Your organization’s communications practices need to cut through the noise and clearly communicate the compelling messages that will draw your audience members into your story, generate trust in your telling, and prompt their action. In the midst of your organizational planning, particularly with a volatile election year on the horizon, keep in mind that a winning strategy will help both your audiences and your team keep a goal in sight, through the ups and downs of a reactive media cycle and unpredictable global events. A straightforward plan aligned with the specific messages you want your key audiences to receive can:
Change the debate within your industry or arena:
Without a strategy, communications tend to be one-size-fits-all. But, knowing the venues and strategic timing to share which messages with which key players can catapult incremental change into transformational shifts. For instance, for an organization that is working on expanding voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals, the strategy could include taking a systematic view of messaging aimed at elected officials, voters and impacted families, among others. This would mean deploying respected messengers, key emotional valences to elicit and activate engagement, and robust and clear data points to support the stories you’re telling. This can foster buy-in from key individuals to align with your call to action that is based on the experience and insight your organization brings to the topic.
Garner effective partnerships:
Communications should always be aimed at internal and external audiences, to maintain consistency in strong messaging to support your vision and mission. This is always true, but going into the 2024 presidential election, everyone feels the increased urgency to make their case in relation to the vision of our country’s future painted by the various candidates. This doesn’t mean a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a coordinated multi-pronged effort that incorporates all parts and levels of your organization. An approach of this kind is attractive to partner organizations looking to collaborate with those viewed as industry leaders, or organizations that speak about the work in fresh and compelling ways in light of ongoing events.
Link your vision, action and outcomes:
The words we choose will frame our communications even before audience members have fully digested our message. This means that gaining consensus on the right language early on matters a great deal, particularly for engagement with new audience members — the key to increasing awareness and adoption. Taking a strategic approach to communications allows an organization to set aside time, when needed, to refresh the language being used, and ensure it most accurately reflects the current vision of the organization and its surrounding environment with a longer-term perspective. This is essential for the ongoing credibility and relevance of your organization in the twists and turns of the media cycle.
When communications are approached in this way, they can function to create consistency and clarity not only for your audiences but also your messengers —staff, stakeholders, funders and influencers— around the best language choices given your cause. In the context of the upcoming US presidential election, this dynamic is even more present because there are major political machines constantly producing competing narratives—stories about how the world works— that audience members have to decipher. Carefully choosing how you are going to talk about your topic, and what you are going to avoid saying, will set you up to confidently respond over the long term to unfolding events wrapped in competing narratives.
Connect regularly and mindfully to ground your communications in lived experiences:
Most nonprofits understand that taking a strategic approach to communications means identifying how to vary your message and at what times for maximum impact. But, this also means looking from new angles to identify whether your current messaging is aligned with the lived experiences of the individuals and communities impacted by the injustices you are working to address. When building your approach, you should incorporate processes to touch base with your clients and identify whether your current practices foster their participation in meaningful ways that can contribute to changes within the organization. This can provide a roadmap for how to more effectively work in collaboration with proximate leaders to ensure your organization’s work is not unwittingly contributing to ongoing injustice.
Although this is always an important guiding practice to have built into your organizational activities, with so much attention on the national political competition, it is increasingly essential to ensure that what your organization is doing and advocating stands apart. It should be genuinely connected to the aspirations and vision of affected people and communities.