A good comms strategy gives careful consideration to what you should communicate, to whom, and how, based on insights drawn from across your organisation and beyond it. It also tells you what you shouldn’t waste your time on, which is just as valuable.

Most importantly, a good communications strategy is tied to wider organisational objectives, so it doesn’t just serve its own purpose, but those of the charity as a whole.

Your strategy must be thorough, and yet relevant and appropriate to your organisation. There’s no point creating a huge document, pulling in every view, every opinion, every bit of theory and the highest imaginable targets – you’ll never be able to follow it, you’ll never be able to fulfil it, and you’ll end up pushing it to the back of your mind in favour of just ‘getting on with the job’.

Not every organisation needs, or should have, the same sort of strategy. Small charities, with a small number of services and a few key audiences, should have a strategy that reflects that, focusing on what’s needed, rather than everything that might be possible. Bigger organisations, juggling lots of different viewpoints, large and complex stakeholder groups, multiple services, products and sub-brands, on the other hand, will need to invest time and energy in assessing all the elements and building a strategy that takes account of them all.

Whether it’s short and sweet or longer and more complex, your strategy also needs to be robust enough that it won’t be toppled every three months by a new development. Give thought to everything the strategy might need to weather and build in enough flexibility so that, if new and unexpected opportunities come up, you can adapt and shape it accordingly.

When embarking on a new or updated strategy, think about the wider value you could get from the process. Strategy development can be a great chance to highlight issues, confront difficulties or make the case for an undervalued comms function.

There’s a gap to bridge between understanding the principles behind a good strategy and the process of getting it down on paper. A number of things need to be considered and a number of difficulties or issues may crop up.

Encountering differing views

When you bring people together to establish what comms should be achieving or how best to talk about your organisation and its work, you may well encounter differing views. Differences could be minor and fairly easily resolved (in terms of the specific wording of a key message, for example) or they might represent significant points of conflict (fundraising, programmes and welfare all pulling in very different directions, for instance). We’ve been in situations where developing a new comms strategy has made departments across a charity realise they all describe the organisation, its work and its impact in completely inconsistent ways, putting their departmental function ahead of the overall cause.

It’s always worth exposing these differences, even if it does make life harder in the short-term. Facilitate a wide discussion and try to guide people towards consistency – this is exactly where the comms team adds value.

But if it all gets too tricky, bringing an objective, external third party into the process will help you find common ground and a shared vision.

Exposing problems with the brand

Conversations around messaging and positioning may also highlight issues with your brand. For instance, comms strategies can sometimes bring fresh attention to any weaknesses or complications caused by a charity’s name, which may create a partial or confused impression of its work and remit among target audiences. Or you might realise your strapline or your logo doesn’t quite hit the right note anymore. Maybe the brand isn’t as consumer-facing as you’ve become over time, or you’ve lost pace in look and feel with others operating in your area.

While your strategy can help you navigate and minimise some of these issues, through strong key messages and robust tactical plans, don’t overlook the opportunity to consider a rebrand or a refresh.

Shifting the organisational strategy

The focus on agreeing clear and strategically valuable communications objectives, tied to a strong understanding of priority audiences, can also draw attention to the need to revise wider organisational goals. As a communications expert, the clarity you are able to bring to bear on who and what is the most valuable target can be useful in informing plans at the centre of the organisation, hence the need to forge a strong relationship with your senior management team and lobby for a voice for comms at the top table.

There are a number of stages to work through and a number of related questions to ask when creating a new strategy. As a general rule we’d recommend a strategy covers the following sections.

Situational analysis

This establishes where you are now and the context in which your comms strategy will operate. You should think about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within your organisation (a SWOT analysis) and possibly also explore the external environment by looking at political, economic, social and technological considerations (a PEST analysis).

Depending on the nature and extent of the communications your organisation has done in the past, you may choose to include a comms audit as part of this work, taking stock of what you do, what channels you use and what works well or not so well.

Aims and objectives

This is where you set out what you intend to achieve and when you want to achieve it by. Make sure you connect this section to wider organisational objectives and focus on outcomes instead of outputs – what will add value, rather than just give you column inches or random Facebook likes, for example?


A key part of your strategy is the confident assessment of who you should be communicating with and where they stand in relation to you. Is their position one of influence or interest or both? What do they think of you at the moment? How do you want that to change, if at all?

Ideally you’ll end up with a clear set of priorities, possibly even two or more ‘tiers’ of audiences, to reflect the amount of resource they require, relevant to their value in meeting your objectives.

Try to avoid only having a bullet-pointed list. It’s worth spending time adding detail to your audiences, or at least those with highest priority. Think about what makes a difference to them. What do they need to hear? Who influences them and who else do they influence in turn?


Now think about where these audiences get their information from and build as complete a picture as possible of the channels you could use for your own communications. This might include, among other options: editorial coverage in relevant traditional media; attending, sponsoring or speaking at events; debate and calls-to-action on social media; working through partners and signposters; or engaging with bloggers and digital influencers. The list should be closely correlated to your audiences, ideally with a separate set of channels identified for each key group and areas of crossover highlighted as strategic priorities for you.

With audiences and channels defined, you should be spending time with your marketing, digital and fundraising teams (if those areas fall outside your own remit), to understand what they are doing or have planned for the same groups and which channels they are using for their own purposes.

Messaging and content

When you know who you want to talk to and how to reach them, you’re in a good position to decide what you should be saying. Your strategy should include a set of carefully considered key points about your organisation and its work, that can act as the foundation for all communications to provide clarity and consistency.

This section may also include ‘key drivers’ – a handful of one or two-word personality traits and characteristics that reflect your vision and the way you work, that you want to demonstrate through your communications.

You may also choose to include wider content development plans. For instance, it can be helpful to think about what content you already have that could be made more use of, or you might be able to pinpoint content you need, linked to the audiences, channels and objectives you’ve set out, but don’t yet have (think about case studies to evidence need or impact, or quotes from high profile supporters, for example).


You’ll need to set out how you’ll monitor results and measure success, with clear plans for capturing required information throughout the period. Look back at your objectives when working on this section, as thinking about evaluation will often lead you to add details such as timescales, specific targets or associated milestones.

You may choose to include a tactical plan as part of your strategy document, with specific projects and actions plotted out in detail, or you may wish to create this separately. Either way, the links and dependencies running across both must be made clear.

We often find that workshop sessions offer a great way to explore many of the core elements of a comms strategy, as they draw in a range of viewpoints and help to establish buy-in from across the organisation at an early stage.

If you’re planning a workshop to thrash out parts of your strategy, make sure you have people from different levels in the room with you – senior managers, service delivery staff, department leads and perhaps trustees. Sometimes it’s also good to have service users and volunteers represented.

The best bits to workshop are those that focus on insight and perspective, not necessarily detail. Don’t attempt to craft your key messages by committee, but do draw in people’s views on the situational analysis and which are the most important audiences, for example.

Writing your strategy isn’t the end of it – you need to make sure it’s usable and remains relevant.

The last thing you want is for all your hard work to be ignored by those you need to rely on to support it – such as other departments or teams including marketing, fundraising, welfare or area managers.

Those people don’t necessarily need to use the entire thing, but there will be core elements you’ll want them to embrace, particularly key messages and audience prioritisation. So when you’re putting your strategy together think about ways to distil and reproduce those and any other fundamental points for wider distribution – perhaps in the form of posters to be displayed in workspaces or simple handouts or checklists for regular reference.

You might want to consider running training or information sessions to help people understand how this strategy relates to, and depends upon, their own part of the organisation.

It’s also important that you make time to review your strategy at regular points, no matter how flexible you’ve made it. These reviews are vital, to make sure what you’ve set out to achieve is still relevant and realistic. If it’s not, then you need to think about what’s changed, and why, and make the adjustments necessary to reflect the reality of the situation you’re now working in.

This is one of the most common weaknesses in comms strategies – not their initial development and drafting, but their use across the months and years. They are often overlooked or adapted ‘in conversation’ or in people’s minds. Although those adaptations probably have very good reasons behind them, they need to be committed to paper in order to have clarity and the opportunity to inform wider work in a meaningful way.

Remember, your strategy will only work if it works for you, not against you.

Communications strategies often lead organisations to see a need for additional, linked projects, to inform or underpin the strategy itself or fill a gap exposed by the process.

One of the most common of these is the need for a reputation management strategy or crisis communications plan. These are often linked to strategies which set out to drive a significant increase in profile for an organisation, as the bigger your profile, the greater the spotlight on you if things go wrong. A reputation management and crisis plan will allow you to prepare for the worst and use comms to mitigate against risks wherever possible.

Preparing a communications strategy

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