How to Create a Nonprofit Communications Plan from Scratch (Part 1)

By Allison Carney, YNPN Greater Seattle Committee Member

This month, YNPN Seattle is posting blogs about “starting from scratch.” They’ll be giving you tips and advice on how to build things from the ground up—without burning out.

My installment in is focused on creating an attainable, effective, and measurable communications plan.

If you’re anything like me, starting from scratch is terrifying. You’re watching the cursor flash on a blank screen or holding a pen to a notepad devoid of notes, and the only thing you can think about is how many other things you could be doing.

Well, I get it. It’s tough. But the beginning of the year is a great time to take stock of the next 12 months, catalog the opportunities in front of you, and make a plan to have a great (or at least effective) 2016.

Step 1: Write down one big thing your nonprofit wants to achieve this year.

And no, it’s not “make a viral video.” Do you want to move legislation? Get more volunteers? Raise awareness* about a cause? Raise money for a new project?** Get more people to vote in an election? Think of that one thing (you may need to talk to program staff or leadership to figure out what that is) and write it at the top of your document. All of your activities should support that goal.

Step 2: Write down the people you’ll need to reach to get there.

And no, it’s not “the public.” Whom will you need to move their arms or legs to get that goal done? Is it middle school students? Graduate students? Senior citizens in your neighborhood? Teachers? People recovering from addiction? Think of 2-3 groups and write them down.

Step 3: Write down how you reach them.

And no, it’s not “social media.” First of all, are these people even on social media? What associations (if any) do they belong to? Are they in a specific geographic community? What websites do they visit? Whom are they already listening to? Likely, there will be many answers to this question. If there’s too many, first brainstorm all the ways to reach that audience, and then pick the top three you think are a good fit.

Step 4: Come up with your message.

If you had one thing to say to them to get them take that action in Step 1, what would it be? What are their self-interests and how do those intersect with those of your nonprofit? If possible, try out your message on a few people first to see if it works.

Step 5: Plan how you’re sharing your message.

So you know whom you’re reaching, where you’re reaching them, and what you’re saying. Now it just comes to making a plan to share the message to the right people at the right time. How do you do that?

Well, you start by tuning in next week!

* A goal for awareness for a small nonprofit is incredibly difficult to measure. Make sure that whatever your goal is, you have a way at the end of the year to measure your progress. So if your goal is to “Raise awareness of the health risks of snowmobiling,” consider changing it to “Ensure all Washington state snowmobile rentals include written warning labels.” That way, even a general awareness campaign helps you get there, but at the end of the year, you know if you succeeded or not.

**It can be a fundraising goal, but make sure you have a purpose to it. “Raise $10k” isn’t a good communications goal. “Raise $10k to revamp one of our classrooms” gives you content as well as a measurable goal.

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