Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Planning Better Communications

By Virgil R. Carter

How well do you, you senior staff executives and volunteer leaders communicate?  Are you all on the same page with the same communications messages?  Do your communications provide clarity about your organization’s values and priorities for the coming year?  Have you identified key internal and external audiences for whom effective communications are important for your organization? 

Communications are vitally important for effective organizations.   And for successful leadership.  A challenge for many non-profit organizations is that each individual leader may speak about different issues and seemingly unrelated priorities.  The result can often be mixed messages and confusing directions from the organization.  In addition, most non-profit organizations have a wide range of audience segments.  These segments are usually interested in some messages (and media) and not others.  Often, in the case of individual members, this is a case of “I want what I want when I want it (the way I want it).”  There is no simple, single solution for communications with diverse members and customers.  Audiences are not all a size 6, living in one geographical area, with a united sense of priorities!

What to do?  One useful proactive tool is creation of an annual communications plan.  Conceived at the outset of each fiscal year, and modified as may be necessary due to circumstances during the year, the plan contains a small number of high priority messages for the year.  For example, the messages might focus on new technical information, strategic priorities, and/or association achievements which improve the value proposition of the organization for its members and customers. 

A communications plan also includes a schedule of key events and appropriate media to reach desired audience segments during the year.  Your public relations staff can use the communications plan and schedule as the guide for creating key annual messages, presentations and articles throughout the year for volunteer and staff leaders.

For an annual communications plan to work, however, it must have the understanding and support of senior volunteer leaders, senior executives and communications staff.  These are the folks who will be doing most of the communications during the year.  Volunteer and staff leaders must understand that their individual, personal messages are secondary to the consistent presentation of the important messages from the organization each year.   This is what makes for clearer, more consistent and more effective communications, which reach more and more of your important members and customers.

Reaching your members and customers effectively is aided by repetition. Yes, I said repetition!  Repetition enables more audiences to become more aware of and understand important communications. Have you ever wondered why commercials are so repetitive?  One-time messages simply don’t have much lasting impact.

If you want to improve your association’s communications, try working with your volunteer and staff leaders to create an annual communications plan, and update it every year.  It’s one of the surest ways to reach members and customers—even the members who are challenging to reach. 

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