Your Strategic Plan Is Approved. Now What?
By Roger Sametz
Your nonprofits strategic plan has been approved by the right stakeholders; now its time to begin to turn your plan into results through strategic communications.
Strategic plans, in order to be realized and make a positive difference, require that people think and act in your favor externally and internally. Setting a goal that youll increase contributed support by X% requires that you actually do something to move donors and prospects to fulfill this goal. Positing that youll engage a wider swath of your surrounding community in your mission means you actually have to engage this community in a meaningful way. And internally, setting a goal that youll become a more collaborative organization requires that people see the value in that evolution.
Even aiming for the oft-heard goal of achieving a higher level of excellence in all we do, requires that people across your organization understand what that means for them, and feel moved to join in.
Getting people to think and act in your favor has a lot to do with what you offer and how you behave, but its tough to influence thinking and behavior without putting effective communications in the mix. You need people to believe in your plan and want to participate.
To move people closer to youto engage them in a shared journeyyou need to compellingly communicate your goals, explain how theyre relevant, and share how participation can make a difference not only to your organization, but to them. In short: every strategic plan also needs a corresponding communications plan if it is to succeed.
Develop your top-line messages. Using what youve learned in crafting your plan, synthesize your main message: Why is achieving this plan important for the short- and long-term health of your organization? What will be different when its achieved, and how will it help to fulfill your mission and increase your impact?
Identify the different constituencies whose interest, participation, and support are critical to realizing part or all of your plan. What do they care about? What do you want each one to think and do? (An orchestra member is a very different constituent than a community leader or a major donor, and how youd like them to participate is quite different, too.)
Through the process of generating your plan, youve probably gained these insights, but if not, take the time to have additional conversations with stakeholders. Be sure that youre clear on which part(s) of your plan you need different people to believe in, support, and help realize.
Find the intersection between what your organization wants to advance and what these different constituents care about, and will support or participate in. Under the big-picture vision that heads up your plan, what goals are meaningful to each audience? Then develop more specific messages for these different stakeholders.
Tell stories. Make peoples participation relevant and personal. Craft narratives that help them envision how a realized plan will make a difference at both the organizational and individual level and how their participation is critical to your success.
Communicate through appropriate channels. For internal audiences, you might secure a guest slot at a staff presentation. For prospective major donors, perhaps reach out tag-team style, and arrange visits by both board members and high-level staff.
Train ambassadors. Even those with the best of intentions (and greatest enthusiasm) will benefit from being immersed in main messages, supporting points, specific messaging tilts for different constituencies, and even some role playing.
You want your ambassadors to be comfortable, fluent, and able to pivot: if a person or group cares about a different part of your plan than was anticipated, a good ambassador will easily shift to speaking about whats meaningful for that particular opportunity. Those who were part of crafting your plan are good prospects for being ambassadors.
Write and design needed print collateral (or a microsite, or email template) in your brand system...and use writing and design to express how your realized plan will make a difference for your organization and its constituents. Even the most verbally compelling plan will benefit from the thoughtful use of color, typography, imagery, and design. Plans are aspirational (and, one hopes, inspirational) and your writing and visual presentation should reinforce that.
Keep your audiences updated. How are you progressing on realizing the plan? How close are you to achieving each of your goals? Strategic plans usually span a number of years, so a one-shot approach to communicating wont work. Make good use of existing communications, such as newsletters. Craft a schedule for updates to keep people involved but be sure its a schedule you can execute.
Celebrate your successes. As you start to achieve some of your goalsparticipation is up; youre closer to a sustainable financial position; community initiatives are generating positive buzzlet your constituents (and particularly your ambassadors) know. A little celebration can provide the motivation needed to achieve the balance of your plan.
By crafting and implementing a communications plan that moves people to think and act in your favor, youll move your strategic plan from being just thata planto realized goals that will make a positive difference for your organization and the people you serve.
Roger Sametz is president and CEO of Sametz Blackstone Associates, a Boston-based brand consultancy that integrates brand, editorial, and digital strategy with design and digital media to help advance a wide range of nonprofits. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.