Excellent internal and external communications will advance a nonprofit’s mission, inspire its stakeholders, and increase its impact. Every nonprofit should aspire to engage stakeholders with impactful communications.
Effective communications also help to ensure public trust in the organization. Internal communication is essential to motivate, inform, and counsel employees and volunteers and to set the stage for excellent external communication. External communications are necessary to: attract and retain stakeholders; raise public awareness; and increase understanding, commitment, and funding for the organization.
A nonprofit should have a clearly defined, written communication plan that guides both internal and external communications and supports the comprehensive organizational plan. The communication plan should be directly related to the strategic plan and demonstrate accountability to constituents and the public. It should be updated regularly to ensure it stays current with organizational priorities, technology, and communication trends (such as social media).
A nonprofit communication plan should include goals, target audiences, key messages, strategies, tools, intended outcomes, and the means to evaluate results.
A nonprofit should encourage internal communication that welcomes alternative perspectives, encourages participation at all levels, minimizes defensiveness, and builds and maintains camaraderie. Management should actively solicit, carefully listen, and respectfully respond to the views of internal constituents.
Internal communications should be guided by a clear policies and practices manual, regularly scheduled and attended meetings, regularly printed and/or e-mailed informational updates, an understood forum for suggestions, and reports on meetings of the board of directors and its committees.
Policies and procedures may cover the following:
- Appropriate communications channels between staff and board members
- Reporting schedules
- Feedback mechanisms
If not covered in a separate policy, rules regarding staff and volunteer use of communications tools:
- social media channels, etc.
Policy should include or reference another policy outlining security of passwords for various communications channels
Public Statements & Positions
A nonprofit should have a written procedure that stipulates who has the authority to make public statements on behalf of the organization and the procedures for developing the statements. Board members, staff, and volunteers should be trained on the organization’s statements, positions, policies and procedures. The statements and positions should represent the full range of views of the organization’s constituencies.
A nonprofit communication plan should ensure that the organization is making appropriate information available to the public and communicating in a clear and timely manner with those who request information. Constituents should be provided with ongoing opportunities to interact with the board and management regarding the organization’s activities. There should be a system in place for promptly and respectfully responding to grievances or complaints from both internal and external sources.
A nonprofit should develop a media relations strategy that includes frequently updating all major press, television, radio and internet news sources, builds relationships with individuals in the local media, and coordinates messaging across media.
In serving the public trust, a nonprofit should produce an annual report that contains information regarding activities and performance, including:
- an explanation of the organization’s mission, activities, and results,
- an explanation of how individuals can access programs/services,
- financial information, including income and expense statements, balance sheet, and functional expense allocations, and
- a list of board members, management staff, partners/supports, and donors.
Distinction Between Personal and Organizational Positions
A nonprofit organization should ensure that board and staff distinguish between personal opinion and organizational positions. This is especially important when publishing information online or in print. A nonprofit organization may be held accountable for statements made by a board or staff member.
Crisis Communication Plan
Preparing a communications plan prior to a crisis will help to ensure the nonprofit in question is able to remain in the driver’s seat – and out of the hot seat. The purpose of having a plan is simple – it helps the organization more effectively manage communications through a formal, clearly defined channel in order to mitigate a crisis, or serious negative repercussions. Additionally, a plan provides the nonprofit an opportunity to proactively demonstrate to the community strong organizational leadership.
Resources and Sample Documents
W.K. Kellogg Foundation: Template for Strategic Communications Plan
Minnesota Council of Nonprofits: Social Media
Network for Good: Developing a Nonprofit PR Plan
Cause Communications: Communications Toolkit for the Nonprofit World
Knowhow Nonprofit of the National Council of Voluntary Organizations: Communications Toolkit
United Way of Central New Mexico: Communications and Marketing
GivingTuesday: 2017 Communications Toolkit