A Communications Plan–Another Tool in Your Fundraising Toolbox

Karen Topakian founded Topakian Communications in 2010 where she serves as a writer, speaker and communications consultant. Read Karen’s Grassroots Fundraising Journal articles via this link.

May 31, 2017: Even though I wrote this piece four years ago, I believe it still rings true today. But now I would emphasize the importance of developing a social media plan as part of your communications plan. Because social media takes you directly into your donors, supporters, members, clients and allies world. They may not read every word, share every post or like every piece but they will see your efforts and successes around every corner. Plans work. But you have to make them, implement them and, then of course, evaluate them.

Many small organizations think they don’t have the capacity to undertake and implement a comprehensive communications plan because they lack a staff person or department dedicated to communications.

The task often becomes the executive director’s and the fundraising department’s joint responsibility. Where it may fall through the cracks or languish on the back burner.

Instead of looking at communications under the heading of “one more thing to do,” why not view it as part of your fundraising activities? Reaching and retaining donors proves difficult if you have only one tool – fundraising. A communications plan will reinforce and support your donor cultivation and retention efforts by advancing your mission and increasing the base of support for your work.

Instead of asking yourself, can we undertake and implement a comprehensive communications plan, read this list of benefits, then ask yourself, can we afford the risks if we don’t.

With a comprehensive communications plan your organization will:

  • Develop a strong sense of culture that staff, board and donors will help create and in which they will want to participate
  • Distinguish itself enough to attract and retain excellent staff, board and donors
  • Demonstrate that your staff, board and donors work for something larger than themselves – a greater cause
  • Showcase the effect your staff and board’s efforts have toward achieving your mission
  • Raise and refine your image in the community

Now that you can see the benefits, ask yourself if they would contribute positively and substantially to your fundraising efforts. If you answer yes, ask yourself if your current fundraising efforts could produce these same benefits. If not, it’s time to create a comprehensive communications plan that will meet your organization’s needs.

Just remember, creating a communications plan ain’t rocket science. But it will get you off the ground.

It will help you organize your actions so they lead to the fulfillment of your goal. Therefore, you need to identify your goal, e.g. cultivating new donors, building bridges with allies, reaching new clients, connecting with policy makers,…

Once you know your goal, you have another important question to answer about your infrastructure – do you have the financial and time resources and capacity to do the work.

Then you’ll need to dig a little deeper into your goal setting followed by identifying your audience and determining everything you know and can find out about them. Once you have completed this investigation, you need to implement your plan, evaluate your effort, adjust when necessary and keep at it.

If you don’t feel you have the staff time and money to implement a full strategy, undertake the planning but implement the piece you can complete consistently and competently. Then as you practice and improve, you will find you will have time to add to it.

Finally, consultants can guide you through the process and help you implement the plan. However you choose to proceed, don’t ignore or avoid this critical fundraising tool.

Karen Topakian, owner of Topakian Communications, works as a writer, speaker, communications consultant and activist. She once served as the director of the Agape Foundation, as a nuclear disarmament campaigner for Greenpeace, a community organizer in Providence, RI, a private cook for a multi-millionaire, a production assistant for a children’s theater company and a terrible cocktail waitress. Currently, Karen chairs the board of Greenpeace Inc.