How can not-for-profit associations establish an effective communications strategy?

The role of communications and marketing in associations should be centred on supporting the organisation to fulfil its broad ranging goals.

To use an old adage, a communications plan is the roadmap of your organisation. Setting your communication goals is the starting point, but a communications plan is essential to map out how you will achieve those goals.

Ensure you have a strategic communications plan that works.

  1. Identify and assign key stakeholders when developing a strategic communications plan. Ensure you have all areas of the business covered, so that your efforts aren’t stalled along the way by uninformed members.
  2. Ensure you include your mission, values and a synopsis of your current situation. The plan is created from a certain perspective and point in time. Keep documentation, so you can track your progress. New board members or association will be able to see why you made such decisions.
  3. Include your key messages. These will help form content reflective of your association. Key messages are essential and need to be agreed on at the onset so all future actions promote the same messages.
  4. Develop a system for managing your communications plan. Set up a subcommittee; ask for reports from your staff or contractors. Formally review it every three months to tick off activities, amend strategies and add more.
  5. Ensure the plan comes with a budget. All communication and activities need momentum to succeed. This often involves making quick decisions with media. A strong plan and budget allows those responsible, to make quick informed decisions.
  6. Develop strategies for members and external stakeholders. They are not the same thing. If you need to advocate for an issue, and build your membership numbers, they need different (yet inter-connected) strategies.
  7. Be generous with your information and knowledge. Whilst there is a tendency not to share all the information your association has – instead keeping it for members only; there is much credibility to be sought in by being known as the ‘go-to’ organisation for information made available to the public.
  8. Host effective networking events. We aren’t all natural socialisers. Little things like name tags, thanking sponsors, welcoming new members/guests and encouraging people to swap cards and network will ensure your attendees will get a lot more out of this situation.
  9. Use social media effectively. There are huge benefits for LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to support organisational goals. Although, don’t assume your members aren’t active on social media, you may be surprised.
  10. Ask why. It is always important to ask, ‘why are we doing this again?’, ‘are we getting closer t achieving our goals?’ If your association has been running for a while, you may need to question some of the communication activities you are managing. Always ask, ‘do they still serve a purpose? Are they helpful in getting us new members?’

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