5 Must-Reads for Your 2021 Nonprofit Communication Strategy

Ready or not, the time has come to set your marketing and communication goals for 2021. But rather than give you a huge list of more things to do, let’s take a step back and consider how your communication strategy should evolve, not expand, after a wild year.

Sure, it’s exciting to think about new marketing tactics, social media channels, or even a new website. And maybe you’ll still move ahead with them! Just be sure to look at the big picture of what you want to accomplish and how before getting into the nitty-gritty.

What to Read Before You Make Plans

Before you start searching around for the marketing trends of 2021, take a step back and use these articles to inform and inspire your overall approach to a communications strategy.

On Digital Transformation

In addition to everything else, 2020 will be known as the year that a lot of nonprofits got their feet wet with digital transformation. That’s why Michael Reardon’s article, “Digital Transformation Is a Movement, Not a Moment” is increasingly important as you leave this year behind. As you read the article, take stock of the communications technology you’ve embraced this year, evaluate if it’s meeting your goals, and consider how you can better leverage your changing digital toolbox.

“How is your social good organization exemplifying digital transformation? Any flying cars yet? Are your teams walking around with digital wearables using artificial intelligence to tell the gift officer what to ask a potential donor? Probably not. Have you replaced your entire staff with robots? I haven’t seen that yet. More importantly, is digital transformation something that is ever really ‘done’?”

—Michael Reardon

On Diversity & Representation

In “Diversity and Inclusion: An Industry of Disparity” over on the NTEN site, author Jarrett Way offers actionable insights on how nonprofit communications staff should be moving toward more inclusive marketing. From the racial and cultural composition of our teams and hiring, to better understanding and representing diverse audiences, there is still much work to be done. What are your next steps as an organization?

“We depict value through words and imagery, and we segment groups of people to do it. Marketing has become so fine-tuned, using demographics and psychographics to create entire user personas to drive engagement. It’s necessary to question the intention and authenticity behind how you’re marketing your brand, and how you could be doing it better.”

— Jarrett Way

On Capacity Building

“Capacity” is one of those annoying insider words, and I bet it came up in some of your marketing conversations this year as you tried to do more with less. (We even talked about capacity building with websites back in February.) On the MissionBox blog, Madeleine Monson-Rosen gives a solid introduction to the importance and benefits of making additional room to focus on your mission. In “Capacity Building: What It Is and Why It Matters,” nonprofits are encouraged to take a step back and consider the big picture practices that take their focus and attention, both in marketing and across the organization. Give it a read and see if your team is ready to assess your room to grow.

“Without capacity building, you run the risk of focusing all of your energy and attention on providing services and expanding projects. This lack of a strong foundation may lead to organizational instability…and ‘mission drift’ — a loss of focus on your nonprofit’s founding principles.”

—Madeleine Monson-Rosen

On Creating Awareness

Many of the articles on Big Duck’s site can help you with brand building, but “Mindshare: How your organization stays front and center” is the one that will stick with you next year. All too often, we hear marketers and executive directors talk about creating awareness without a long-term plan to keep it going. Once you commit to building mindshare, your strategy transforms into a living, ongoing series of communications that are all about consistency rather than virality.

“Nonprofits strive to build mindshare so that they are top-of-mind when people who will benefit from their mission—or want to support it—are ready to take action…The organizations you think of first are the ones that have effectively built mindshare with you.”

—Sarah Durham

On Measurement & Optimization

TechSoup offers great content on nonprofit tech, and I especially appreciated Michael Stein’s educational post on “How Nonprofits Can Improve Their Digital Engagement with Testing.” Think back to the new things you tried through your communications this year. How many of those projects, campaigns or tweaks gave you measurable results that make your marketing better? Before you sign off on a strategy for 2021, take a look at some tests you might run to optimize your messages and the digital experience of your supporters.

“You can try making educated guesses or going with your gut, but testing is the best and most reliable way to improve a digital program. Constant changes in digital trends related to devices, platforms, and habits require a digital program to keep improving and innovating through testing.”

—Michael Stein

Extra Communication Strategy Resources

If you’re looking for more advice and nonprofit marketing ideas as you head into a new year, here are some additional tips from our team that you may have missed:

As we say farewell to 2020, here’s my wish for all of you nonprofit marketers out there. Let the year ahead be one where you don’t take on new channels or new projects just to fill your plate or make your communications strategy seem fresh. Instead, take a step back and think about the big picture—the who and why of your marketing efforts—before the what and how.

Are you approaching your communication plan differently next year? What other marketing-related articles or ideas have you read recently that got you thinking? I hope you’ll share in the comments!