Communication

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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.

Infrastructure Checklist

Recommended

Yes No In Progress Not Applicable Not Sure
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


Practices Assessment

General

No/Not Begun In Process Yes/ Complete Not Applicable Not Sure
We meet all federal requirements for public disclosure. US
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.
Our communication standards are clearly stated in writing and are part of the orientation of all employees, volunteers and board members.
We have a clearly defined, written communication plan that guides both internal and external communications and supports our comprehensive organizational plan. The communication plan is directly related to the strategic plan and demonstrates accountability to constituents and the public.
Our communication plan includes goals, target audiences, key messages, strategies, tools, intended outcomes and the means to evaluate results.
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.
We copyright or trademark organizational materials as appropriate.
We have a system in place for promptly and respectfully responding to grievances or complaints from both internal and external sources.
Our communications are clear, easily accessed and kept up to date.
We openly communicate with other nonprofit organizations to share lessons learned and best practices.

Internal Communications

No/Not Begun In Process Yes/ Complete Not Applicable Not Sure
Our internal communications are guided by clear policies and practices.
Management actively solicits, carefully listens, and respectfully responds to the views of internal constituents.
Our internal communication welcomes alternative perspectives and encourages participation at all levels in order to minimize defensiveness and build and maintain camaraderie.
We exchange information via regularly scheduled and attended meetings, regularly printed and/or e-mailed informational updates, and reports on meetings of the board of directors and its committees.
We have an understood forum for suggestions.
The line of communication between staff and the board of directors is clearly defined and well understood.


External Communications

No/Not Begun In Process Yes/ Complete Not Applicable Not Sure
Our constituents are provided with ongoing opportunities to interact with the board and management regarding the organization’s activities.
We ensure that information provided to policy makers, the media and the public is timely and accurate, and that the social and political context of information is clear to avoid misunderstanding or manipulation of the message.
We have 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.
We have written policies and procedures for developing public statements and positions on issues, and all internal constituents are aware of and trained on these statements, positions, and policies and procedures.
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.
We ensure that board and staff distinguish between personal opinion and organizational positions.
In serving the public trust, we produce an annual report that contains information regarding activities and performance, including:
  1. an explanation of the organization’s mission, activities, results
  2. an explanation of how individuals can access programs/services
  3. financial information, including income and expense statements, balance sheet and functional expense allocations
  4. a list of board members, management staff, partners/supports and donors
We have a graphics standards policy that governs the fonts, colors, logo and other such details used in all external communications, and this is employed consistently.


Walking the Talk

  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Develop and provide a safe forum for all constituents to provide feedback on organizational performance.
  • Consider generational communication differences and expectations when planning your various communication strategies – make sure your delivery systems are targeted to your audience.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.