DIY stratetgic communications planning for nonprofits: Step 2—Key Audiences

Flickr/Andrea JosephAfter my last strategic planning post, I’ll assume you’ve made a list of the actions you want to happen in the world as a result of your nonprofit’s efforts. That clarity is all-important as you move on to the next step in strategic communications planning—determining your key audiences.

Many nonprofits give this step short shrift, believing it’s obvious to everyone who those audiences are. But I urge you to spend time on this, even if you believe you already know your key audiences. You may know their broad outlines, but do you know their names and addresses?

I’m only partly joking here. Drilling down to name specific people within your key audiences can be very illuminating. For instance, if you’re managing an advocacy campaign with a goal of legislative change–do you really need to reach every legislator? Maybe you only need to build a relationship with a few members of a certain committee. Or if you’re trying to organize moms to rally in support of early childhood education, do you really need (or have the resources to) reach out to every mom in that area? Are there already grassroots leader moms that you can support to do the organizing for you? Sometimes the levers of change require the force of masses, but sometimes they are in the hands of very few people.

But let’s back up a minute here. Going back to the question of who can make it happen, the more specific you were about your objectives in step one, the more specific you’re going to be able to be about your audiences in step two.

For each of your action objectives—what you want to happen—brainstorm a list of types of people who can help achieve that objective. Do you need to reach small business owners in a particular neighborhood? Young Latino adults? Program staff at a foundation? Seniors in high income zip codes? Particular media? Parents with pre-school children? Try to get explicit about the type of people and the geographic area. Focus on capturing the few categories of people who are going to be most powerful in bringing about change. You don’t have to be exhaustive.

By the end of this exercise, you’ll have a list of most important categories of people who can advance your change agenda. But don’t stop there. Take time to prioritize them and get clear about which ones are essential to your mission. While you can’t afford to miss relationship-building opportunities with some audiences, others are more peripheral. If you can’t decide, ask yourself this question: What would happen if I ignored this audience? If the answer has a lot of negative impact on what you want to happen, you should keep that audience on your list. At the same time be realistic about your staff and budget capacity—how many audiences can you communicate with regularly and effectively over the year?

I usually suggest that nonprofits limit their key audiences to three broad categories, with each of those categories segmented in ways that make sense for your communications needs. For instance, one of your key audiences may be Funders (safe guess, eh?)—and within that category you may have subcategories of Past, Current, Prospective. Within each of those subcategories you may want to segment the types of funder–Government, Business, Foundation. Within foundations, you may want to separate out Program Officers, CEOs, and Board Members. You see how it works—you can actually get down to a very targeted collection of people’s names through this process.

Another benefit of this exercise is that it helps you gauge how robust your database is. Are the audiences and names you’ve come up with captured in your database? If not, that requires attention. Getting communication to and from the right people is critical to your effectiveness.

In the next post, we’ll turn to what you know about all these who’s in whoville and what they need to hear and experience to excite them about your cause.

CC Photo credit: Andrea Joseph

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2 Responses to “DIY stratetgic communications planning for nonprofits: Step 2—Key Audiences”

  1. Tactics—Step 4 in strategic communications planning for nonprofits « IMPACTMAX Says:

    […] DIY stratetgic communications planning for nonprofits: Step Two—Key audiences […]


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