The Ultimate Guide to Strong Nonprofit Communications

No pirate could find treasure without the help of a map. For a nonprofit that wants to increase donations and engagement, the map is proper nonprofit communications.

Nonprofit communications refers to all the tactics a nonprofit implements to communicate with stakeholders and promote its cause. A full communication plan could address fundraising, events, the mission, current events, and more. Also, it could use social media, email, direct mail, and beyond. 

In this guide, we’ll cover all there is to know about nonprofit communications through the following points:

  • How does nonprofit communication differ from corporate communication?
  • Types of Nonprofit Communication
  • Nonprofit Communications Plan

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.

How does nonprofit communication differ from corporate communication?

Communication is any contact an organization has with its audience. The goal of all external communications is to inform the outside world about the organization, its mission, and the importance of its work.

While that definition and goal remain consistent across industries, external communication tactics vary greatly depending on the specific type of organization. Here are the four predominant ways in which corporate and nonprofit communications differ:

  • Making a Difference vs. Making a Profit: Nonprofits are driven by a cause beyond money, whereas businesses are driven by the bottom line. Therefore, nonprofit communication strategies center around supporting missions instead of driving sales.

  • Types of Stakeholders: Stakeholders are all the groups connected to and impacted by an organization. Without them, the organization would cease to exist. For nonprofits, this group consists of employees, donors, volunteers, and program beneficiaries. Corporations interact with employees as well, but also consumers, executives, and investors. Different types of stakeholders mean different communication strategies.

  • Sources of Revenue: A nonprofit relies on donations and grants for funds. Corporations rely on consumer purchases and sales figures. Given this difference, nonprofits usually have a more limited budget to support their communication efforts.

  • The Power of Storytelling: Storytelling is a buzzword among communication professionals in all industries. However, it’s especially important for nonprofits because they are focused on giving back. Their positive impact often translates to powerful stories. Corporations, on the other hand, communicate to drive sales; they don’t solely rely on emotional appeal in their communications.

Now that we’ve separated nonprofit communication from corporate communication, let’s take a look at the numerous types of nonprofit communication.

Types of Nonprofit Communication

Nonprofit communication is a two-way exchange of information between a nonprofit and its stakeholders. Within nonprofit communication are multiple types of messages, tailored to the end goal of the communications campaign.Here are five types of nonprofit communication for your organization to incorporate into its efforts:

  • Storytelling

Storytelling is the most powerful communication tool a nonprofit has at its disposal. In fact, donors are twice as likely to donate to a nonprofit when presented with a compelling story as opposed to a relevant statistic.

This is because stories leverage emotions to your nonprofit’s benefit and illustrate the impact of your work. Individuals are more likely to remember an inspiring tale as opposed to a number or figure, no matter how impressive the statistic.

To get your creative juices flowing, here are examples of how common types of nonprofits can incorporate storytelling:

Higher Education: Share quotes from both current and former students about what the college or university means to them.
Animal Shelters: Ask people who have adopted a pet from your shelter about the difference their pet has made in their lives.
Food Banks: Talk to volunteers about the work they do and what it means to them to give back, or even reach out to individuals who have benefitted from your services to see what your organization means to them.

When telling stories, don’t forget to be creative and dig deep beyond the surface to find the most compelling accounts. Prioritize quality writing and interesting visual elements to best execute this communication strategy.

  • Marketing

Marketing describes nonprofit communication tactics that have the goal of motivating target audiences to take action. These desired actions have the goal of furthering the organization’s mission.

There are many different reasons you could use marketing-style communication. Here are three examples:

Promote Your Upcoming Event: Maybe your nonprofit is hosting a gala, or coordinating a 5K. Marketing communication can help you advertise the event and encourage people to attend.

Recruit Volunteers for Your Current Project: No mission-driven project can be accomplished without the valuable support of volunteers! Use marketing communication to recruit the best of the best for your nonprofit.
Ask for Donations: Fundraising is of utmost importance for nonprofits. Read on for more information about fundraising-oriented communication.

All in all, marketing encourages your stakeholders to actively participate in your cause. Next, let’s look at a specific act of participation: fundraising.

  • Fundraising

Fundraising is invaluable to a nonprofit. After all, it’s the way nonprofits remain in operation and are able to pursue their missions. In order to successfully raise money, nonprofits need communication.

Communication-related to fundraising can be implemented in many different ways. For example, social media, email, and direct mail campaigns are all ways to ask former, current, and potential donors for support.

Fundraising communication can be complex, as it requires contact with a variety of audiences. Here are three of the main groups you’ll reach out to with this type of communication:

Current Donors: Receiving a donation is great, but what’s even better is to retain that support. Stay in touch with current donors to increase the chances that they’ll give again. If you need help contacting your current donors, check out this guide to donor data management.
Potential Donors: While keeping your current donors around, your nonprofit should also make an effort to connect with potential donors to expand your sources of funding.
Corporations: Did you know corporations donated over $20 billion to nonprofits in 2020? Use this powerful resource to your advantage by directing fundraising communication efforts toward for-profit businesses. They offer many different philanthropic programs, such as matching giftsvolunteer grants, and more.

Even after a successful fundraising campaign, communication is still relevant. Check out this guide to donor thank you letters for the best ways to properly show appreciation to your nonprofit’s supporters.

  • Engagement

This type of communication focuses on starting conversations with your audiences. You could feature polls on your nonprofit’s Instagram stories to boost interaction or post an event on Facebook for followers to share. You could even share Twitter content with videos, which studies show receive 10 times the engagement. For a more in-depth look into nonprofit video content, read this article.

Engagement is important because it builds a relationship with your audience beyond simply asking them for money. Cultivate connectivity with stakeholders that exists separate from monetary goals. It’ll serve you well when the time comes for you to ask for financial support.

  • Curation
    Curation is communication that focuses on gathering content from external sources to share with your audience. Your nonprofit could reach out to supporters and ask for their stories about the organization or read up on relevant news articles to share up-to-date statistics on your channels.

It’s important to curate content from other sources in order to stay informed and establish your organization as a thought leader in its field.

Now that you know the five types of nonprofit communication, we’ll dive into the steps for putting together a successful nonprofit communications plan.

Nonprofit Communications Plan

Communication is a multifaceted, complex task for nonprofits. For best results in reaching your audiences and building awareness of your brand, it’s important to go in with a plan.

Here are the eight steps your nonprofit should move through in order to create a successful nonprofit communications plan.

1) Determine Overarching Goals
Good communication exists to further the overall goals of your organization. Without setting proper goals, your nonprofit communication will be useless. Define your goals before moving on to any other part of communication planning. After articulating these goals, it’s time to establish your brand.

2) Establish Your Brand
Many aspects of your nonprofit communication tactics will be tailored to fit each audience, but your brand messaging should remain consistent across all efforts. There are two main branding components your nonprofit should prioritize in its communications:

Taglines are a valuable component of nonprofit communications.

Name: This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth reminding you to include your nonprofit’s name in all communication materials.
Tagline: A tagline is a short, memorable phrase that succinctly captures a brand’s message. Only three out of 10 nonprofits have a tagline they consider strong, so spend time on this piece of your branding to stand out.

The main way to achieve successful branding is to build awareness of your brand. How do you build awareness? You repeat it–– continuously putting your name and tagline in front of your audience. After your brand is established, take a look at the data.

3) Look at Data
“Mad Men” and other dramatized versions of communications professionals would lead you to believe that the best way to create a strategic communication plan is to blindly follow an intuitive, creative hunch. That’s not how it really works, especially in the digital age with so much data at our fingertips. You should always support your plans and ideas with numbers.

Take a look at data from your nonprofit’s past communication efforts. What was successful? What was a total flop? Use what you learn to influence future plans. If your communications data is a jumbled mess of metrics, learn how to clean it with this guide to nonprofit data hygiene.

You can also use data to better understand your target audiences.

4) Define Target Audiences
For best results, communication tactics should be tailored to who you want to reach, as stakeholders are not a homogenous group.

For instance, millennial and Gen X donors are most inspired to give to nonprofits by social media, whereas baby boomers are most motivated by email. To reach your millennial and Gen X audiences, create social media campaigns. On the flip side, create email campaigns for your boomer donors.

With a good nonprofit communication plan, you’ll have multiple target audiences. Your nonprofit is relevant to a lot of different people, so get in touch with them all!

Defining target audiences becomes a lot easier with the help of a robust donor database. You can keep track of demographics, contact information, employer data, income, and location all in one place. You can also look at past donation data to figure out who your biggest supporters are. If you need help adding to or verifying existing information, consider using a data append service.

5) Choose Channels
There are many communication methods out there for your nonprofit to choose from. From email to social media to direct mail and beyond, the nonprofit communication possibilities are endless.

Using what you learned from your data in step three, pick which channels will best meet your goals. Most nonprofits want to have a multichannel strategy to reach as many people as possible, so don’t limit your organization by only choosing one or two. The more, the better (within reason). Next, we’ll focus on social media in particular.

6) Use Social Media
Within the umbrella channel of social media are multiple platforms to choose from. Here are a few for your consideration:

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • TikTok
  • LinkedIn

Mess around with each platform and explore the different features. Stack that against data of who’s using each platform, and from there determine which ones your nonprofit will focus on.

Now, we’ll dive into the more conceptual steps of a great nonprofit communication plan.

7) Tell a Story

We can’t say enough how important storytelling is to nonprofit communications. Sharing true stories about how your nonprofit has made a difference is the best way to show others how important your cause really is.

To properly incorporate storytelling into your plan, spend time talking with people close to your nonprofit. How has your work impacted your program beneficiaries? Your volunteers? Your employees? From there you’ll find the most compelling information to share with your target audiences.

Consider the best way to adapt the story to each specific channel. You could post videos to YouTube, share podcast episodes, post photos to Instagram, or even pitch your story to relevant news outlets for external coverage.

Your mission is what matters most. Share its importance by way of storytelling.

8) Lead the Conversation
To lead the conversation is to establish your nonprofit as a thought leader within its industry. You want to be a credible source for your target audiences so that they trust you, believe more in your mission, and thus are more willing to get involved.

Stay informed on current events relevant to your mission. Read up on other organizations and activists working toward the same goals as your nonprofit. Pay attention to political candidates and acts that could positively or negatively contribute to your mission. Then, share what you learn with your followers.

With the five different types of nonprofit communication and the eight steps to creating a strong nonprofit communication plan, you’re all set to reach your audience effectively.

Nonprofit communication is vital to running a successful nonprofit organization. Without effective communication with your target audiences, there is no way to build relationships to pursue your mission.

This article is published on Getting Attention

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