5 Things Nonprofit Communicators Should Stop Doing This Year

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by Sara Veltkamp


Sometimes it’s hard to say no. Especially if the request comes from a boss, good friend, or family member. But every firmly stated “no” makes room for a “yes!”


Inspired by this article in Fast Company that describes how “anti-resolutions” are more effective than resolutions, and following my “The New Year’s Resolutions I’m not going to make” post from last year, I’ve created this short list of tasks, strategies, and practices that nonprofit communicators should resoundingly reject in 2018. Some of these ideas are mine, based on several years of working in this sector with a variety of organizations big and small, and some have been curated from the brilliant people of Wired Impact – a nonprofit technology firm with a blog I recommend you all say yes to reading.


Just say no to…


1. Single-use content. Do not write something that will only be used once. It’s a waste of time, for you as a content generator and for anyone that has to edit or approve your content. One way to avoid this situation is planning. Whether you are a big organization or a small one, using an editorial calendar and mapping out content now for the rest of the year is a very good idea. Start with the things that are already on the calendar – like an annual report or the event materials that you must create. Think about conferences that staff will be attending and plan content around that.


Then add the stories you want to tell and the impact numbers you want to share, and plan the rest of your blog or other content. If you get stuck, look to resources like this list of 21 blog post ideas or peruse a competitor potential partner organization for ideas. Take these ideas and draft a calendar that works for your organization. NOTE: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There are many, many ways to create an editorial calendar.


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After you have your calendar in place, sit with it in front of you and brainstorm all the ways that the content you’re creating can be used. Can those impact statistics in the annual report work the night shift as a social media post? Could that blog story double for a print piece at your next event? It’s tough to create good content, so try to find two, three, or more ways to use something good. BONUS: It’s easier to repurpose content than to draft from scratch, so you’ll save yourself some time.


2. Creating a communications plan that is really just a batch of tactics. Email appeals are not a strategy, and neither is media relations. These are tactics. Goals and strategies are bigger, broader ideas that tactics can help to realize or move forward.


To be successful in communication planning, start with a goal, and develop large strategies for achieving that goal. For example, if a goal is to raise funds – the aspiration of most nonprofits – then a strategy might be to improve your organization’s online presence so that more people find you online and donate. There are many tactics to do this from producing better content to improving the user experience for donors. Together, these goals, strategies, and tactics are the guts of a plan.


Need more help? I know a great group of high-value consultants who would love to build a plan that’s right for your organization’s needs and resources.


3. Pretending internal news is actual news. I’m super excited that you’ve added a board member to your board. Honestly. I know how much a right-sized, diverse board can positively impact an organization’s programs, strategy, and fundraising. But, do you know who’s not excited about your new board member? The Washington Post, or even the Lexington Post – even if your organization happens to be in Lexington, Kentucky. The same is true for your fundraising event, rebrand, or attendance at big-name conferences. There may be certain audiences – programmatic partners or major donors – who need to know about these exciting internal wins. But they are not media-worthy news.



4. Trying to reach everyone. Audiences need to be defined. If your goal is to reach nonprofit partners with significant programmatic expertise, you can’t use the same materials to reach aging church ladies who’ve never worked in the nonprofit world. If you try, you’ll end up with a general, unexciting mess that doesn’t appeal to anyone. This is an extreme example, but it works when thinking about writing to attract middle-aged, professional women with no kids, or hard-working single moms. Knowing who you’re talking to is the number one way to create the best possible content.


We, along with the best communicators, suggest developing target audience personas for the people you are trying to reach. Most people create better, more focused content when targeting one person than when trying to appeal to a group. Personas give you an evidence-based “type” that allows you to draft specific content just for them. Research is required to create a good persona – whether you’re researching the audiences you want to reach, or getting more info about your current audience to improve the content you create for them – as is trial and error. But as with editorial calendars, perfection isn’t the goal. Create one or two personas, start using them, and continue to improve them over time for an even better result.



5. Sending Snaps to your donors. Or jumping on to any new social media network or craze without first knowing who uses that platform and if they are a target audience, how much time it will take, and how to do it correctly. The internet is loaded with #socialmediafails by organizations and businesses trying to be hip. Before you dive in thumbs-first, know why you’re doing it, how much effort it will take to sustain, and how much it will cost.


Do you have more don’ts to add to this list? Please share with us through Facebook (and while you’re there, like our page!), Twitter (@MinervaStrat), or send me an email – Sara[at]minervastrategies[dot]com.


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About The Author

Sara Veltkamp

Sara Veltkamp

Vice President

Sara lives in Chicago, Illinois and is Minerva's vice president. She takes a lead role in all aspects of Minerva Strategies’ smart communication strategies and implementation. She loves a challenge and is obsessed with learning new things, from how to use new platforms and tools for storytelling to languages like Amharic, French, or Farsi to mastering a difficult yoga pose. She applies this energy and curiosity to all clients’ communication challenges. Learn more about Sara.