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Nonprofit organizations should have thoughtful, intentional systems for general communications, marketing and media relations in order to promote and advance mission achievement. Internal communications help to motivate, inform, and counsel employees and volunteers of nonprofits and to set the stage for external communications. External communication helps to attract and retain constituents and to raise public consciousness, understanding and commitment to the organization. Working with the media is a necessary part of effectively communicating an organization's mission to the general public, donors, volunteers and policymakers.

All organizational communications should adhere to the highest ethical and professional standards, as well as any industry specific standards that may exist, including principles of transparency, fairness and honesty. These standards should be clearly stated in writing and should be part of the orientation of all employees, volunteers and board members.

Assessment Items


Legal Essential Recommended
We have clear policies regarding confidentiality of certain communications, images, and personal information. X
We have a system in place for promptly and respectfully responding to grievances or complaints from both internal and external sources. X
We regularly review and update our branding and messaging to accurately reflect the diversity of individuals that we currently serve and aspire to serve in the community. X
We have a social media policy that outlines clear rules around the use of social media and that designates one person or team to oversee such efforts. X
We have established and promote a clear brand that is supported by our logo, graphic standards, messaging, tone, and actions. All communications are consistent with our brand. X
We have written communication standards that are part of the orientation of all employees, volunteers, and board members. X
Our organizational communications adhere to the highest ethical and professional standards, as well as any industry specific standards that may exist, including principles of transparency, fairness and honesty. X
We copyright or trademark organizational materials as appropriate. X


Legal Essential Recommended
Our communication plan includes goals, target audiences, key messages, strategies, tools, intended outcomes, and evaluation strategies. X
We have a clearly defined, written communication plan that guides both internal and external communications and is integrated into our day-to-day work and organizational strategy. X
We have a written crisis communication plan that includes procedures to communicate internally as well as with the public and the media. X
Our communication plan is shared and regularly reviewed with our staff, board, and key volunteers. X
Our communication plan is updated regularly to ensure the plan stays current with organizational priorities, technology and communication trends (such as social media). X
Our communication plan ensures that we are making the appropriate information available to the public and communicating in a clear and timely manner with those who request information. X


Legal Essential Recommended
Appropriate norms of communication between staff and the board of directors are clearly defined and well understood. X
Management actively encourages participation, feedback, and diverse viewpoints at all levels of our organizational communication. X
We hold regularly scheduled and well-attended internal meetings to exchange informational updates among staff and share reports from board meetings. X


Legal Essential Recommended
We ensure that information provided to policy makers, the media, and the public is timely, accurate, and provided within appropriate context. X
All basic organization information is easily accessible (IRS Form 990, annual report, financial statements, fees & services, board & staff members names). X
We produce an annual report that contains details on: (a) the organization's mission, activities, results, (b) how individuals can access programs/services, (c) financial information, including income and expense statements, balance sheet and functional expense allocations, and (d) current board members, management staff, partners, and donors. X
We ensure that board and staff are aware of our organizational positions on issues and can further distinguish between their personal opinion and organizational positions. X
Our constituents have regular opportunities to interact with the board and management and provide feedback regarding the organization’s activities. X
We have one or more spokespersons that are authorized to make public statements on behalf of the organization and all internal constituents are aware of these spokespersons. X
We have written policies and procedures for developing public statements and positions on issues. X
We have a media relations strategy that includes frequently updating all major press, television, radio and internet news sources, building relationships with individuals in the local media, and coordinating messaging across platforms. X


All basic organization information easily accessible (IRS Form 990, Annual Report, financial statements, fees & services, board & staff members’ names)
Clear brand
Confidentiality Policies & Procedures
Crisis Management Plan
Distinguish between personal opinion & organizational positions
Ethics Standards
External communications/public relations/media plan
Graphic standards
Grievance policy & procedures
Internal communication policies & procedures
Policy & procedures for developing statements & positions on issues
Privacy policy
Social media policy
Spokesperson(s) authorized to make public statements
We meet all federal requirements for public disclosure. US

Best Practices

General Strategies

  • Consider generational communication differences and expectations when planning your various communication strategies – make sure your delivery systems are targeted to your audience.
  • Ask board, staff and volunteers if there are ways to make your newsletter and annual report (and other external communication pieces) more effective. What are the highlights? What isn’t captured? Who else should receive it?
  • Consider a wide range of electronic communication and social media as options for communicating with constituents; engage staff/volunteers familiar with technology trends to help you make decisions in the absence of a formalized strategy.
  • Communicate regularly with other organizations in your area. Share information and resources to establish your organization as one who is invested in improving the community rather than competing. Keep abreast of activities and events that impact your sector’s work. Consider participating in networking events or conversation circles.
  • Identify key contacts with local government units (city, state, county, various departments) and business leaders to keep them apprised of your efforts. Add contacts to your newsletter mailing list or email alert system. Schedule breakfast or lunch meetings that will help you build a relationship before there’s an issue to address. Discuss mutual goals as well as opportunities for partnership and collaboration.


  • Develop an internal process for reviewing written material before it’s disseminated to ensure accuracy, clarity, and consistency.
  • Discuss the organizational branding approach/policy with board and staff to ensure everyone has a common understanding of intended message and impact of communications.
  • Build a couple of key points into staff and board orientation:
  • IRS public disclosure regulations and organizational process for meeting them
  • Appropriate use of organizational logo, symbols, letterhead, statements and other official materials
  • An orientation to the basics of the nonprofit’s communications plan – make sure everybody understands what needs to be approved by whom.
  • Develop and provide a safe forum for all constituents to provide feedback on organizational performance.
  • Develop a media specialist on your staff and coordinate communications efforts with your advocacy, lobbying, and policy efforts for consistency of message. Spend some time developing a database of local media, get to know their focus areas and deadlines, and identify the right contact in each outlet. Establish yourself as a resource for media outlets: in addition to releases about your organization’s events, help them with breaking stories by sharing relevant data and background information on a particular topic. Give them leads on other stories that may be newsworthy.


  • Develop a centralized file of approved public statements (including an organizational “elevator speech”) regarding organizational mission, vision, history, and primary talking points. Share with board, staff, and other key volunteers.
  • Develop a communications strategy to keep your community engaged and informed. Share annual reports, newsletters, and media releases with targeted individuals. Invite constituents to focus groups or town-hall meetings to discuss community needs and gain input on your work. Establish a context of partnership and stewardship of community resources.
  • Encourage staff and board to collect and submit good stories on an ongoing basis for use in annual report, grant applications and reporting, evaluation reports, and other public communications.