a feel for who they are and what they need from you. How can you help and serve them best?
  • Brand message — what does your brand represent?
  • Key messaging — what are the personas (user types in your audience) and what do you want to say to them?

3. Develop Your Marketing Narratives

image containing 4 symbols: a light bulb, ink and a feather, a comment bubble, and a megaphone

Marketing narratives are messages that connect with your audience in an emotional way. A marketing narrative is one of the key tools for developing a digital communications strategy. I recommend developing an internal narrative for employees and stakeholders inside your organization, and also an external narrative for your audience out there in the world. Here are the questions I like to ask to craft both types of narratives.

Internal Narrative

Explore your internal narrative. Interview your stakeholders, department heads, and staff to understand how they feel about your mission and brand. As you do this, measure their sentiment.

How much do they care about your mission? How well have you weaved its tenets into your mission’s actualization? In other words, are your people behind your mission and do they feel empowered to carry the mission’s messages? Do they feel accomplishment with regard to your brand promise? Understanding the current sentiment is a key to developing a communication strategy.

Recognize that you have internal archetypes or personas that carry the meaning of your mission, nuanced from their perspective. For instance, you may have the boss, the craftsperson, the accidental techie, and the mission-driven persona, each with their own narrative.

You need to find the common thread that unites them. You may need to discover the need to improve internal culture to help grow your brand footprint.

The goal is to align your internal narrative with your external one. To align them provides a powerful foundation that propels your story and defines your strategy.

External Narrative

There are two ways to craft this message:

  • By the numbers — How many people have you served? How many countries are you in? Provide the numbers to demonstrate your impact.
  • By your story — Start by telling the story that conveys the capability behind your mission. Next, collect success stories from those you have served and find ways on your website or through word of mouth to demonstrate your organization’s impact. Show, don’t tell. Social proof behind your cause is a great way to spur engagement from volunteers, stakeholders, and donors.

Once your communication strategy is solidified, your reporting plan will guide your interactions with your audience. At the very least have Google Analytics set up to provide website data. Set a baseline for all your metrics, including social media, to establish a solid base to work from.

If you can manage to do even a fraction of this list, you’re moving in the right direction. Stay tuned for part 2 in this series!

About the Author

Janice BurneyJanice Burney is TechSoup’s senior director of global marketing, strategy, communications, and customer experience. She leads TechSoup’s daily marketing operations and oversees marketing initiatives across the TechSoup Global Network. She is expert in all aspects of marketing including digital, video, mobile, social, print, SEO, SEM, and telemarketing.

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