Nonprofit Communications Strategy: Did you succeed?

Part of a series: How to create a nonprofit communications plan

Evaluation is the final stage of creating a nonprofit communications strategy. It is to determine how you will know if you achieved success.

To do so, you need to look back at the goals and objectives that you set. Ask yourself: How will you know if you achieved your objectives? How will you identify if you’ve made progress in striving for your goals?

If you set measurable objectives as recommended, you’re well on your way to evaluating your success.

The evaluation section of your nonprofit communications strategy

Your evaluation section lists the benchmarks you set to determine your success.

Sounds easy enough! Many, myself included, find determining these benchmarks to be difficult–and even more so when in a nonprofit context.

For example, how do you know if you’ve raised awareness of your cause? Without statistically valid pre- and post campaign surveys of your target audience, it’s challenging to know. Except for large or well-resourced organizations that’s not likely to be available for you.

So how do you evaluate the success of your communications strategy?

5 tips on how to evaluate your communications strategy

1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

You may feel the need to be comprehensive in your evaluation. Doing so is a best case scenario. But is it realistic? Do you and your organization have the experience and resources (time / data) to be comprehensive?

If you’re just getting started, I recommend starting small. Avoid being overly ambitious. The last thing you want to do is make measurement and evaluation a time consuming task that make it difficult to do. Even the perception of being time consuming can become a barrier.

Where possible, look for stats or other indicators that are already being measured, recorded and/or tracked.

2.Quality over Quantity

There’s a couple ways to keep quality over quantity in mind.

Start small. Even one way to determine success is better than nothing. What is important is the quality of the indicator(s) used.

It’s also easy to get caught up in numbers such as how many people are on a mailing list. Be careful not to value numbers just because they are big. What’s more important are numbers that show whether you are achieving your objectives.

Over time, you can build on how you measure and evaluate. Perhaps, your organization will even invest in becoming more sophisticated in its data collection or evaluation capacity.

3. Use measurable operational data

The best way to evaluate your success is to look at your organization’s operations for indicators that you’ve made a difference. If your communications goals and objectives are consistent with your organization’s strategic plan, there should be some benchmarks or targets to determine if the organization has been successful. Can any of those be used to determine communications success?

With one of my clients, we had difficulty identifying operational ways to measure success. It turned out to be easier identifying the impact afterwards. The caseload of counselors assisting external clients noticeably increased as did requests for public presentations. Both the counselling service and public education benefited from the increased awareness achieved especially since both were a part of the information shared.

Getting your head around what is an indicator of success may take time. That’s another argument for starting small and building your evaluation capacity.

4. Use social and digital media analytics

Social and digital media come with lots of statistics. Having easy access to these numbers is a great gift to communicators looking to evaluate success. But you need to proceed with caution.

For example, when looking at social media stats avoid defining success by the number of likes on your Facebook page or how many followers your Twitter account have. Both have their place when considered within a greater context but looking at them in isolation isn’t useful and tends to be a vanity metric. What’s more important is how engaged is your community in these and other social spaces? And is it improving over time?

Or is your material being seen by the right people. If your video reaches the desired audience is more important than if it goes viral and is seen by millions around the world that aren’t who you are trying to reach.

Are you inspiring action? Are people doing what you want them to do such as participating in an online survey or start reading your blog posts regularly? Are your blog posts provoking change in how people act or think?

5.. Use deductive reasoning

What makes evaluation and measurement so tricky is that we recognize that there’s usually multiple factors at play. It’s often difficult to be confident of when a direct causal link is present.

Using deductive reasoning can help.

For example, how you communicate something is done as it is usually done and you add social media. It’s reasonable to give the credit to what you did differently. Let’s say a rain barrel sale is normally advertised in a printed, hand-delivered newsletter and sales increase when you post the sale on your website and share by social media. It’s logical to credit social media with making the difference especially if you see your posts shared or retweeted.

When analyzing Facebook stats, deductive reasoning helped me to determine if posts and videos reached our desired audience.

I realize that deductive reasoning can be easily be wrong. Yet there are many times I need to trust my gut instinct to determine if my reasoning is reliable. A combination of the quality and quantity of the information informing my conclusion helps. And cumulative experience over time also informs the reliability of my conclusions. I find it helps to check back when you have new information that can confirm if you were right.

Deductive reasoning may not be foolproof but it’s pragmatic.When working in a nonprofit environment, we can’t afford to just throw our arms up and say we  don’t have the resources for certainty. We need to do the best with the resources that we do have.

Part of a series: How to create a nonprofit communications plan