Use a Communications Audit to Energize Your Team on Your Mission
By Jan Goldstein

Jan Goldstein 2019
Jan Goldstein
Whether you've just joined a nonprofit in a communications role or been thinking your organization’s public relations program is in a rut, it could be time to conduct a communications audit.

Done well, an audit should be an inclusive process to engage stakeholders, steward key donors, and move your mission forward.

A successful audit will equip your staff and board members with effective messages and tools for today’s competitive landscape and evolving media channels, and can generate a widespread sense of pride and enthusiasm across your organization, and help remind industry reporters about your mission. For your communications staff, an audit can provide the creative spark for media pitches, marketing collateral, digital channels, the website, and thought leadership opportunities.

Once you’ve determined that your PR program may need a refresh, get buy-in from your organization’s leadership team. The audit should be led by a communications professional, but the results should be owned by everyone in the organization because they can provide a clear path to re-energize all initiatives, materials, and events.

Elements of a communications audit include the following:

Asset Review: Gather and review existing print collateral, past media coverage, digital channel content, and other internal documents.

Ask if your messaging and visual branding are consistent and compelling. Dig into your analytics to see what portions of your website and social posts are performing best. And don’t forget a competitive analysis to see where like-organizations are succeeding where yours may be falling short.

Interviews: Who is your organization trying to motivate and inspire? These are the types of individuals you should interview.

Select a small representative group and include those who have been involved for a long time, and others who are more newly engaged. These will include board members, institutional and individual donors, funders on your organization’s wish list, leadership and frontline staff, volunteers, service provider partners, and reporters. Ask direct and consistent questions in each interview that will help you understand what audiences know about your organization’s mission and activities, how they perceive your effectiveness, and if they have ideas about what you could do better.

To elicit unfiltered feedback and give these individuals peace of mind that their comments will be kept confidential, it’s important to conduct these interviews using an impartial and independent third party, such as a PR agency or outside consultant.

Leveraging Data for Consensus: For your audit to be successful and actionable, your organization’s leadership needs to be willing to embrace everything it reveals, from the good to the bad to the unexpected.

Review all of the information you have gathered, looking for trends and surprising results. Create a presentation for your CEO—and as appropriate—your leadership team, to report on the findings and provide analysis and recommendations. Together, determine what elements should be shared more broadly with board members. Getting everyone on the same page about what’s working and what needs to change is an essential goal of the audit.

Messaging and Strategic Communications Plan Development: The most important outcome of a communications audit is a clear understanding of how your organization’s mission and effectiveness are perceived, both internally and externally.

That understanding serves as the foundation for building out a strategic communications plan, and for developing messaging that tells your nonprofit’s story in compelling new ways and, potentially, to reach new audiences. If you have an active board, consider recruiting a few members—those with a marketing or journalism background are ideal—for an ad hoc committee to help you with this important step.

Asset Refresh: Conduct a comprehensive review of your digital assets—your website, social channels, email marketing templates, and even recorded voicemail messages and email signatures—to ensure every communications channel is aligned with your refreshed strategy. Do the same with any written/printed materials that your organization plans to continue to use.

Tracking and Reporting Progress: A personal note to thank board members and donors and to share a refreshed piece of collateral will make them feel appreciated for participating in the audit and, more broadly, feel good about their involvement with your organization.
A communications audit, when implemented thoughtfully and strategically, can be a great tool for engaging internal and external stakeholders, a mechanism for gathering data to inform fresh and compelling messaging, a spark to refocus your PR program, and a way to re-energize your colleagues around your mission.

Jan Goldstein is a senior vice president at Solomon McCown & Company. She leads the firm’s mission-focused practice, working with leading nonprofit institutions in education, health care, and human services. Email or call her at 617-933-5281.
April 2019