Every morning we decide what we’re going to do that day. At work, we have more or less a billion projects on the go and our to do list never gets shorter. The only way nonprofits, and staff, don’t implode from the workload is by setting and staying focused on priorities.

There will always be more work, ideas, and opportunities than we can handle. Smart nonprofits know this and that’s why they develop strategic goals. Strategic goals help everyone at the organization to understand the end game; they make it clear what the nonprofit wants to achieve and where the time, dollars, and brainpower should be devoted.

Strategic goals are an asset to communicators. When you’re developing your communications priorities, take advantage of the clarity and direction your nonprofit has given you. There’s no reason to start from scratch or swim upstream. In fact, there are many reasons not to.

Four reasons communications objectives should align with a nonprofit’s strategic goals

Developing your communications objectives from your nonprofit’s strategic goals:

  • Keeps your work focused.
  • Helps justify your department’s priorities (staff time and budget).
  • Reinforces marketing communications as a strategic function.
  • Strengthens the nonprofit as a whole because your efforts (and ideally all departments) are working toward the same things.

Here’s how to build communications objectives from strategic goals:

Determine each goal’s relationship to communications

For each strategic goal, determine the communications objectives that would relate to it, i.e. consider the relationship between the goal and communications generally. For example, a strategic goal to “Better understand the impact of our funding” relates to evaluation and outcomes.

In our role, we would use stats and success stories to help us, and our audiences, understand this. Therefore, one communications objective for this strategic goal could be: “Increase the collection and communication of the qualitative and quantitative results of funded programs.”

Tip: Don’t forget to make SMART objectives. (It’s an oldie but a goodie.) They should be: specific; measurable; attainable; relevant; and time-based.

Identify WHO has the power to affect the goal, and HOW

Another way to develop a communications objective from a strategic goal is to consider who can affect the goal, and how. Sometimes the “who” is you or your nonprofit. For example, you have the power to analyze your grantees’ stats and to decide to use stories in your annual report.

Sometimes the “who” are stakeholders you need to collaborate with in order to address the goal. For example, you may need to offer trainings for your grantees if you require them to collect or report different stats.

Now, we could stop here since we’ve come up with our communications objectives. But, this is fun, right? (Right?) So, let’s continue to flush out the objectives for a communications plan…

Brainstorm strategies and tactics for each communications objective

When you have the top (say three to six) communications objectives for each strategic goal, go one step further. Brainstorm potential strategies and tactics for each communications objective. Don’t worry if they cross into another department. Don’t censor your great ideas at this stage. Good brands are holistic and break down department silos. You can find a new home for ideas that aren’t right for you.

Prioritize the ideas by effectiveness, audience, and cost

Prioritize the brainstormed ideas by: likelihood of effectiveness; audience to be reached; and estimated cost. You can also prioritize them by other factors like the time it’ll take or how “ready” your nonprofit is to take it on. If you see trends, e.g. several tactics are for a specific target audience, you may want to create a separate communications plan for that audience.

Pare down to the most effective and realistic strategies and tactics

Prioritizing the brainstormed ideas should have given you good insight and a gut feel. Now you’re ready to pare down the strategies and tactics to the ones you think are going to make the most difference and the ones you believe are going to be possible because you have the resources (time, people, money) to do them.

This doesn’t necessarily mean cut things you don’t have the budget for. If it’s a fantastic idea, part of the strategy could be to find a sponsor to cover the cost.

Pull it all together and align with strategic goal

You now have a set of communications objectives for each strategic goal and a set of strategies and tactics for each communications objective. Pull all of this together into a communications plan and be sure to clearly show the direct link back to the strategic goal:

  • Strategic plan goal #1
    • Communications objective #1
      • Strategy
        • Tactic
        • Tactic
      • Strategy
        • Tactic
        • Tactic

Example 1

  • Better understand the impact of our funding.
    • Increase the collection and communication of the qualitative and quantitative results of funded programs.
      • Incorporate output and/or outcome statistics into existing communications activities.
        • Add a callout box of program stats to all new grantee stories added to website.
        • Create a series of tweets that highlight the number of people benefiting, e.g. #### people were helped by a pro bono lawyer

Example 2

  • Create a highly creative and popular organization that provides in-school, community-based, and on-site programming and events that empower youth to take an active role in the decisions about their neighbourhoods and city.
    • Introduce the organization into the community and gain ongoing awareness and support from the community.
      • Events and co-events are taking place in the community monthly.
        • Establish relationships with BIAs and community partners.
        • Build a calendar of existing community events to participate in.

Keep focused on what’s most important

Communicators are well-positioned when we can tie our day-to-day work back to our nonprofit’s overall strategy. It shows we’re strategic, accountable, and supportive of the leadership team and its vision. It also helps us do our jobs. It keeps us focused on what our nonprofit has said is most important. It’s harder to wander off into left field or accept additional projects when you have thoughtfully developed a communications plan that addresses your nonprofit’s most pressing goals.

Further reading

This article about Developing a Communications Strategy provides a good overview and good examples of tying organizational and communications priorities.

Obviously this Nonprofit MarCommunity post assumes your nonprofit has at least one strategic goal. If not, my friends, that’s a whole other blog. My hope is you can persuade your senior leadership team or board of directors to develop them. If your nonprofit doesn’t know what it wants to achieve, it’ll never know if it’s on the right path or reached its destination. If you’re in this situation, this Strategic Planning FAQ may be a helpful read.

Nathalie Noël

Nathalie Noël

Brand & Strategy Coach / Communications Specialist at Nathalie Noël
Nathalie Noël has worked in communications and marketing for close to 20 years. She is The Law Foundation of Ontario’s communications specialist and she does freelance consulting in the areas of brand development and communications strategy. In both her roles, Nathalie aims to bring focus, clarity, and confidence to good people’s good work.
Nathalie Noël
Nathalie Noël