By Laura Bowen


Sometimes communications work, especially for organizations focused on positive community change, can feel like being on a hamster wheel. Limited resources, limited time, and lots of demands means staff are constantly on the go, moving rapidly from one task to the next. This is often the case when an organization has dedicated communications staff—and it can be even more overwhelming when communications is just part of a staff member’s workload. And while a lot of great communications work gets done, it isn’t always easy to tell if all of that effort is having the impact that it could—or if staff is just going around in circles.

Take a deep breath, stop running, and get off the wheel. Hitting pause on your communications efforts and investing right now in developing a communications strategy is the best thing you can do for your communications work and for your organization as a whole.

Effective communications is integral to nearly everything your organization does. Communications is critical to getting buy-in, increasing awareness and participation, and maintaining support for your organization’s goals and initiatives. Staff, board members, community stakeholders, partners, and clients all need to be reached with messages that will spark understanding and action, and that will contribute to you achieving your organization’s vision. If you are leading a large-scale community change effort this is critical to your success.

It is very easy to jump to tactics when you are juggling multiple demands. If you have ever said, “We need a brochure, a website, or how about a logo,” then you know what I am talking about. But what is often missing is the important first step—strategy.

Why is a communications strategy so essential to effective communications? Here are just a few reasons why you need a strategy:

  1. Optimize your chances of achieving your goals and having an impact. Sometimes it can feel like different departments of an organization are working in isolation. Your communications strategy should be closely tied to your organization’s strategic plan and should be helping advance your overarching strategic priorities. Having specific communications goals, objectives and activities that tie to your overall strategy provides focus and direction, increasing your chance of success.
  2. Maximize a limited budget. Assuming you don’t have an unlimited communications budget (and really, even if you do), developing a communications strategy helps you prioritize your efforts, so that you’re investing both time and resources in your highest priority goals and strategies first. It helps you avoid getting caught up in the latest and greatest communications trends and allows you to identify and abolish your “sacred cows”—the communications activities you’ve been doing for years, but that no longer effectively support your organization’s top priorities.
  3. Be nimble. This almost seems counterintuitive. Doesn’t a communications strategy tie you down to specific goals and activities, leaving no room to take advantage of new opportunities? Not quite. Instead, when opportunities come along, you will be able to quickly assess whether they fit into your existing strategy, so that you can take advantage of those that do—not just as an isolated effort, but as part of your existing, comprehensive communications work. And if something comes along that doesn’t fit, but is too good to pass up? You can always reassess and reprioritize your strategy to fit new opportunities that emerge.
  4. Assess your impact. This is critical. A communications strategy establishes metrics and benchmarks so that you can monitor your efforts and know what is working and what isn’t. Instead of spinning on a wheel, you have the tools to assess and recalibrate as you go to ensure that you are having an impact. They also enable you to communicate about your impact to the rest of the organization.

If your communications efforts are spinning you around in circles with no end in sight and no way to know if you’re making progress, it is time to develop a communications strategy. It will pay off—and you won’t end up like these guys.