Given all the pressures on nonprofit CEOs, it’s no surprise that strategic communications frequently gets shunted to the bottom of the to-do list.

Sure, many nonprofits invest heavily in communications; they promote workshops, programs and fundraisers and crowd inboxes with e-newsletters.

However these types of activities are rarely strategic. They may generate attendees for a special event or expand awareness, but they don’t move the ball down the road when it comes to advancing your mission.

This blog post is a reminder to start with strategy.

Before you invest the time and resources in communications, assess whether you get getting the most impact for your efforts. Communications can and should be an important part of your overall strategy, not an afterthought that distracts from the “real work”.

Consider these questions to get started

Do you include your communications team at the beginning of each project or only invite them in at the end?

At many organizations, leaders plan projects and launch them, then ask the communications team to “get the word out.” This makes it impossible to take a strategic approach to the communications work.  Instead, bring communicators in during planning to ensure that your end result will be a story worth telling.

Do you ask your communications team to establish mission-critical goals and objectives each year?

Often, leaders ask communicators to focus on short- term goals. You might want to increase attendance at a workshop or produce an annual report. Those are important objectives but they aren’t usually mission critical.

Try this instead: When you do annual planning, analyze your goals from a communications perspective. What do you plan to accomplish that year? How can communications strategies help you do it?  How do your regular activities—like annual reports, newsletters and events—contribute to your larger goals? How will you measure your impact?

Conducting this analysis is a difficult job for an insider. It’s a great time to engage external consultants who can bring a fresh perspective to your organization.

Are you growing the return on your communications investment?

As with any other part of your organization, you should expect your communications program to learn, adapt and improve each year.  Can you refine your target audience? Come up with more innovative ways to grab their attention? Learn from previous mistakes? Update your digital communications activities to keep up with changing preferences?

We’ve gone from a 24-hour news cycle to a 24-second one. In this environment even the best strategies can get stale fast.

Does your communications team work with your development team or just “support” them?

Fundraising has been top priority at every nonprofit I have worked with. Think beyond “more publicity for the gala” to launch creative initiatives that integrate fundraising into mission-focused communications strategies.

Want to discuss your communications strategy? Contact me to set up a time to talk.