Building nonprofit communications capacity, Part 1: five good ideasThis week, I had the incredible honour of presenting for the Maytree Five Good Ideas event series, facilitating a session on building nonprofit communications capacity.

In keeping with the Five Good Ideas model, I started the session by presenting my ideas on building nonprofit communications capacity. Understanding that pressing needs for nonprofit communicators include skills development, time and resources – and that the latter two are simply part of the reality of working in the sector – I suggested five ideas for taking capacity building into our own hands (you can find the video of the presentation embedded below).


Five Ideas

1. Think smaller

Give yourself permission to succeed at a small scale and then build. Plan communications with realistic, specific audiences in mind and achievable goals.

Say goodbye forever to the ‘general public’ as an audience and think instead about who your true stakeholders are/should be. Focus in on a defined, specific group you are trying to reach and engage with and then do so meaningfully.

Also, give yourself permission to focus on the basics. Once you have the basics in order, you’ll feel like you have a foundation from which to grow your communications.

  • Do you have defined communications objectives that relate back to your organization’s strategic priorities?
  • Have you established clear key messages that are aligned with your nonprofit’s brand?
  • Do you have solid core materials including visual identity and messaging guidelines, presentation templates, media kits, marketing materials, and a well-written, well-designed website? If not, start there and get these items in order.

A useful resource and a great read is Brandraising: how nonprofits raise visibility and money through smart communications by Sarah Durham. This book offers very helpful, specific guidance in the area of getting your basics, including your brand and your messaging platform, in order.


2. Stop doing one ‘old’ thing, try one ‘new’

If you’re at capacity and you plan to add more, something has got to go. The good news: there is a very good chance there is at least one ongoing project, activity or publication that can be dropped.

Critique your work.

  • Are you still implementing something that has lost its appeal or relevance to your audience?
  • Is there a tactic that is simply not getting the intended results?
  • Is there something you’re doing for no better reason than because you or your organization has always done it?

And if you can’t drop something altogether, scale it back in scope or frequency, or in resources or time allocated to it.

Take this idea one step further by auditing your communications. An audit will help you to identify what’s working and what you can drop. It will also reveal what knowledge, skills and training are most important for you to develop. Have a look at the No Pain, All Gain, Do-It-Now Nonprofit Communications Audit – a blog post from Nancy Schwartz at Getting Nancy outlines simple steps and questions to ask in order to conduct your own communications audit.

Give yourself the ability and the room to innovate; it is a big part of growing your capacity.


3. Leverage more of what you already have

Leverage what you already have, starting with your content. The content creation process is time- and resource-intensive so put your content to work for you.

Every time you write copy, take a photo or shoot a video, consider how it can be reused or refreshed for other channels – for a blog post, your annual report, a Facebook or Google+ update, a direct mail piece or email campaign.

Create more efficiencies and systems: photo and video libraries, an archive system for stories, testimonials, and other content. Create a repository for your content and a way for those who need it, to access it.


  • Not everyone is reading everything that you publish
  • Different people like to consume information in different ways, and
  • As communicators, we already know that we have to repeat our main messages several times, across multiple channels

So don’t be shy about offering your content in different formats. This is not about copying and pasting; it’s about adapting your message and your content to make it relevant for your difference audiences.


4. Invest in yourself

If you build your skills and expertise, you’ll be able to make better decisions about:

  • Where to deploy limited resources
  • What new ideas are worth pursuing


  • You’ll fuel creativity for how you’ll be leveraging your existing assets, like content.

Make a plan to keep abreast of marketing communications trends and the emerging channels and technology available to you. And make sure it’s a plan that you can either pursue on your own or with the support of your employer.


  • University courses
  • Books
  • Newsletters and blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Conferences: Don’t forget the inexpensive or free local mini-conferences like Social Media Week or PodCamp.
  • Online communities: Including Facebook and LinkedIn Groups, Google+ communities or Twitter chats.
  • Free or paid webinars: Check out the offerings from Charity How-To and Nonprofit Webinars.
  • Online courses and conferences: Have a look at the courses from Marketing Profs University and consider online conferences like the Online Nonprofit Technology Conference from the Nonprofit Technology Network.

Many of these options also allow you to get familiar with new platforms: something you might need to consider as content marketing grows in importance for your nonprofit.


5. Schedule productivity

Get the most out of your existing time and resources, by boosting your productivity using a few simple scheduling techniques.

Schedule productivity periods. Designate periods in each day to creating, writing, planning and otherwise producing. Schedule non-negotiable, distraction-free periods of time during which you focus only on one project or task and shut out any distractions. Try my recommended length: 50 minutes.

Close the door, work from home, work in a meeting room or hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the back of your chair. Ignore all emails, phone calls, social media and internet searches and make a commitment to 50 minutes of focused, uninterrupted productivity.

Schedule ‘hats’. Because communicators are often folks wearing ‘other hats’, schedule productivity for specific projects. Designate a time of day or a day of the week to each core activity to make sure you can keep all of your projects moving. Pull the activities out of project plans and put them on your calendar.

Schedule learning. Build time into your schedule to learn and stay current. Carve out at least one hour a week, but more if you can handle it.

Schedule less meeting time. Don’t let meetings kill your productivity. Schedule meetings wisely and keep certain times of day off limits. Change your default meeting length to 30 minutes instead of one hour. Apply this when you invite others to meet with you, and when invited, ask if meetings can be kept to 30 or 45 minutes. And protect your schedule; don’t allow meetings to encroach on the time you’ve scheduled for productivity and learning. Rearrange if you have to, but preserve the time.

These were my five ideas, but we spend the majority of the session tapping into the insights from the very smart communicators in the room.

I asked the group to share their answers to the following questions:

  • What would you be able to accomplish – for your nonprofit and those you serve – with greater communications capacity? What would results look like in your communities?
  • What would help you to get closer to your vision (serving people better, increased profile for your organization, voice for those who need it, etc.)? What needs to be in place?
  • What steps can YOU take in the coming days, weeks and months to increase and enhance your communications capacity?

I’ll be sharing the results of their discussion in over the next few days…

Here’s the video recording of my presentation:

See the rest of the posts in this series:

Related Posts

50 minute work segments: my key to maximum productivity

50 minute work segments: my key to maximum productivity

What do I do when I really need to get things done? I get things done. How? Through 50 minute work segments. I’m always entertained by the countless applications and ‘hacks’ geared to accomplishing more in a workday, because for me, it’s simple. If I need to write,...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This