Do You Know What It Takes To Communicate?

A few years ago, a large environmental organizational came to us and asked for help rebranding. The executive director was concerned their target audiences – policymakers, activists and donors – didn’t have a clear sense of their “special sauce.” Every time they talked to these people, the organization got a muddled response about their understanding of who the organization was and what it did.

As a first step, we asked people from different departments and levels to give their quick pitch about the organization. All of the answers were remarkably different. We discovered that instead of a branding problem the organization had an internal communication challenge.

That story isn’t uncommon. Often, organizations aren’t aware of what they don’t know when it comes to communicating effectively.

A nonprofit’s ability to communicate to its most important audiences – whether it is reaching out to policymakers or educating members – is key to helping it identify or fulfill its mission. Too often, organizations don’t take regular stock of their communication practices to determine what they do well and where improvements are needed.

Through our decades of experience we’ve learned a lot of what it takes to make nonprofit organizations effective at using communication. So, to help organizations assess whether they are poised to be communication powerhouses or where they need to make improvements, we created the SmartScanTM.

This free online tool draws on our years of working with nonprofits and what we learned from focus groups we conducted with leaders from organizations of all sizes. The consensus among focus group participants was that having strong communication capacity within an organization is critical to reach important audiences, including possible donors or members, area residents, even the media, in the right way given limited resources. As one participant from a large nonprofit organization explained, communication capacity is “how able you are to get your message out and how far your reach is.”

Participants also emphasized that a tool to assess communication must factor in efforts to communicate both inside and outside of the organization.

The SmartScan is designed to give an organization an overarching assessment of its communication systems and infrastructure. Users answer a series of questions about current practices and receive a tailored report detailing suggested improvements to their communication program.

The tool comprises four modules – Identity, Planning, Best Practices and Results. Organizations can take them all at once or complete one section at a time. The payoff is a clearer understanding of what the organization is doing well and should keep doing and where more communication capacity or resources will enable it to create a bigger impact.

For example, questions in the Identity section include “Do you have a written style guide to promote consistency?” and “Does your brand identity clarify why you are unique among your peers?” The Best Practices module asks organization to consider questions like, “Do you have a spokesperson (or people) prepared with messages for interviews?” and “Does your organization know what kind of stories it needs to tell to engage important audiences?” Upon completion of a module, participants will receive a tailored report with feedback and recommendations depending on answers to each question.

Organizations who have used the SmartScan have been letting us know what they think – one user noted, “It was a good reminder of everything we need to be doing and it was good to be prompted to check in with fellow staff members on how they’re doing in communicating our brand.”

Many have said that the detailed report was an excellent resource and one of the best parts of the tool. One person articulated, “I liked the explanations – on the questions we did well on, the results were very encouraging; and on the places we could improve, there were concrete suggestions.”

To begin using the Smart Scan visit us at

Posted: November 19, 2014
Tagged as: , , ,