Step 9: Communications: Why you Need a Plan
Steeped in the marketing and communications industry for over 35 years, Peter Barrow’s experience is unmatched. The industry is his classroom, and he’s the teacher. Creating meaningful messages that resonate with the audience, Peter shares his wealth of knowledge as author of the chapter “Communications: Why you Need a Plan” of The Vigilant Fundraiser: 12 Steps to Fundraising Success.
As a former marathon runner, Peter realizes that a communications plan needs to be focused, durable and goal-oriented. Peter shares his insight about creating successful communication plans for non-profit organizations, even in the absence of a communications department.
What is the purpose of a communications plan?
The purpose of a communications plan, generally, is to create an environment for the organization that will not only build their profile, but will encourage an environment where giving can take place. This is about branding and creating a profile, but mostly about telling a story that will resonate with people and encourage them to give. Without a plan, the chances of that happening are pretty remote.
What makes a communications plan successful?
A plan is measured by how quickly and easily money is raised. You can measure it in typical branding terms, for instance the amount of placements on social media, the number of newspaper appearances, and so forth. But typically, it is gauged by how much and how easily money was raised.
What makes a communications plan fail?
Generally most organizations try to do too much. They try to cover every target group and tell every story. We encourage clients to do three or four things really well and make that the focus of their plan and not run the risk of being everything to everybody. Failed plans try to do too much and of course this takes a lot of resources. If you don’t have focus, don’t do a few things really well and don’t follow through with them, it makes the plan fail.
What type of people do you have in mind when creating a communications plan?
It depends on who the target groups are. Most plans try to tell a big picture story of why the organization is important. But the best plans will focus on major stakeholders, and these are not always donors. Sometimes this could be other partner organizations. Usually, the four main groups include donors, key influencers, the media (both traditional and social) and very often the staff. You have to write the plan in such a way that the organization feels that they can do it. The plan can give them self-confidence.
How do you keep a communications plan focused?
Do a few things really well and give yourself some good measuring tools, whether it is twitter feeds or money. To keep focus is the desired outcome. For each client or market, you need to decide where or who will generate the most money. For instance, an organization may focus on retrieving money from wealthy philanthropists in the region. If this were the case, chances are that one-on-one meetings will be successful and this becomes the focus and priority.
If you start from ground zero, your focus will be different. You will want to develop a strong social media presence, create events, and ultimately try to get people to know you. Therefore, the focus will be on creating a profile and identity. Ultimately, whatever the desired outcome is, will determine what you’re going to do.
What if you don’t have a communications department?
If you don’t have a communications department and don’t understand the principles of media or print advertisements, events, or media releases, you need to seek professional help. You should hire or train staff to become experts in communications, and there are many consulting firms that can help you with that. In terms of getting volunteers to do your communications plan, you need to walk a very fine line. The trouble is that it is difficult to have leverage over volunteers, they are not accountable since they are unpaid. Paid staff are accountable, and it’s better to invest some money to ensure accountability.
What does being a ‘vigilant fundraiser’ mean to you?
I think it means three things, first keeping up with trends. Organizations need to keep up to date with the most current trends in giving and philanthropy. There have been major changes lately, for instance the moving away from large galas and golf tournaments to more personable lunches and socials. And of course, social media has changed the landscape.
Secondly, build, network and grow relationships and maintain them. The success of an organization is determined by the strength of relationships.
Thirdly, you have to be ready as an organization to receive money. Meaning, you need to have a strong board, good processes to manage the retrieval of funds, good financial discipline, stewardship and a strong mission that people identify with and understand.
Julie Dorsey is a Writer for The Goldie Company. She interviewed Peter Barrow for his thoughts on creating an effective communications plan.