The Nonprofit Communicator’s Toolbox: Traditional tools & tactics

This post is part of a series on How to Create a Nonprofit Communications Strategy.

Now comes a tremendously significant step in developing a communications strategy for your nonprofit. You need to select the tools that you plan to use to deliver your key messages to your desired audiences.

We’ve already covered 5 communications tools that every nonprofit needs. This post provides an overview of traditional communication tools for you to consider. The next post in the nonprofit communications strategy series will look at digital media options.

While there’s a lot listed in this post, not every traditional possibility is included here. If you see one of your favourites missing, please be sure to add it in the comment section at the very end of this post.

How to choose communication tools

First, let’s take a quick look at your framework for making decisions on tools and tactics.

Consider how best to use your available resources—financial, staff and volunteers—that will help you connect your key messages to your target audience.

  • Be realistic about what you can do
  • Speed, ease and control of distribution
  • Complexity of the message & degree of control required
  • Set priorities based on how you can get the best bang for your buck
  • Be flexible. Stay open to adding new tools in the future that are consistent with your plan/strategy

Overview of the Nonprofit Communicator’s ToolboxTraditional tools inside a toolbox

The tools listed can be used with internal or external resources. Just be careful that you use the people with the skill set necessary. A good desktop publisher on staff may be able to meet your needs for a pamphlet but the quality obtained by using a professional designer and printer may be more appropriate. There’s no point for example to spend money on a newspaper ad and then submitting an amateurish ad.

Print Materials

  • brochures/pamphlets
    • Keep the text light and keep whitespace. Use bullets and subheads to help people to scan the text.
  • posters 
  • newsletters
    • A chance to inform and influence, build community connections and strengthen image.
    • Labour intensive and can be expensive to print and mail
    • Have a consistent layout and plan for content
    • A 4 page newsletter is often best
    • Decide on a schedule and stick to it
    • Talk about people, benefits, outcomes instead of numbers and process
    • Keep stories short (about 500 words)
    • Include big pictures and white space
    • Use subheads and bullets to help the reader skim and scan quickly
    • Remember they have a long shelf life
  • annual report
  • banners, displays & sandwich signs
    • pull-up banners seem to be a must-have these days and that’s probably nearly true
    • other options such as table top displays, sandwich signs, traditional banners and flags may also be desirable
    • which and how many depends upon your needs and your strategy
    • keep them simple and attractive
    • to be effective be sure there’s not too much text or that the text is too small

Media relations 

  • news releases & media advisories to get media coverage through articles and feature reports
    • Make sure what you send in a news release is “hard news” that a reporter or editor will find worthy of doing a story on
    • To be “news” it should be something brand new, different or unique
    • “Soft news” such as human interest stories can be arranged directly with a reporter or editor
    • Be sure your news release follows professional standards
    • Send in the body of an e-mail to your media list
    • Can also be sent to other key stakeholders
    • Post your news release on your website
    • Advisories invite the media to cover a newsworthy event with just enough information to get them interested.
  • letters to the editor / opinion columns
  • one-on-one interviews with the media
  • meet with editorial boards
  • have one (or more) spokespeople
    • does not always need to be the most senior administrator
    • o may be better to reserve the senior administrator for when most needed
  • experts available for media
  • hold news conferences
  • participate on talk shows

Public Service Announcements

Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are very popular among nonprofits. In my experience though they often don’t exist. In Canada anyhow, they are not mandated for any media and if done are voluntary. More often media prefer to give nonprofits a discount such as BOGO. When you can get one, they are often not very effective or used where few people will see/hear them.

But if you have the time and resources available, contact media outlets in your area to find out what is possible.

Community/Public Relations Tactics

  • public speaking
    • speaker’s bureau
    • a great way to help deliver your messages to the community
    • uses a diversity of people and experiences
  • public meetings
  • educational opportunities
  • mall displays
    • good consumer targeting
    • cost-effective but most effective with someone at display
  • special events
  • displays
  • trade shows or special client-group meetings
  • annual meetings

Internal Communications

  • meetings
  • newsletters (internal)
  • e-mail
    • example sharing news reports
    • bulletin board messages
  • employee special events

Government Relations

  • regular contact with key officials
  • add government officials/offices to your mailing list
  • briefings/briefing documents

Paid Advertising

Size and frequency are two important criteria to determine if you use paid advertising and which options. Funds must cover enough of one or both criteria to make it worthwhile.

  • direct mail /admail
  • print – newspapers, magazines, etc.
    • good for conveying details
    • size and frequency is important
  • radio
    • effective if carefully targeted
    • frequency important
  • television
    • effective in reaching broad target audiences, expensive
  • outdoor
    • good for mobile audiences and public awareness
  • transit ads
    • good for urban audiences
    • effective but a big budget item

Word of mouth

Learn more about the most powerful communications tool in this post.

What would tools, tactics or advice would you add? Any Questions?

This post is part of a series on How to Create a Nonprofit Communications Strategy.

photo credit: spinster cardigan via photopin cc