Do-It-Yourself Communications for Nonprofits on a Budget

by Jo-Ann Mort and Julie Sedlis

Even if you can’t afford communications staff, there are steps that you can take to effectively run your own communications. They involve planning, structure and a set of best practices.

As we’ve written before in eJewishPhilanthropy, the core of any effective communications strategy is a clear concise message that accurately reflects your vision. It is easy to write up a paragraph that you like and call it a day. But that won’t accomplish what you need to accomplish. Take some extra time so that your paragraph is tailored, word-by-word, to reach your target audience with the greatest impact possible. That’s step number one.

Make sure that you aren’t the only one who looks at your statement or mission description. When we begin work with a client, the very first thing we do is review their materials so that we have a good idea of who they are, what they do, and where they want to go. Often times, we catch gaps that they never would have seen. That’s because we step back and take a look at the communications and operations of the organization on a macro level, something that can be very difficult to do internally.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re building your communications strategy:

  • Consider all of your target audiences. What do you need to do to reach them? What type of social media makes the most sense?
  • Develop a targeted press list. Be realistic about who you think will cover you. Find the most appropriate person to contact. The turnover rate for who that will be changes more often than you’d think. Stay on top of current contacts. If you can develop relationships, do. Remember, reporters are people too and they’ll appreciate courtesy.
  • Make the job easy for reporters. Even a simple do-it-yourself website should be clear and concise so that any reporter on deadline can find easily accessible contact information and basic facts about your organization.
  • Apply your strategy across the board. If you design guidelines or talking points, share them with everyone in your organization. You never know who will be called on to answer a question or make a statement. Even your interns should have access to official language and materials. When you ask them to tweet or blog, you’re going to want your official voice to come through.
  • Don’t overthink. Sometimes, the most obvious choice is the best. Originality is important, but there is a place for convention and used properly, it can amplify your message and help you connect with your audience.
  • Update. Keep your language and strategy fresh and current. It will save time and avoid unnecessary internal back-and-forths about decisions that have already been made.
  • Aggregate. Make sure all your materials are available in a central place. Websites are cheap and easy these days. If you have one, make sure every YouTube link, PDF, and link to articles about you is available and easy to find.

Even if your work means that you’re not out giving speeches or writing for Huffington Post, it is important that your message and materials are framed to most effectively promote your vision. If your entire public face exists on Facebook, that means two things: one, you need to diversify, and two, everything on that page had better be perfect.

For small organizations, new organizations or those on a tight budget, the bulk of your time should go into achieving your vision. Even if growth isn’t part of your plan, you’re going to need to have some money and influence. A strong, sophisticated public face will help that happen.

Social media, like do-it-yourself websites with blog posts, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are excellent outlets for small non-profits. But, you can’t simply slap anything on these sites. Spend some time creating a strategy – what do you want your visitors or fellow-tweeters to come away with about your organization and your output? Who do you want your visitors to be? How will you drive traffic? And when is too much material, well, too much.

Also, don’t confuse your professional and personal posts. If you want to have a Facebook presence for your organization, keep it that way. If you want to project yourself as an organizational leader then your posts should convey that role. That means that the photos of the family trip go someplace else.

The fact is that communications departments exist for a reason, and it’s not just because more work comes in when you do a good job of communicating your output. No matter how competent and intelligent your staff is, without a communications strategy, they will end up trying to reinvent the wheel – wasting time and money. But any organization, even with a tiny budget, can be smart and strategic about their outreach.

Jo-Ann Mort is CEO of ChangeCommunications, a New York based strategic communications and resource development consulting group. Julie Sedlis works on social media strategy with ChangeCommunications. For information about their one-day communications boot camp for small nonprofits, visit