We recently got Hulu and I spent the weekend binging old seasons of Top Chef. My favorites are always the Restaurant Wars episodes where each team has to create a restaurant from scratch in about 24 hours. Watch any show about running a restaurant, and you’ll more than likely hear the phrase “in the weeds” which means they are overwhelmed with work and can’t keep up with demand.

Sounds a lot like the life of a nonprofit communicator – especially for those of us who only have one or two people on staff, right?

“The great difference between those who succeed and those who fail does not consist in the amount of work done by each, but in the amount of intelligent work.” – Og Mandino

If you are a communications department of just one or two people, you have to make smarter decisions as to what you should focus on and what you are NOT going to focus on.

But no matter how hard you try to make those tough decisions, you will still have moments when you feel out of control.

When you are in the weeds and not sure what to do next, the best thing you can do is GO BACK TO BASICS by answering these three questions:

  1. Who Is Your Audience?
  2. What Is Your Message?
  3. How Will You Deliver That Message?

These three questions are basically the start of any marketing plan.

But paring it down to just these three keeps you from focusing on every little aspect or all of the new shiny things out there. Just answer those three questions and go. Once you start basing your plans on these three questions, life will get much simpler even if your tactics get more complex.

Here is a little more about answering each one:


You can’t market to everyone. There is no such thing as the general public.

So what type of people are on your list? Who follows you on social media? Hone in on your specific audience and be sure you have your marketing personas in place.

Knowing your audience will help you narrow down the next two options.


You need to create personal, timely, and compelling messages. Cut through the cutter with really good stories or position your nonprofit as a trusted leader with a clear voice.

You should also repurpose your content to help you get out of the weeds even quicker. Need a social media update? Just remix that newsletter article you wrote. Here are Seven Easy Ways to Repurpose Your Content.

Finally, be sure you give your people something to do, but it can’t be vague like “support” “help” or “partner”. Be specific or you won’t get the response you want. See these Five Ways to Sabotage Your Call to Action for more.


Now that you know who you need to talk to and what you need to say, now you just have to figure out how to take your message to them. Are your supporters on social media? Will email get their attention or does direct mail work best?

Be aware of your own skill sets too. Are you good at writing? Better at graphics? Go with your strengths, but being a communicator means you really need to do it all. So build on your current expertise with more training and reading. Follow blogs and subscribe to marketing newsletters that can help you rethink how you approach your own work.

Also important to delivery is tracking and measuring what works and what doesn’t. If you are constantly in the weeds, you need to focus on what works and stop wasting time on what doesn’t.

So when you are feeling overwhelmed by a project, take a deep breath and step back. Answering these three questions will help you plot a way forward and gain control again.

Published On: February 11, 2019|Categories: Workflows, Processes, and Productivity|