Here in Pittsburgh and many other places, it has certainly been a long, cold, lonely winter (you’re welcome for placing The Beatles singing on a loop in your head). Traditionally, I’ve never been one for spring cleaning (just ask my mother). As my eleven-year-old twins accumulate more and more things, I’ve come to appreciate the value of de-cluttering every so often. And if that needs to coincide with turning a calendar page or becoming a year older, even better. Recently, it occurred to me that this notion of de-cluttering is also applicable to what we do in our non-profits. Think about it.
Chances are, your non-profit has some crap to get rid of. Now, I’m not talking about people. God knows the unemployment numbers are dismal enough and nobody wants to see them get any worse. What I am talking about is evaluating your communications in order to figure out what works and then eliminating the extraneous, the outdated, and the irrelevant messages that you as a communications professional are sending to your donors, your prospects, your circle of friends, your employees, your volunteers, and your clients’ families (hopefully there is some overlap in that list).
By communications professional, I don’t care who you are: you can be the Executive Director or the Board President or the Social Media Manager or the volunteer newsletter editor. It doesn’t matter. If you communicate in any way to any internal or external public connected to your organization, I’m talking to you. This process is a non-profit de-cluttering, also known as a communications audit. Just like death and taxes, nothing is immune with this.
Everything from your annual report to your Facebook statuses is fair game and open for scrutiny, as it should be. Are you still using letterhead with outdated board members’ names? Are your newsletter and annual report photos in need of freshening up? Is every single thing on your website current? Are you :(ing a little too much about dreading Mondays and LOLing about getting the hell out of Dodge on Fridays on your non-profit’s Facebook page? Does your organization’s Facebook presence consist of inspirational quotes that everyone’s read ad-nauseum after another?
All of the above are real-life examples, from real-life organizations. Believe me, they’re out there, untethered. It happens slowly, over time, because we get caught up in the minutiae of the hard, hard work of fund-raising and running a non-profit organization in these tough times. Or, we glom onto what self-proclaimed social media gurus, ninjas, and rock stars tell us we should be doing and our communications take on a life of its own. Which is why into every communications plan an audit must fall.
Think of it not as a way of attacking the messenger, but as a process to determine whether or not your words are indeed ringing true to what you want to convey about your organization’s mission, goals, and vision. Sometimes we’re a little too close to the situation to do this kind of job effectively, in which case it can be beneficial to bring in a consultant or tap into a board member’s communications or marketing expertise.
It’s absolutely essential. Indeed, I propose there is nothing more crucial. Communications audits are a non-profit’s way of spring cleaning – a way of seeing the ice slowly melting and smiles returning to your donors’ faces.