June 20, 2011; Source: Communications Network Blog | The most prolific of NPQ’s regular newswire writers is Bruce Trachtenberg, who also happens to be the executive director of the Communications Network, a nonprofit membership group committed to effective foundation communications. The Network’s new survey of foundation communications staff reveals challenges to foundation communicators that sound a lot like those facing your run-of-the-mill operating charities.

Getting the public to better understand foundation issues is a top communications priority. Some staff are disappointed with foundation commitments to (and foundation execs’ usage of) social media, but foundations are making investments and progress in the use of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. But one of the most striking findings that Bruce noted was this: Three quarters of the respondents said that they had developed formal, written communications plans, but only one-third of the survey respondents said that the plans guided their daily work. 

Bruce cited blogger Gabriela Fitz, who suggested that the presence of a formal written communications plan in a way cements the role of communications — and the communications department — in the foundation.  It makes us think about the bevy of nonprofit strategic plans, reems of written documents, good graphics, great ideas, that rarely get used beyond attachments to grant applications. 

Like foundations’ communications plans, the very act of planning has a beneficial effect on organizations and staff, formalizing the functions that are the subjects of the plans and institutionalizing them within the structure of the organizations. But Bruce asks the core question about our sector’s planning processes:  “Just how much more valuable could that activity be if, along with creating plans, more communicators referred to them regularly?” 

The same applies to nonprofit strategic plans. Wouldn’t nonprofits’ regular consultation of their strategic plans yield more benefits than just the inculcation of the concept that strategic planning (or any planning) is a good thing to do?—Rick Cohen