If you've done any strategic communications work, the implementation phase that follows can be challenging.
You’ve spent weeks, sometimes months, creating a comprehensive communications plan only to freeze during the campaign execution. So often, we see nonprofits create amazing marketing strategies that die in the execution phase.
The team sticks to old habits. Reacting to gut instincts instead of strategizing and relying on data. By the end of the year, you’re wondering why donations are flatlining and your campaign never took off.
We know it’s hard and there are a lot of ways things can go wrong.
So, we've created a guide to break the paralysis and build effective and lasting campaigns that meet your organizational goals.
1: Take the lead
Why do great communications plans die? Most often, it's from lack of leadership.
I'm not calling out the directors and CEO's of the nonprofit world. We're saying someone, anyone, needs be captaining the ship and taking the lead on the project.
The team lead needs to define goals and activities and make sure deadlines are met. Always ask, “who’s in charge here?”
2. Huddle Up with Other Organizational Teams
Is routine mutiny holding you back? You might be captain but to deliver you need to get everyone on board. It’ll save you time and energy in the long run.
Buy in from different teams in your organization is hard, but it’s a critical element to success. Here are a hints on how to get everyone onboard:
- Listen! Take time to speak with other teams and listen to their frustrations before you tell them what to do. Many have knee jerk reactions to being told what to do, especially if you’re not their direct manager.
- Talk through the strategy and its direction. Frame as a solution to their frustrations.
- Bring together operations, development, programs, and comms teams for their big picture thoughts.
- Be open to feedback and follow up with steps you’ve taken to address their ideas.
3. Do a 360° Communications Review
Are you hoping your communications challenges will solve themselves but surprised when you don’t see results?
To see lasting change, you need to know your weaknesses. Start by doing a honest audit of your current communications materials and messaging. Here are some tips to start your review:
Review your messaging
- Am I speaking with passion? Are you answering the question "Why does this matter to the audience?"
- Have you made a compelling case for why your organization exists and how it solves problems in an innovative way?
- Are you using jargon in your messaging?
- Is my team speaking with one voice?
Review your engagement strategy:
Think about acquisition and how to move your personas through an engagement pipeline. Ask questions like:
- How do we build our audience?
- Where do we find new supporters (social, events, conferences)?
- What would excite them about our work?
- How do I want them to be engaged?
Get a fresh perspective
- Bring in a supportive, curious, and creative outsider to review your communications. You want them to make things better not just point out the gaps.
- Ask your supporters (new and existing) what they think using surveys and stakeholder interviews. What excites them and what is falling flat?
4. Define Your Audience, Then Review Your Personas
Is your best messaging falling flat? Once you have a list of target audience members, build their personas with questions like these:
- What do they do in their free time?
- What do they care about?
- Why should they care about our organization?
Maybe there is just one persona that’s a puzzle to you. Ask a representative audience member for an informational interview or send out surveys.
Tap into the experiences of your programs team to get insights on the individuals they interact with regularly. Don’t be surprised if you first get some resistance. Your programs team may already be maxed out. Build trust by showing them how improved messaging will make their lives easier.
If you’re getting push back from your programs team, try asking some questions:
- Where are your pain points with clients or partners?
- What do you feel people don’t understand about our organization?
- What tools or materials would help you mitigate these common questions in your work with your target personas?
5. Hold Yourself Accountable
Facing a constant concern of project drift? Even the best laid plans can drift off course. Keep yourself in check by keeping your board, funders, and constituents in the loop. They’ll trust you more if you keep them involved at every stage. Remember they care about the big picture of where you’re heading, not your task list.
Watch my Facebook interview with Rootid about how Root & Rebound successfully navigated implementation paralysis and held our teams accountable.
6. Stick the Landing
Ever wonder why your communications tools don’t get used or shared? That’s because you’ve focused on delivery over strategy.
Here are some tips to avoid this habit:
- Make a list of your personas
- Think about how each one digests news and updates. What will make them stop and think? What will they share with their networks?
- Then brainstorm platforms, tools, and content: media, infographics, video distribution, community meetings, webinars, and testimonials to reach people where they are at in their busy lives.
7. Facts Tell, Stories Sell.
More text than stories? Voices, experiences, and feelings change hearts and minds. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask that trusted partner or client for their story.
Writing a compelling story is a really great way to sell you impact.
In gathering this content, be sure to:
- Reflect on the high level words and phrases people use in describing the challenges they face, the work you do, and the impact you have.
- Leverage this knowledge to filter out the jargon in your materials going forward.
8. Be Realistic
Worried you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? It’s a common problem. Be practical when defining your project scope and timeline. The key is to make your communications work for you, not the other way round.
- Which persona(s) is/are most important to my organization? Prioritizing the focus of your work based on your organizational goals can help focus the project in the most important areas.
- Who is in my core project team? Ask them what their bandwidth is, and how much of the project they can realistically help with.
- What’s a realistic timeframe? You know your workload best. Do your best to project an end date, then provide a 20% buffer.
9. Measure Your Success
Are you learning the right lessons or making the same mistakes?
Set clear goals and metrics for each intended outcome. Survey your target audience before and after your project to learn what worked and what can be improved. This isn’t just a one-time process; keep it going.
Sometimes people are scared to measure because they think it will point out failure. Be realistic with your team that failure is not always bad. It merely shows that you need to make changes to what you’re doing. It’s not a disaster.
10. Maintain Engagement with Surveys & Stakeholder Interviews
Worried your audience will drop off? Make sure your content continues to resonate with your audience motivations by running surveys and stakeholder interviews. It’s a great way to keep the conversation going.