I recently held a series of workshops to help community groups and not-for-profits with their communications and social media. Social media is an aspect of communications; not all communications involve digital or social media, but all digital and all social media IS communication. So when the brief was to talk about how not-for-profits and community groups could future-proof their organisations, I decided to come at it from a communications standpoint.
Because “future-proofing” is an incredibly broad term and it bothers me that its popularity also seems to somehow infer that there’s some kind of silver bullet, some bunch of tactics or singular approach that will ensure an organisation’s longevity. Actually, it’s a lot more vague and encompasses a lot of possible approaches and related tactics, and best practices, depending on which aspect of the organisation you’re looking at.
And if you’re a small NFP or community group, that’s not exactly helpful or even relevant.
Future-proofing really means being sustainable into the future, including;
Having a clear direction
Working towards that consistently
Adapting to change along the way
For some NFPs, that will entail many moving parts and many people including volunteers, overheads, working capital, funding, governance, financial management, tax exemption, affiliation, compliance etc. etc. But for others, it’s just you, your idea for change, and your network.
The thing both types of groups have in common though, which is critical to both in terms of sustainability into the future, is communication.
For NFPs and community groups to thrive, they need to be;
Connected to their community
Knowing what they do to help
Building connections between individuals and groups
Building connections between community needs and their ability to serve
Human - you can’t connect otherwise
Humans - humans form relationships, build trust, do business with humans, not logos, social media stats, or even businesses - humans connect with humans
Connect emotionally through stories & experiences
Clear on their purpose and be meaningful
Build momentum and increase impact by connecting people to something bigger than any of us are on our own
So if you’re going to achieve that and keep on achieving that so you can carry on delivering your services and message into the future, you need to be able to communicate clearly and consistently.
To do that, you’ll need to give some thought to 4 simple elements;
Vision & mission - when you’re clear on where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, it becomes much, much easier for other people to understand and connect with your cause or message. It’s hard to make connections if you’re not solid on why you do what you do because it makes it hard for people to see themselves in that picture.
NFPs and community groups generally exist because of their connection to their community, so being human isn’t hard work. Plus they’re usually pretty passionate about their purpose, their reason and can even explain it really well … but often there’s a lack of planning and structure so it’s hard to nail it consistently.
Planning doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming, in fact simple is usually better. It’s about creating enough of a plan to be useful and used without tripping yourself up in too much detail. A one-pager is perfect. Planning starts with knowing your vision and your mission.
Once you’ve got your vision and your plan, you’re going to need some tools to get the work done, store, share and collaborate on it. Having a plan makes deciphering all the options a lot clearer. Again, simplicity is key. Tools should make getting the job done easier, not harder.
And then, you need to evaluate your efforts. Yep, you guessed it - having the previous steps in place makes it so much easier to evaluate what you’ve done. Compare your work and achievements to your vision and your mission. Look at the plan and see what was executed, what was not, what worked and what didn’t. Your tools, systems and processes obviously make doing that a lot easier - without them, how will you find your work? How will you know what’s been done?
So, as you can see, there is a lot of depth you can go into with this idea of future-proofing, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. These 4 elements show you where to start and how things fit together so you can at least make some progress towards getting more organised, more consistent and more able to adapt to changes along the way.
Photo thanks to Debby Hudson via Unsplash.