Prepared for the Communications Consortium Media Center Julia Coffman October 2004
Nonprofit organizations are now continuously being challenged to be more strategic in their communications efforts. Communications activities must add up to more than a series of isolated events such as the dissemination of an occasional publication or press release. Beingstrategic requires that nonprofits be more deliberate, innovative, savvy, and less reactive in their communications practice. Nonprofits are encouraged to regard communications as essential to their overall success and integrate it throughout their organizations.1 As a result of this movement, an array of new tools, resources, and trainings have been developed to help organizations better understandthe concept of strategic communications, develop their own communications strategies, and evaluate them for both accountability and learning purposes. But while nonprofits are learning how to develop strategies and are gaining a better understanding of their importance, questions remain about their actual follow through in practice and nonprofits’ overall capacity to implement their strategies giventheir relative inexperience in this field and the many priorities, including communications, that often compete for scarce organizational resources. Nonprofits need ways to better understand their current strategic communications performance and capacity, and to gain a realistic sense of what is possible in terms of developing their communications functions. Strategic communications audits areone tool that can help to meet this need. Strategic Communications Audits Defined A strategic communications audit is a systematic assessment, either formal or informal, of an organization’s capacity for, or performance of, essential communications practices. It determines what is working well, what is not, and what might work better if adjustments are made. Defined in this way, a strategiccommunications audit has both evaluative and formative value. It is evaluative in that it provides a “snapshot” of where an organization currently stands in terms of its communication capacity or performance. It is formative in that it also points to areas in which the organization can strengthen its performance. Communications audits are a relatively common practice, though they are more common amongfor-profits than nonprofits, and not familiar to most noncommunications professionals. Audits are most often performed by external communications or evaluation experts, but can also be performed internally. This brief is for nonprofit organizations that want to better understand strategic communications audits and the main steps involved. It can be used by nonprofits that either want to self-assessand perform their own audit, or hire an external expert to conduct it.
Bonk, K. Griggs, H, and Tynes, E. (1999). Strategic communications for nonprofits; Kopec, J. (2003). Tips & techniques: The communications audit. Public Relations Society of America.
Strategic Communications Audits
The brief outlines five basic steps in a strategic communications audit. The audit can beapplied to an organization overall, or to a specific project or campaign within the organization. While audits can be performed in numerous ways, this brief presents one possible approach.
STEP ONE: Know Critical Strategic Communications Practices
Knowing the specific practices associated with strategic communications is the first step to assessing an organization’s performance and capacity withrespect to those practices. These are practices that every nonprofit trying to implement strategic communications should be performing at some level, whether by a single individual or by many staff members throughout the organization. The table on the next page identifies sixteen essential strategic communications practices. They are grouped into three categories: 1) strategy, 2) implementation,...