How to Get Program Staff to Use Your Editorial Calendar

You know how I feel about editorial calendars. They are the single most important tool for a communications director. So I get VERY excited when I hear a good nonprofit editorial calendar story. 

When Sharon Sharp, the marketing and communications associate at the SPCA Tampa Bay, told me the story of how she launched an editorial calendar that no one used and then changed it up so that now everyone uses it, I knew you’d want to hear the story too.  

Thanks for sharing, Sharon!    ~Kivi

Guest Post by Sharon Sharp, SPCA Tampa Bay

communications director

Sharon Sharp, SPCA Tampa Bay, and her dog, Kaya

SPCA Tampa Bay consists of several departments that all hold events. When we took a hard look at our marketing efforts, we found there were inconsistencies in the representation of these events on our marketing channels. Information about changing marketing needs was not being properly communicated to the right people. We were missing key opportunities to market efficiently.

Our director of development met Kivi at a conference and was introduced to the idea of an editorial calendar. It seemed like a perfect solution to centralize all event communication and get everyone on the same page.

The First (Unsuccessful) Attempt at a Joint Editorial Calendar

Our editorial calendar started off as an Excel document in a shared drive on our server. It listed calendar dates and all our channels (social media, direct mail, newsletters, website, e-newsletter and appeals, etc). We encouraged all departments to add their events in the corresponding cell on the channels they wanted their event promoted on. They could include detailed event information such as times and dates, a blurb about the event, associated registration links, and staff contact information in a note on that cell.

nonprofit editorial calendar


We rolled it out with high hopes.

Implementation failed hard.

Why It Flopped

Staff were not using the document at all. The editorial calendar manager was spending an incredible amount of time simply reminding co-workers that the calendar was there for their use.

Talking to staff, we recognized we had several problems:

  1. It wasn’t incorporated into what they were already doing day-to-day. It was another thing added to their to-do list.
  2. Without a prompt, staff weren’t remembering they needed to communicate information, whether to a person or into the document. Our Excel Editorial Calendar sat passively on the server and out of the forefront of their minds.
  3. We forgot they weren’t marketers. Expecting them to look at a ton of promotional channels and asking them to decide how often they should market and where was overwhelming and made them not want to use it at all.

The Second (Successful!) Attempt at a Joint Editorial Calendar

Our solution? Our organization uses Microsoft Outlook for our email and heavily uses the calendar feature for meeting appointments and to reserve resources like rooms and vehicles. Most staff live by their calendar alerts and view their calendars multiple times a day. By creating an editorial calendar within Outlook we could check problem #1 off the list: it was a tool everyone was already using! We could treat promotion efforts as “appointments to provide content” on the Outlook calendar and color code the appointment to communicate information about what marketing channels would be used.

nonprofit editorial calendar

The Calendar Reminds Staff Automatically, So Staff Don’t Need to Nag as Much

By inviting relevant staff to each appointment we could get it to show up on their personal calendar and also create automated prompts (appointment reminders) keeping them engaged. There goes problem #2!

When the appointment reminder goes off they just need to open the appointment and drop their copy and photos directly into it for marketing staff to retrieve when they are ready to draft content.

Marketing Staff Build the Plan and Program Staff Can Tweak It

Lastly, we decided marketing staff would go on the editorial calendar each month and add appointments that mapped out a suggested marketing plan for each event. To reflect changing marketing needs, event staff were encouraged to add their own appointments to the calendar. For instance, add an appointment if registrations were low and they needed additional promotion or cancel an appointment if registration was super successful and they wanted to skip that promotion.

Using this system we created a centralized place for information, provided marketing support by creating a skeletal marketing plan for all events, built in the capacity for event staff to update the calendar to reflect any changes in their marketing needs, and created automated prompts to keep them engaged using a tool they were already incorporating into their day.

I’m happy to report we now have five departments successfully contributing to the calendar!

Do you have a success story for getting program staff to participate in editorial planning and management? We’d love to hear it, so share in the comments. 

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  • Melanie Hooyenga

    Mind. Blown.

    I cannot believe how simple this is — it is GENIUS!

    • Sharon Sharp

      Thank you! It’s made my life so much easier!

  • Methodic Content

    You’re so right. It can be hard to remember that other people “aren’t Marketers” as you say. And what we might see as an innovative solution is impossibly hard to internalize for others who don’t think like we do. I liked the way you used a system that they were already using – a great way to implement new processes is to integrate with what’s working.

    Although I do find that it’s easier to see the big picture when planning on an excel sheet, if it means people actually use it then a calendar is the way to go!

    -Joel Harrison

    • Sharon Sharp

      Thanks so much! As you said, I’ve found it’s easier to get buy-in from other staff if I can assimilate what I need into what’s already working for them.

  • Brandy

    to create this – do we need to create an entire Outlook user account first? We have Office 365

    • Sharon Sharp

      I believe you should be able to do it from the Office 365 web app as well.

  • Brandy

    or could you list the steps you took to create the calendar?

    • Sharon Sharp

      Hi Brandy, I reached out to our IT team to create the calendar in Outlook for me. I’ll see if I can get some step by step instructions from them and post them here when I do. It’s really just a shared calendar that I added user permissions to so that multiple staff could add/edit/delete appointments on it.

      • Brandy

        that would be great. we have the calendar created, checked all the permissions but are having a heck of a time getting it to work just right. Like, other people add stuff the the appointment but when I open it its not there. Anyways, thank you for your reply! I’ll look forward to hearing back from you.

  • Adrian Rehn

    This is seriously great. We tried the calendar document also and no one used it. Gonna try this out!

    • Sharon Sharp

      Thanks, hope it works out for you!

  • Nicole Trevor

    Does anyone know if you can roll over an Outlook calendar from one year to the next? I work for a school, and many of our events are cyclical. I feel like I would get more buy-in if I did the lion’s share of the data entry and then asked people to confirm their roles, timeframes, etc.

  • SEEDArts

    Would you share the size of the marketing team as well as the org overall, i.e., how many marketing staff build the plan and how many program staff tweak it? Thanks!

    • Sharon Sharp

      Our marketing team is currently composed of two staff members (third starting in a week!) with one member (myself) scheduling out the skeletal marketing plan on the calendar. Our organization is composed of around 80 staff of which 8 tweak the calendar as representatives for 5 departments. Hope this helps!

  • Sarah Edkins Lien

    How did you employ color–are content/tasks color-coded by campaign/event, by staff member responsible, by platform?