/writing/ Starting Your Strategy

WE THROW AROUND the concept of communications strategy often. Let’s look at a practical approach to beginning the strategy development process for your organization.

MAPPING. Identify all groups / stakeholder that your organization is working with or should be working with.

  • Examples: Donors, government, partners, members, media, partners / sub-contractors, internal staff, board members. Don’t forget to identify sub-groups, for example: Donors (existing) vs. Donors (new); Internal staff (field) vs Internal staff (home office); Government (local officials) vs. Government (national officials).

ANALYSIS. For each of these groups, discuss and document an assessment of your organization’s relationship and how your organization communicates with that group. Make sure to outline specific challenges or weaknesses of your organization and its relationship. It’s essential to be honest and self-critical here, especially at the senior management level. Your analysis must clearly and accurately document core problems, so that meaningful adjustments can be made.

  • Donor (existing): We generally have a good working relationship with our current donor. However, our biggest weakness is providing supporting documentation of our field work. The great impact of our field work isn’t translating well with the donor through our reports. This is an area the donor has requested we improve on. They are growing frustrated with our reporting.
  • Donor (new): Our organization replies to funding proposals as needed, but does not have a formal system or channels in place to develop relationships with new donors in preparation for proposal responses or partnership opportunities. We’ve had the same donor for the past five years, but our funding with them will be complete in two years. We need to begin developing new donor relationships.

CURRENT TOOLS. For each stakeholder, list out your current communications products (or ways in which you share information).

  • Donor (existing): Progress reports, meetings, newsletter, success stories
  • Donor (new): Proposals, no other means of communications are used

OPPORTUNITIES. For each stakeholder, begin to develop potential opportunities (or strategies) that address the challenges outlined in your assessment. These opportunities don’t have to be completely developed; they are not final plans. (In fact, some may not even be good ideas.) That’s okay, this is a genuine brainstorming process. The details will be finalized later.

  • Donor (existing): We need to focus on establishing a better field reporting template and system, so that our main office can better analyze and re-package field-level progress as part of our reporting system to the donor. We should also consider more consistent meetings with the donor in-person to review submitted reports and help address questions.
  • Donor (new): We should explore investing in a short-term photographer / videographer to help develop some information / marketing materials that will target new donors. We should create a marketing package, that includes these materials, and begin developing an outreach approach to potential new donors. That approach should include an assessment of how we can use the Board of Director’s and friends of our organization to help make initial introductions. A stronger digital and social media presence should be considered.

DISCUSSION & PRIORITIZATION. Equipped with an analysis and an outline of potential opportunities, your organization can now discuss and begin prioritizing which stakeholder(s) is / are the most important and generally which opportunities will be the most effective and viable (realistic). It’s important to document all decisions, even when a group is not a priority. You should provide justification for non-prioritization, which will be helpful in the future as your organization updates the communications strategy.

  • Donor (existing): We will prioritize this stakeholder, focusing on improving our field-based data collection process and strengthening our donor reports at the home office.
  • Donor (new): This stakeholder will be a priority, but not before we address our core challenge with our existing donor.
  • Government (local level): We currently have a strong relationship with local level officials in our program areas. We are very active and have received very little negative feedback. We, therefore, will maintain the current level of engagement and will assess what additional outreach may be needed with this group when we update the communications strategy in a year.

IMPLEMENTATION PLAN. With those decisions, your organization can now move forward with an implementation plan (methodology, timeline, etc.) which ensures that your solution becomes a reality. Again, your implementation plan doesn’t have to have all the answers. In some cases, you may need to schedule a fuller assessment to be completed later in the process. The importance here is to outline that process, even if it is further research, assessment, and / or decision making.

  • Donor (existing): We will focus on this stakeholder over the next six months. Our home office reporting manager will make a field-visit each month to review the data collection process. The reporting manager will develop a new template and set of policies and orient the field-staff on these new procedures. The senior management team will orient our existing donor on the proposed changes and will collect input from the donor on how to improve the process. The improved system should be fully implemented in six months, to be reflected in our organization’s annual report.
  • Donor (new): Once the new reporting system is in place, we will shift our attention to developing new materials and an outreach strategy for new donors. That process begins in six months, at which point we will make an assessment, which reviews all existing communications materials and identifies what additional photography and video production will be needed. Our communications manager will lead that process.

The outcomes from the above process provides the framework from which your strategy document can be developed. Keep in mind that this is a facilitated conversation that should include staff at all levels of your organization.

Your analysis should be highly self-critical. You, as a communications manager, and your senior management team must be open to learning, adjusting, and admitting when past mistakes have been made.

As always, we are here to chat about your strategic planning process. We are a free resource with no obligation. Please contact us at:

Thanks for reading.

Incidentally, we wrote a few weeks ago about how it’s our role to continue pushing organizational communications into new directions and building our collective value within the development sector. The process outlined above is an example of one way we can do that. I recently introduced this process to a group of experienced directors and managers on a large development project. They had never viewed communications as a mechanism to address these issues. The exercise has since opened a new interest by the senior management team to recommit to our communications department. It was something we pushed for. It was a small, but meaningful victory.


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