Skip to main content

Strategic Communications for Nonprofit Organizations: Seven Steps to Creating a Successful Plan, 2nd Edition

Strategic Communications for Nonprofit Organizations: Seven Steps to Creating a Successful Plan, 2nd Edition

Sally J. Patterson, Janel M. Radtke

ISBN: 978-0-470-40122-4

Jan 2009

274 pages

In Stock



How a nonprofit s strategic communications department defines its issues and policies determines whether the public views it as an effective organization. Strategic Communications for Nonprofit Organizations, Second Edition supports nonprofits in using their resources most effectively. The Second Edition includes a dedicated web site, equipping professionals with the worksheets, forms, surveys, and self-assessment tools needed to create a total communications plan. Plus, the book s step-by-step instructions demonstrate nonprofit communications strategies that work. Practical and clear, this in-the-trenches book provides nonprofit CEOs with expert insights to achieve their mission.
About the Author.


Chapter 1 Getting the Most Out of This Book.

Intended Audiences.

Strategic Communications Plan Framework.

Structure of the Workbook.

How to Use This Workbook.

How to Use the Web Site.

Readiness for Strategic Communications Planning.

Chapter 2 Strategic Communications Planning Process.

Why Strategic Communications Matters.

Benefits of Strategic Communications Planning.

Roles and Responsibilities in Strategic Communications Planning.

Communications Action Team.

Communications Audit Team.

Crisis Communications Planning.

Crisis Communications Team.

Crisis Control Team.

Take the Time, Make the Time.

Chapter 3 Step One: Preparing to Plan: Essential Building Blocks.

Strategic Communications Is Grounded in the Mission.

Task One: Review the Organization’s Mission Statement.

Task Two: Review the Organization’s Program Goals, Objectives, and Financial Priorities.

Communications Audit.

Purpose of the Communications Audit.

Components of a Communications Audit.

Conducting the Communications Audit: Methodology.

Task One: Plan the Audit.

Task Two: Conduct Interviews.

Task Three: Inventory and Analysis.

Task Four: Present Findings.

Task Five: Conduct Additional Research (Optional).

Chapter 4 Step Two: Foundation of the Plan: The Situation Analysis.

Internal Analysis.

Organizational Culture.



Human Resources.



External Analysis.

Demographic Forces.

Economic Forces.

Political Forces.

Technological Forces.

Social Forces.

SWOT Analysis.

Critical Community Partners and Stakeholders.

Chapter 5 Step Three: Focusing the Plan: Target Audiences.

Understand Your Audience.

Demographic Information.

Geographic Information.

Psychographic Information.

Leadership Potential.

Profile Each Priority Audience.

Research Your Audience.

Media Review.

Readership Surveys or Membership Questionnaires.

Piggyback Surveys.

Exit Interviews or Evaluation Surveys.

Informal Discussions.

Focus Group.

Chapter 6 Step Four: Fostering Audience Support: Communications Objectives.

The SMART Test.

Cycle of the Communications Process.

Create the Communications Objectives.

Communications Objectives: Some Examples Using the Cycle of Communications.

Chapter 7 Step Five: Promoting the Nonprofit Organization: Issue Frames and Message Development.

Define the Key Themes.

Message Frames.

Media Role in Framing.

Episodic and Thematic Frames.

Conducting a Framing Analysis.


Reframing: Underage Drinking.

Message Development.

First Impressions.

Organization Descriptions.

Messages that Resonate.

Building a Message Platform for the Organization.

Chapter 8 Step Six: Advancing the Plan: Vehicles and Dissemination Strategies.

Criteria for Selecting Strategies.

Audience Responsiveness.

The Organization’s Relationship to the Audience.

How the Strategy or Vehicle Will Influence the Audience’s Perceptions.

Controlling the Message.

Effort to Implement.

Budget Issues.

Potential Uses with Other Audiences.

Evaluating Existing and Potential Strategies for Meeting Communications Objectives.

Case Study: Future Generations.

Case Study: Planet 3000.

Strategies and Vehicles to Meet Communications Objectives.

Face-to-Face Meetings.


Electronic Communications.

Audio Vehicles.


Web Sites.

Strategic Use of Communications Vehicles.

Alternative Media.

Building a Comprehensive Portfolio of Communications Vehicles to Support the Communications Objectives.

Chapter 9 Step Seven: Ensuring that the Plan Succeeds: Measurement and Evaluation.

Performance Evaluation.

Steps in the Evaluation Process.

Concepts that Have Driven the Strategic Communications Process.

Measuring Success in Achieving Communications Objectives.

Tracking Communications Activities.

Measuring Communications Impact.

Evaluation Tools.

Monitoring the Progress on Communications Objectives.

Finalize the Report.

Chapter 10 Pulling It All Together: Creating the Plan.

Building the Communications Plan.

Putting It All Together.

Creating Organizational Ownership.

Messages to Support the Communications Plan.

Tips for Building Support.

Building the Case for Sustainable Capacity.

Money: If It Is a Good Idea, You Can Sell It.

Income-Producing Possibilities.

In-Kind Contributions.

Strategic Communications Plan Template.

Appendix 1 Planet 3000 Strategic Communications Worksheets.

Appendix 2 Essential Communications Tools.

Appendix 3 Elements of a Style Manual.

Appendix 4 Expanding the Organization’s Coalitions and Partnerships.

List of Worksheets.

Suggested Resources.


Website Overview

Website Welcome

Welcome to the website for Strategic Communications Planning for Nonprofit Organizations. Here you will find the worksheets and documents to help you organize your planning sessions.

The material is set up to address five strategic challenges addressed in the book:

  • Challenge 1-Where do I start?
  • Challenge 2-Conducting a communications audit
  • Challenge 3-Preparing for a crisis
  • Challenge 4-Building a strategic communications plan
  • Challenge 5-Demonstrating capacity through a case for sustainability

Challenge 1

If you aren�t certain where do begin or what your priorities should be for the planning process, complete Worksheet #1.

Challenge 2

A communications audit is a comprehensive analysis of an organization�s communications-internal and/or external-to review communications needs, policies, practices, and capacity in order to improve organization efficiency and effectiveness.

    The five tasks are summarized in Conducting the Communications Audit

Challenge 3

Nonprofit organizations, depending on their missions, generally deal with two types of crises: emergencies and controversies. Emergencies are predictable events that cause havoc for an organization or the people it serves and that may harm its ability to perform its mission. There are five major types of emergencies:

  1. Physical or psychological injury to people
  2. The inability to continue important organizational operations
  3. Damage to or destruction of facilities
  4. Financial loss
  5. Spillover effects from something that has affected other people or other organizations

The responsibility for handling emergencies rests primarily with the staff, guided by disaster and risk management plans with board members providing collateral support where appropriate. Controversies are crises that threaten the organization�s reputation. Fraud accusations, legal disputes, or leadership conflicts are examples of controversies that challenge an organization�s integrity and effectiveness. Responding to a controversy usually requires board involvement and, possibly, board leadership.

The crisis communications plan addresses six essential questions:

  1. Who is responsible for managing the crisis, and what are his or her duties?
  2. Where should the command center be for responding to the crisis?
  3. What resources will be needed?
  4. Who should be part of the crisis control team, and what are their responsibilities?
  5. What information is appropriate to give to the public?
  6. Who will speak for the organization?

Crises do not usually get resolved with a single press statement or public announcement. It is important for crisis planners to realize that information needs, target audiences, and messaging will evolve over time, as more facts become known and as events unfold. The best way to deal with a crisis is before it happens. The strategic communications planning process provides an excellent opportunity for the board and staff to develop contingency plans for dealing with crises. A crisis communications planning team made up of both board and staff members should be created. Because crisis situations usually involve board engagement at a higher level that most communications work, both perspectives must be reflected in the planning process.

The crisis communications planning team is responsible for assessing the possible crises that may confront the organization and for developing the framework for a plan of action in the event of a crisis. Crisis situations require articulate and well-timed communications with all stakeholders and the media. Crisis communications planning is a two-step process. The first step, performed by the crisis communications planning team, is to determine what challenges could affect the organization, what prevention strategies can be implemented, and what materials need to be compiled in advance of a possible crisis. The second step is to form the team that will lead the process when a crisis actually occurs, the crisis control team. Although ,members of the crisis communications planning team may be members of the crisis control team, decision makers at the top of the organization-the chief executive and the board chair-should provide the leadership when a crisis actually occurs.

Challenge 4

Everything you need (except the coffee, M&M�s, and other trinkets to motivate your team) is included in this section. Here you will find the worksheets, the template for the strategic communications plan and the Planet 3000 case study.

Grab the following documents: strategic plan, financial plan, program and operational plans, technology plan, fundraising plan, organizational development plan and any other documents that should shape your thinking and you are ready to begin.

Challenge 5

When the development team works with the Communications Action Team on strategies for approaching foundations, developing the background for proposals and grant applications and training staff to make face-to-face presentations to prospective donors, the case for sustainability is the platform to use.

Building the Case for Sustainable Capacity
Conducting the Communications Audit
Strategic Communications Plan Template
Planet 3000 Strategic Plan Worksheets
Worksheet 1
Worksheet 2
Worksheet 3
Worksheet 4
Worksheet 5
Worksheet 6
Worksheet 7
Worksheet 8
Worksheet 9
Worksheet 10
Worksheet 11
Worksheet 12
Worksheet 13
Worksheet 14
Worksheet 15
Worksheet 16
Worksheet 17
Worksheet 18
Worksheet 19
Worksheet 20
Worksheet 21
Worksheet 22
Worksheet 23
Worksheet 24