Is now a good time to review your communications?

Pausing to review the impact of your communications may seem difficult to squeeze in, but it is worth the effort.


There is never enough time in the day to tell all the fabulous stories you want to about the work of your organisation. There is always more that can be done, especially with people sitting on Facebook and other social media 24-7-365.

Pausing to review the impact of your communications may seem difficult to squeeze in, but it is worth the effort.

What is a communications review?

A communications review, audit or stocktake looks into every aspect of your organisations communications, then assesses whether you are achieving what you set to. It is also about paying attention to what your target audience wants, and what your competitors and partners are doing.

A review is something that you might do entirely yourself. Or if you’ve got the resources a freelance communications advisor will be able to help.

At the end of a review, you will be clear about whether your communications efforts are paying off, and where adjustments are needed. Some instant wins typically crop up as you go.

Remember that communications includes not just press releases, brochures and website pages, but all the ways your organisation represents itself. Phone greetings, letters to donors and the welcome visitors receive at the front desk are as important as high profile publications.

Sometimes someone will say there are activities that are untouchable or off limits, so you just keep doing them regardless of the impact. It’s important to include all communications activities, even if it is something you’ve always done.

Asking questions

The process for a review has two parts: research and assessment.

While it’s possible to run a quick communications review with a couple of other staff members, it pays to dig a bit deeper. You need to hear partner organisations, and some supporters including someone new to your cause.

You could collect this information by calling people up, or more randomly by asking for feedback via a newsletter or Facebook. If you want to get more rigorous then run a focus group or two. While they sound formal they can be very casual – get some feedback from a few volunteers in the tearoom!

The questions experienced marketer Nancy Schwartz recommends starting with are:

  • What are our marketing goals and the benchmarks we can use to measure our progress towards them?
  • What do our target audiences want and value?
  • What do we want them to do and what might help and/or get in the way?
  • Are our messages relevant to our target audiences? Are they engaging them and motivating them to act?
  • Where and when are their open-minded moments that they’re most likely to digest our messages?
  • What are others competing for the same engagement, time, donations doing well?

(See: No Time for a Marketing Plan? Start With a No Pain, All Gain, Do-It-Now Nonprofit Communications Audit)

Assessing the impact

Once you’ve collected feedback, it’s time to start asking some hard questions. Is the effort paying off?

It’s not necessary to use a complex matrix, just asking some simple questions is enough:

  • What should we do more of? Less of? About the same?
  • Are our messages, logos and other branding consistent across all communications?
  • What needs to change in the short-term (the next three months) and what needs to change in the long-term (within a year)?

With more time and resources available, you could devise a set of criteria to assess communications activities against. For behaviour change or awareness campaigns, a rigorous approach to assessment is crucial as information collected will feed into what happens in the next wave.

Turning to action

Even before a review is finished some areas for quick wins should be obvious.

The changes required are not always large ones. Better communication with constituents can mean more visibility for things you already produce. And you can uncover stocks of materials that you’d forgotten you had.

Regardless of how a review is conducted, if there is no commitment to acting on the results, then it’ll not only be time wasted but could upset people who don’t see any action. It’s important to have backing from senior staff.

If all this seems too daunting and formal, then start small and review regularly. Keeping a tally of media mentions, website hits and other small wins is a good way of keeping the focus on the impact your communications efforts have.

If you’re going to tell the world your story, you want to make sure they’re actually hearing you.

Thanks to Wellington communications practitioners Stephen Olsen and Heather Newell, Foresee Communications for their advice.

About Stephen Blyth

Stephen is a freelance project manager, writer and advisor from New Zealand. His specialty is working on web-based projects for organisations striving for environmental or social change and other good causes. Since 2007 Stephen has been helping people set up websites, choose software, run online meetings and use technology to achieve their organisations goals. The label technology steward comes closest to describing how he works offering advice, training and project management support.

Stephen understands how community groups work so he knows how to stay within tight budgets within organisations where people are the focus (not the tools). Prior to becoming self-employed he worked for government agencies for over a decade in community engagement, funding and capability building roles. In his spare time he tills the soil, climb trees with his two young children and squeeze in some volunteering with Wellington ICT. He writes about all this stuff at:

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