The Barefoot PR team has declared 2021 the year of nonprofit strategic planning. Nearly every nonprofit we interact with has a new plan in process. Big dreams at the start of 2020 were taken over by the reality of crisis response as the pandemic strained the sector. But the great pivot also presented opportunity – to rethink, reevaluate, reengage and remember your mission.
As staff and boards work through the strategic planning process, we have a few tips for engaging supporters after the final draft is saved.
- Create a theme for your plan. At the end of the strategic planning process, think about one or two central themes and use them to explain the why behind your new strategic plan. The Denver Foundation did this seamlessly when they introduced a new strategic framework in early 2021. For them, Opening All Doors sums up how they plan to fundamentally change grantmaking, advocacy and operations. It also provides opportunities for storytelling ongoing.
- Budget for communications. Most nonprofits understand the cost to produce a strategic plan, but many forget to add money for design, storytelling and communications. While the full document will work for the board and senior staff, it is rare a high-level donor or community partner will page through a plain word doc. If your goal is to engage your partners, donors, champions and funders with your new plan, distilling it down into key messages, an infographic or even adding photos and design elements to the full plan will help people connect with the content. Budgets for this might range from $5,000 on the low end to $25,000 for a communications toolkit with lots of storytelling tools. You may also find yourself budgeting for communication support as a result of what’s in your plan. Consider bundling these two costs as a way for your consultant to better understand your goals as they deliver on your promise.
- Center key messages around those you serve. Nonprofits are in the business of making life better for others. While a strategic plan may get very detailed about your operational changes, how you communicate those changes must put the people (or animals) you serve at the center. We understand an accounting system upgrade might be critical, but make sure you tell your supporters how this will increase your ability to deliver essential services. People want to know how your work – even overhead – makes other people’s lives better. Don’t forget to use plain language – write (or speak) about your plan like you are sharing with a neighbor.
- Bring your words to life. Magic happens in our brains when we put a face on our work. Nonprofits do this better than most and your strategic plan is another place to apply this technique. Humanize your strategic plan through photos and videos that illustrate the need, your impact and both the people who deliver on your mission and benefit from it. Including quotes and stories or creating graphics that allow readers to understand your work at a glance also helps to bring your words to life. Always make sure you are using the principals of ethical storytelling, always respecting those your serve and making them the heroes of their own lives.
- Keep on communicating. A former radio DJ said it best – about the time you get sick of promoting a new song, it will hit number one and you’ll hear it on repeat all day long. This is true for communicating new ideas. They take time to catch fire and it is your job to talk about them and talk about them again until they are top of mind for your audience. Strategic plans aren’t something you can launch, and hope people remember. They take time for people to process and require regular updates on your progress. We suggest outlining a communications plan before you finalize the document. Include tactics like an update in your regular e-news, talking points for your CEO to incorporate into every presentation, a social media campaign and regular content updates on your website. We also love the idea of a visual dashboard that shows (and tells) about your progress. Your communications plan must span the length of your strategic plan, but you do have permission to build in periods of active promotion and more passive promotion.
A strategic plan is a serious investment of time and money. It can propel your organization to new heights and improve your service delivery. You owe it to your organization to keep that momentum going by investing in a communications strategy to take your plan from paper to people.