"Let's stop and see where we are before we add anything else."

Many nonprofits -- maybe yours? -- have reached this conclusion about their communications. Your staff gets overwhelmed by the number of communications channels and creative possibilities. That leads to discussions about reviewing or auditing the current situation, and nonprofits will often turn to outside consultants like me to help them with these assessments.

My first questions back to the nonprofit in these cases are about understanding whether the organization needs a marketing audit or a communications audit. So what's the difference?

Marketing Audits

Marketing audits get at core strategic questions like:

  • Are we approaching the right groups of people?
  • Are we positioning the organization properly within this community?
  • Do our messages resonate?
  • Are we using the right mix of communications channels to reach these people with these messages?

If you can't easily describe your core groups of participants or supporters or if you aren't sure about what you should say to those people, then you need a marketing audit (likely followed by the creation of a marketing strategy).

If you can describe the people you are trying to reach and your messages to them, but you aren't getting the results you want, then you need a marketing audit (likely followed by an updated marketing strategy).

If your programs and services have grown or otherwise changed significantly, but you don't think your communications have adjusted accordingly, then you need a marketing audit (likely followed by an updated marketing strategy).

I do marketing audits and strategy updates as part of my consulting practice.

Communications Audits

Communications audits, on the other hand, are about reviewing how well you use communications tools. In other words, they focus on the implementation of the marketing strategy. During the course of a communications audit, you will be asked to identify your target audiences and messages, but a communications audit won't tell you whether you have the right audience or the right message.

When I do communications audits, I focus on these questions instead:

  • Do your communications present a unified, professional, and consistent brand or personality to your supporters across communications channels?
  • Do your communications present consistent messages and calls to action to your supporters across channels?
  • Does the content of your communications feel relevant and meaningful to the people receiving them, or are they left asking, "So what and who cares?"
  • How does the tactical implementation and use of each communications channel compare to nonprofit best practices and to other nonprofits in this field? I use criteria related to frequency, content mix, writing style and mechanics, design and visuals, branding, integration with other channels, and ease of production.

I also do communications audits as part of my consulting practice.

Do-It-Yourself Communications Audits

If you are interested in doing a communications audit in-house, I've created an e-book just for you called "How to Do Your Own Nonprofit Communications Audit." It's $40.