10 Ingredients Needed For Your Nonprofit Communication Strategy

Nonprofits do important work for their communities. This work can be presented in a more powerful and impactful way through effective storytelling, strong communication, and the use of efficient tools.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Know Your Objectives and Target Audience
  • Describe Your Organization Clearly
  • Know Your “Competitors”
  • Define Your Message
  • Pinpoint Where to Reach Your Target Audience
  • Tone and Images
  • Keep an Eye on Your Budget
  • Identify “Ambassadors”
  • Be Consistent

Know Your Objectives and Target Audience

The first question to ask before jumping into a communication strategy is: What do you want to communicate? Who are you trying to communicate with?

There is a marketing/communication model that describes consumer behavior, called “Hierarchy of Effects.” In this model, there are 3 types of communication objectives:

  • Increase awareness and knowledge of the product, service, or organization → Cognitive objective
  • Encourage positive feelings, by appealing to emotions or lifestyle → Affective objective
  • Provoke action to join as a member or donate → Conative objective

For a successful communication strategy, focus on 1-2 objectives even though it is tempting to try and do it all. Identify your organization’s primary focus, and start there.

Your target audience can be very broadly defined (such as amateur athletes, or women) or very specific (parents of pre-k children in San Francisco). Then, try to find out more information about your target audience – age, income, interests, and shopping preferences. If you know who you are aiming to communicate with, you’ll be able to reach them more effectively.

Describe Your Organization Clearly
You must be able to describe your organization in a few words – its vision, mission, and values. These elements must be crystal clear for you, in order to convey them to your audience. You should dedicate enough time to this, as it will save you a lot of time later!

Know Your “Competitors”
Well, you’re not really competing with the other nonprofits in the same way that for-profit companies are competing for consumers, at least.

However, your nonprofit may be doing similar work as other organizations. That is absolutely fine!

Know which organizations out there are similar to yours, analyze their communication style, and figure out a different spin for your nonprofit’s communication strategy.

What is your organization doing that is unique?

Define Your Message
The message you communicate depends on your objective and target audience. Different people should be addressed differently.

If you don’t know where to start, here are possible messages using the Hierarchy of Effects:

Increase awareness and knowledge: My organization offers…

Encourage positive feelings, by appealing to emotions or lifestyle: My organization’s mission is to…

Provoke action: You can help by… [an action]

Keep in mind also that this message should be kind and not too idealistic. You might want to avoid messages such as, “Join as a sports club member, and see results within 3 days” or “Our piano lessons will turn your child into Beethoven.” Of course, unless you can clearly deliver on the results you are promising. Never mislead your audience!

Pinpoint Where to Reach Your Target Audience
Once you know your target audience, the next step is to find them. Where do they spend time in person, or online? Adapt your communication strategy so that it works for your organization’s budget and time commitment.

Possible methods of reaching them include:

  • Advertising

Television: Local television stations can be a great opportunity to share your organization’s mission and impact with your local community. Major national networks might not be as accessible at first, but you can reach out to any connections you have. Begin with local stations as they are always on the lookout for high-impact stories within their viewer’s communities.

Radio: You can pay for a short radio announcement. If your target audience listens to the radio the advertising costs may be worthwhile for your organization.

Press: Magazines and local newspapers also provide a multitude of advertising options.

Billboards: Large billboards on the streets are expensive, but you can usually post flyers in schools, local restaurants, and cafes for free.

  • Internet

Social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are great platforms for reaching most target audiences. Don’t begin posting all at once, it is essential to find out which social network your audience uses most and to begin there.

Email: Whether you’re sending simple emails or weekly/monthly newslettersemail offers a lot of possibilities for staying in touch with your community.

Your organization’s website: A well-designed and informative website establishes your organization’s credibility. This is important if you are doing a fundraising campaign or event!

  • In-Person

  • Street fairs, conferences, farmer’s markets: You can set up a table with banners and posters to attract people to find out more about your organization. Conference booths can be a heavy financial investment therefore it is important to do your research beforehand.

Public spaces: You can plan a special outdoor event on a weekend afternoon. Select a public space with plenty of foot traffic, so you can reach more people.

Events: A fundraising event is always an excellent opportunity to be visible as an organization. You can co-host events with other nonprofits too, to combine forces and share the recognition.

Tone and Images

Have you decided to communicate on Facebook? That’s a great start! However, make sure you think about the content you’re going to deliver. Messages need to be presented in interesting and visually appealing ways to your audience.

Avoid messages that feel too commercial, such as, “Sign up today for the well-being meditation workshop!” Instead, you might see more audience engagement if you include context that appeals to emotions, such as: “Did you know? 95% of adults who practice meditation are more relaxed. My organization offers meditation workshops, which are open for signups today.”

There are best practices for each medium of communication (poster, social media, small flyers), so do some research to convey your messages in the most appropriate tone for each medium. Posters use few words, whereas on social media, it’s best to share an anecdote.

Pictures speak a thousand words, as they say. Present information in a diagram, illustration, or picture. You should also add elements specific to your organization, to make the visuals even more unique and immediately recognizable. You can add your organization’s logo or add your logo’s color on top of the photo.

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What would interest them? What would be useful to them? What would make them laugh?

If you’re not sure what type of content your community wants to see, you can conduct a survey or ask a few of your members or donors for their opinions. 

Keep an Eye on Your Budget
Don’t worry if you can’t implement all the plans you had at the beginning. It’s normal to adjust the course as needed.

If you don’t have a large budget for marketing and communication, you should prioritize which objectives you want to achieve. Do you want to dedicate your time and resources to building up a regular email newsletter? Would it be better if you purchase ad space in a local newspaper because your audience reads the newspaper instead of social media for their news?

Identifying “Ambassadors”
You can select people who would be great at sharing your organization to a wider audience. These are people in your community who are passionate about your organization. They can be volunteers who help bring posters and flyers to nearby businesses and establishments. Or, they can be ambassadors on social media, relaying your organization’s message to their own networks.

These ambassadors could even create content for your organization to re-share or repost on social media. This works perfectly if they usually attend your events and are already frequent social media users.

Be Consistent
Your organization can create an impactful communication strategy by making sure that everyone (including your board members and volunteers) understands how important communication is.

If everyone in your organization is on the same page with each other, your messages will be consistently strong.

This article is written by Emily, and published on Springly

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