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Are Your Communications Earning Their Keep? Consider a Communications Audit

by Dawn Borgeest

The best way to ensure you’re spending your communications budget wisely is to conduct a communications audit.  Don’t think you have the time or money to conduct a communications audit?  Think again.  As non-profit budgets continue to come under remarkable stress, investing in a communications audit is a smart way to ensure that every penny spent on communications is earning its keep. 

A communications audit will help ensure you're operating as efficiently and effectively as possible.  It’s a data-informed way to make decisions about what’s worth continued investment, what’s not working like you had hoped, and where you might consider investing new dollars to better meet your communication goals.  

You can choose to conduct the audit with your own team or hire a communications consultant.  While a self-audit is beneficial, an outside professional will bring needed objectivity as well as a wide scope of experience to help you determine optimal communications strategies, mediums, etc.  Either way, a communications audit is a relatively straight-forward process that includes the following components:

Define Scope

For larger non-profits, conducting an audit of all of your communications might die of its own weight and complexity.  The first decision you need to make is to decide what audiences you are most concerned about.  If you recently conducted an employee satisfaction survey that hints at troubled waters, you would be wise to audit your internal communications.  Perhaps your largest communications investment is reaching out to donors.  It would make great sense to audit that segment if you’re trying to determine where you’re limited budget dollars are pulling the best response and having the greatest intended impact.   

Once you know the audience, then define all of the communication channels you deploy to reach your audience.  For most non-profits, that means the web, email, social media, print publications - such as newsletters, annual reports, solicitation letters, and thank you notes. 

Finally, consider who generates those communications.  Don’t assume those on the communications team are the only ones reaching out to your target audience.  Your human resource team is likely to be engaged with current employees, retirees, and prospective employees.  Your institutional advancement team likely sends notes and other correspondence to donors.

Gather Samples and Matrix Results

Now that you’ve identified the audience and sources of communications, gather samples sent over a defined timeframe.  Next, create a matrix so that you can be clear about what was sent from who about what and when.  It’s not unusual to find that you’re sending multiple messages from different sources at the same time to your audience.  Not only does that create an avalanche of information sent to your audience member, but it also sends a message that you’re fragmented internally.  And it highlights opportunities to integrate messages more strategically to reach your audience more efficiently and with a more directed and harmonious message.

Before you review the samples, develop criteria by which you’ll evaluate your communications.  Some examples of that might include brand alignment, quality and clarity of content, tone, and engagement opportunity and response.  If all of your communications are “one-way” with no opportunity for the audience member to respond or engage, that’s very telling.  All of your communications should allow for engagement by prompting a response, questions, input, etc.  And all of your communications should have a goal – be sure to know what the goal of the communication was so that you can evaluate whether it achieved that goal.  Oh, and the “well, we’ve always sent that,” doesn’t count as a goal!

Solicit Feedback

This is a wonderful opportunity to engage in a conversation with members of your target audience.  Consider hosting focus groups, gathering members of your target audience to talk about how they experience your communications.  Focus groups allow for more in-depth perspectives and give you an opportunity to probe further on feedback that will inform your audit results.  You may also field a survey.  Readily accessible tools like Survey Monkey make it easier than ever for non-profits to reach out for feedback.  And don’t assume one approach negates the other.  In addition to getting feedback on your communications, ask them who else does it well.  Often, it’s wise to field a survey and then, based on the feedback you receive, host some focus groups to refine and gain deeper insights into some of the themes that emerged from your survey. 

Analyze Your Findings

What did you learn from your review?  You’ll likely find some low-hanging fruit of opportunity to improve your communications program as a non-profit.  Are there opportunities to stop some communications?  Did you identify new avenues you should be using or current channels that need to be use more frequently?  This is the time to be as objective as possible.  If you find that few of your audience members read your annual report, you need to rethink what you’re investing in that publication.

Equally important, gather competitive intelligence.  Often, non-profits are hesitant to acknowledge their competition. Every organization is competing for audience time, attention, and loyalty.  If you’ve included a question on your survey, that will help point you to the other non-profits who are successfully reaching your audience.  How are they accomplishing success?  Are they doing things you should consider investing in?  This is also a great time to reach out to colleagues who may not be direct competitors and who might be willing to share their strategies, successes, and near-misses.

Put Your Findings Into Action

Now, you have all the information you need to make well informed decisions about how to make your communications optimally effective in supporting your goals as a non-profit.  Articulate what you learned and how it will influence your communications – both strategy and budget - moving forward.  Finally, share your findings with the broader team.

If you’d like to learn more about how The Woolbright Group can assist your not-for-profit organization with your communications audit, call us (585-727-1143)  or email us ( We’d be happy to help you.


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