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How to Write a Communications Strategy

  • Kay Parris is a freelance journalist and editor with substantial experience of the voluntary sector. 

    Strategic planning can seem like a daunting task, but it is simply a means to setting your charity’s goals and figuring out how to progress them.

    Just like a strategy for any other area of work, a communications strategy begins with the overall vision and purpose of the organisation. Specific goals about your messages and media channels then spring from that central purpose.

    Here’s a basic template:

    1. Vision and mission

    There is no point planning any projects that won’t help your charity to achieve its purpose. Before you do anything else, ensure you fully understand what that purpose is.

    Get hold of your organisation’s vision and mission statements and reproduce them. The vision is how your charity sees the future. Oxfam’s vision, for example, is: “A just world without poverty”. The mission is your core purpose, your reason for existing. Oxfam’s mission is: “To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice”.

    Not every charity articulates a vision or a mission statement. Yet these brief statements are extremely valuable in helping an organisation to find its voice, focus clearly on its objectives and measure its own success.

    If you don’t have a vision or mission already, this could be the right moment to suggest or brainstorm one into being. It goes without saying – get any text agreed by the relevant people.

    2. Set goals

    What are the key things your charity wants to achieve? Oxfam has six key goals arising out of its vision and mission, which include the following:

    • Champion equal rights for women

    • Safeguard global food supplies

    • Increase money for basic services

    You can agree goals to suit your charity’s context even if you do not have a mission statement. But it is easier to keep the goals focused and clear if you do.

    3. Key messages

    What are the essential messages and values your charity wants to convey, in view of its mission and goals? In other words, what do you want people to know about you and the issues you are dealing with? Once the key messages are enshrined in your strategy document, you will have a reference point for the stories you choose to tell about your charity: do they reinforce your core messages, or could they risk undermining them?  

    4. Name your audiences

    The people who encounter, or could encounter, your messages will include internal and external audiences, those you already communicate with, and those you would like or may need to reach, for whatever reason. For example:

    -          members/supporters of the charity


    -          volunteers – both current and former

    -          staff

    -          trustees

    -          press contacts

    -          funding agencies

    -          government bodies

    -          supporters of similar causes

    -          members of groups you have worked with

    -          members of the general public

    5. Market assessment

    Present the results of any market research you have done (even if only a straw poll or a bit of googling) to show how your target audiences currently view your charity or its issues. What kind of information are these people likely to favour and in what format?

    6. SWOT analysis

    Explain the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you are working with from a communications point of view. You need to know about any constraints, and also about any potentially useful situations. The SWOT might reveal that you have a budget too tight for printing, for example, or a supporter base that lives in a dodgy wi-fi area. On the other hand, it might flag an annual event that presents a perfect awareness-raising opportunity.

    7. Resources

    Indicate how much time and money, and how many people, can be allocated to driving your communications plan forward. Resist wishful thinking!

    8. Communications tools

    Based on everything you have analysed so far, set out which communications channels you are planning to use. Newsletter, website, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, press/broadcast coverage, public meetings, leaflets, noticeboards – the options are endless but your resources and goals are not.

    Indicate the purposes intended for each channel. They could include: awareness-raising, attracting new members, raising funds, briefing volunteers. But how will these things happen? What kind of newsletter will it be? What kind of material will you be posting on YouTube, how often and why? 

    9. Timescales and targets:

    Include a list of key targets that you hope to meet through the communications strategy by a given date – often three years into the future.

    Perhaps you are anticipating an increase in web traffic, or a target number of social media followers, new supporters or members. Be sensible about this. It’s great to be ambitious, but there is nothing like falling short of unrealistic targets to demotivate hardworking staff or volunteers.

    10. Review and adapt

    Return to the strategy periodically (say once a year) to review your tools, activities and messages. Consider how well they are reaching their audiences and serving their purposes. Adapt if necessary. 


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