For many nonprofit communicators, planning more than a few weeks or months at a time is a luxury. You just do the work, and roll with the changes as you go.
But that approach can leave you wondering what you are missing, and if you are doing the right things at the right times. So how can you take the time to create a real work plan without starting from scratch? How do you accept the reality that you will need to keep doing most of what you are doing now, while being more strategic and thoughtful moving forward?
I'm helping a client work through these questions right now, and we've come up with a basic framework that I thought might be helpful to others.
1. Identify basic housekeeping or good habit building opportunities that you may have overlooked.
Start by figuring out what basic best practices for your communications channels you may have overlooked while you were growing organically and just doing it. For example, are your email newsletter sign-up forms everywhere they should be? How about links to your Facebook and Twitter profiles? When you update your website or blog, are you in the habit of tagging posts properly so your site is well organized and search engine optimized? Are you communicating regularly internally with your program and development offices? Double check that all those basics are really taken care of and that you have good habits in place to support the fundamentals.
2. Take what you are doing up a notch.
You've probably been plugging along just fine with various communications tactics like your newsletter, Facebook, direct mail appeals, etc. and likely working off your intuition about what works and what doesn't. Now it's time to get more methodical about collecting data and integrating that into your thinking. You think certain kinds of posts generally do well on your Facebook Page? Go dig into your Insights and see what you find. Same thing for your website and email analytics. What do you see there that could help you take what you already do up a notch or two?
3. Plan to experiment
Now comes the really fun part. With your basic systems in place, and some improvements on what you are already doing, what can you experiment with to really learn something new? Maybe it's creating a whole different category of content, or the way you share certain types of content (e.g. being more opinionated or funny). Maybe it's exploring a new social media site, or A/B testing elements on your website landing pages. This is where you can plan to stretch a bit.
Think of it as buying an old house. You aren't going to tear it down. First, you make sure the basics are covered -- the lights, plumbing, heat, etc. all work. Then you spruce up the basic living space, maybe painting and replacing the carpet. Then you can be more creative and experiment with new home accessories or landscaping.