Communication planning templates for charities will help you plan your content better. This blog gathers templates for communications strategy, communications planning, and content calendar.
“We need to be more strategic with our comms.”
If you had a penny for every time you heard that phrase in your charity, how rich would you be?
Working for a charity, you already have a tight budget and time. As a comms professional, you know it’s supporters’ donations that pay your salary. So, you have a responsibility to make the best use of your time.
And yet, it can feel easy to feel very un-strategic with your comms. Yes, you have a comms strategy (it’s saved on a shared folder somewhere, maybe?), but it feels far removed from what you do day-to-day. Or you have the opposite problem – you agree on the strategy, but you feel lost when it comes to implementing it.
Communications strategy development and communications planning can seem like a scary business. It might seem like the easiest option is to bring in an external consultant. But I believe you and your colleagues in your charity have all the expertise you need.
Many charities opt to develop communications strategies and plans using free templates. In this blog, I’ve gathered a range of communication planning templates for charities that can help you be more strategic with your comms. And ultimately, do great things for your charity and the people your charity serves.
What are you talking about?
In the past, I’ve found that there’s a lot of buzzwords and terminology around communications strategy and communications planning. One term can often be applied to multiple things, or that the same thing is referred to by different names.
So I’m defining the terms I’m using in this article. You might be familiar with different terms, or use different terms at your charity. You might disagree with my definitions. But hopefully, you can see what I’m trying to get at.
More than that, I also want to define what each of these things is, and what it isn’t. I hope this will help you identify what it is you need, and why.
In my mind, there’s basically three components of comms or content planning:
- Communications strategy
- Communications plan
- Content calendar (or editorial calendar).
Let’s go through these three things.
What is a communications strategy?
The communications strategy sets the overall ‘direction of travel’ for your charity’s communications. As a document, it’ll contain things like:
- What you’re trying to do with your communications (your goals) and why.
- Who are the people you’re trying to reach (your audiences), and why
- The channels you’ll use to reach these people (e.g. email, social media, print magazines, PR, and so on).
- The kinds of messages which you think will appeal to these audiences
- Metrics to measure to help evaluate your progress/success
Importantly, it sets priorities. In a way, it sets out what you won’t focus on, as much as what you will. When you’re evaluating a new idea for content or a new channel, you should be able to refer to your comms strategy to determine whether it’s worth doing or not.
Communications strategy development is the kind of thing that you’ll probably do once every three years or so. Certainly no more frequently than once a year.
What is a content calendar?
A communications strategy doesn’t provide any details about the content you’ll produce. It doesn’t contain information about, for example, what will be in the next email newsletter, or what you’ll be posting on Facebook next week.
That is the job of the content calendar, also known as an editorial calendar. Think of it as the daily or weekly plan for your charity’s communications. It sets out information about what content will be going out and when. It may contain information about what tasks are needed to develop that content, and who is doing them.
If the comms strategy is the ‘bird’s eye view’ of your charity’s comms, the content calendar is the view ‘on the ground’, for the people delivering the work. It could be for one aspect of your comms, such as a blog production schedule, but most likely, it’ll cover the whole range of your content.
Content calendars can be set for up to a year (depending on how frequently you’re putting out content) but you ought to review it regularly – perhaps once a month.
What is a communications plan?
So that leaves the Communications plan, which could also be called a content plan. Communications planning is the link between the comms strategy and the content calendar. It is usually a long-term view of the content you’ll be producing, over the course of the next year. You can create it once a year, and review it every quarter.
The communications plan helps you to implement the comms strategy. It has more details about the key events throughout the year, and the kinds of things you’ll be talking about. Without the comms plan, it’s difficult to translate the strategy into something tangible that can be done.
The communications plan also helps with the content calendar, as it gives a steer for the content your charity should be producing in the short term. Without the comms plan, content is produced at random. Often sprung upon comms teams at the last minute, or never really executed as well as it could be. That’s why the communications plan is the link between the communications strategy and the content calendar.
And this is what you really need as a comms team in a charity – a way to turn the high-level view of the comms strategy into actionable, tangible tasks to produce content, day in day out. A way to make sure that the content you produce is truly helping to achieve your charity’s goals.
Templates and resources
Communications strategy templates for charities
Here are a collection of guides and templates to help your charity create its own comms strategy.
Spitfire Smart Chart: https://smartchart.org/ In their own words, the Smart Chart is a tool to help non-profits make smart communications choices. I like the step-by-step nature of the tool. It can be downloaded or filled out online.
White Fuse: https://www.whitefuse.com/blog/create-charity-communications-plan – As well as the process of a comms strategy, this guide also helps with the initial steps of brand strategy (such as tone of voice and style guides).
https://medium.com/swlh/a-step-by-step-guide-to-creating-a-nonprofit-communications-strategy-491f722ed3c1 Pontus Bergmark from Marchmont Communications put together this comprehensive guide for creating a non-profit communications strategy, based around five pillars: Objectives, Target audience, Messaging, Content, and Channels.
NCVO: https://knowhow.ncvo.org.uk/campaigns/communications/communications-strategy the National Council for Voluntary Organisations also has a step-by-step guide for creating a communications strategy. This one also includes a section about budgeting.
AMEC Framework: https://amecorg.com/amecframework/framework/interactive-framework/ The International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication have their framework available to use online. This helps organisations measure the impact of their communications.
CoSchedule: https://coschedule.com/blog/communications-plan-template Marketing software company CoSchedule have a free communications plan template. This incorporates parts of the comms planning and editorial calendar.
HubSpot: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/communications-plan Content marketing experts and CRM software creators HubSpot also have a free template for creating a communications plan. It’s more geared towards ‘crisis communications’ but you can use it for ‘standard’ comms strategy development, incorporating parts of the comms planning and editorial calendar.
Communications plan templates for charities
Non-Profit Marketing Guide has something they call the ‘Big Picture Coms Timeline’, with a worksheet to download here: https://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/worksheet-your-big-picture-communications-timeline/
It sets out the plan for the year, with comms activities throughout the year, as well as overarching ‘stories’ that the charity wants to get out.
NPMG has some great resources for planning content, with a free Nonprofit Editorial Planning starter kit.
Their book, Content Marketing for Non-Profits goes into much more detail about this approach to comms planning.
Content calendar templates for charities
There are a few editorial calendar templates out there. I’ve gathered a selection for charities and non-profits.
Non-Profit Marketing Guide: https://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/category/nonprofit-editorial-calendars/ NPMG have a few resources and articles to help charities plan the day-to-day content
Lightbox Evergreen Editorial Calendar: https://www.lightboxcollaborative.com/2020/12/06/evergreen-editorial-calendar/ – Lightbox have put together a great list of ‘awareness days’, weeks, months and other annual events for social media. It organises the dates into the month they happen, so you can use them annually. There’s space to plan out your content as you would in a standard editorial calendar.
CharityComms: https://www.charitycomms.org.uk/comms-planner-template CharityComms have a comms planner template, based around the tasks needed to create the content (rather than just focusing on the publish dates).
CoSchedule: https://coschedule.com/blog/annual-content-calendar-template CoSchedule has put together a good content calendar/planner. It’s a bit ambitious to be planning out the details of all the content for an entire year, but it seems like a useful process to go through on a more regular basis.
Digital Charity Lab: https://www.digitalcharitylab.org/product/template-communications-calendar-grid/ This communications calendar from Digital Charity Lab could be useful for both year-round content planning, and campaigns (ie. one-off time-limited activities).
Helpful Digital: https://helpfuldigital.com/guides-templates-and-tools/digital-communications-planner-template/ This is another planner which is more geared towards campaign communications than ‘regular’ evergreen content.
Do you have any other communications planning templates for charities that would be a good fit here? And you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you! Get in touch, either by email, tweet me @DrRichardBerks or follow me on LinkedIn.
Thanks to Jean O’Brien and Gemma Pettman for pointing me in the direction of some of the resources collected here.