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Nonprofit Communications Consultant: What You Should Know Before Hiring Them

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Published: Dec 23, 2020

Communication has the power to change hearts and minds. 

For a nonprofit, it’s all about conveying the right words through the appropriate channels to bring the change they wish to see. 

However, often organizations may not be as equipped or experienced to do this on their own. That’s where nonprofit communication consultants come in. 

But, what do they do, how do they help you, and do you really need them? You’ll have your answer by the end of this post. 

What does a nonprofit communications consultant do?

Communication consultants typically create nonprofit communication strategies to help you reach your goals. The strategies could be either for a specific campaign or the whole organization. 

To give you an overview, here’s what a consultant can help you with:

  1. Audit your current communication efforts: This gives you insights into your current efforts’ success and helps you decide what changes you need to improve.  
  2. Identify your target audience: To help you focus your efforts on those most likely to support you.
  3. Craft new messaging: This includes individual appeals, thank-yous, and the overall organizational narrative that resonates with your cause.
  4. Create a communications strategy: A detailed plan with recommendations for communication channels to use, the messaging, frequency, goals, and the metrics to track. The plan would also include an editorial calendar to guide your efforts. 

Apart from these high-level tasks, nonprofit communication consultants also address specific needs like: 

  • Audience and market research
  • Logo creation
  • Website and digital strategy
  • Social media planning
  • Crisis communication
  • Nonprofit advertising (radio, TV, Internet, outdoor, newspaper, etc.)
  • Public relations and media placements 
  • Creating annual reports, brochures, and other literature 

Do you need a nonprofit communications consultant?

After understanding what a consultant does, the next question is whether you need to hire one or not.    

The answer is: It depends.  

As much as we’d like it to be a simple Yes or No, many factors come into play. Here are three major factors that can help you make a decision: 

  1. Team size
  2. Available skills
  3. Type of campaigns

Let’s take a look at each of them in detail. 

Team size

If your communications team is small, they may often find themselves overworked. A 2020 report showed that while the communication workload is on the rise, the average team size has been the same. 

An overburdened staff can lead to ineffective communications. When this happens, a nonprofit communications consultant can help you tackle it in two ways:

  1. Map out a comprehensive strategy: They reduce your staff’s burden by taking out the planning efforts off their plates. Now, your staff only has to focus on implementation. Based on the editorial calendar (the consultant provides), they just have to schedule all communication and track them once they are sent out.
  1. Prioritize communications: Not all your messaging and communication channels may yield good results. A nonprofit communications consultant can help you weed those out and prioritize those with the best ROI. 

With a streamlined process in place, your communication team would be less burdened and hence more effective.

Skills

Technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we communicate. If you want to reach out to people effectively, you need to be quick in adapting to these changes. 

But, nonprofits often find themselves lacking the skills to adopt these new ways of communicating. 

A nonprofit communications consultant can help you fill these skill gaps by:

  1. Providing relevant training: Since your staff will need to handle the implementation, they will need to be well-versed with these technologies. A consultant can help you set up everything and train your staff for the same. 
  1. Selecting relevant technologies to focus on: Not all the communication technologies would work well for you. Based on your resources and objectives, a consultant can help you select the right communication tools and methods that best fit your organization. 

Remember that you don’t always have to turn to consultants to fill these skill gaps. Your volunteers could help you out with it too. 

For example, if you’re new to social media, youth volunteers could help you set up the account and create relevant posts. However, you will have to experiment a little to get the messaging, posting frequency, and post types right. An experienced communications consultant may help you eliminate that experimentation phase but would cost more. 

Campaigns

Over time, traditional campaigns also run their course and lose their effectiveness. Apart from your skills and technology, you will need to update how you run these campaigns too regularly.  

For example, a direct mail fundraising campaign in the past required prospects to respond to the letter with a check. But in today’s world, that may be a little redundant. Instead, you could add a QR code in your letter or details for text-to-donate or text-to-give to receive donations instantly. 

If you’re unsure about the latest trends or are planning to run a new type of campaign altogether, a nonprofit communications consultant would be helpful to:

  1. Create new messaging for your campaign: A new type of campaign would require different messaging based on the appeal. For example, you can’t use the same messaging for a peer-to-peer fundraising and a volunteer recruitment campaign, right? 
  1. Conduct market research for your audience: The audience you target is another aspect of your campaigns that may need an update. A consultant could help you pinpoint the best demographics that would be more likely to respond to your appeals. 

Apart from that, a consultant could also help you create the literature for the campaign and select relevant tools to ensure efficiency.  

Budget: The factor that has the final say in hiring a consultant!

Hiring a communications consultant for your nonprofit is a significant investment. So, in the end, it comes down to whether you can afford to hire one or not. If you can, then there isn’t anything to consider. 

However, if you can’t, here are a few alternatives:

  • Recruit volunteers with relevant skills. For instance, if you want to create a social media plan, look for a volunteer who may work as a social media specialist. Even if they don’t possess relevant experience in the nonprofit industry, their expertise can come in handy.
  • Hire consultants for specific tasks: Rather than hiring them for the entire campaign or strategy, get them to help you with the specific aspects that you’re struggling with, for example, the latest technology. You can refer to resources on the internet or get your volunteers to help you with the rest.

Remember, while consultants do bring some serious benefits to the table, the ROI may not always be guaranteed. So make sure you don’t take a huge cost risk. 

How do you find good nonprofit communications consultants?

So, you’ve assessed everything and decided to hire a consultant to help you out. But where do you find these consultants? Here are some of the best sources:

  • Referrals: The most common way of finding communications consultants is through referrals. Ask your board members and staff if they know anyone in their network. You could also turn to other partner organizations and get referrals from them.
  • State nonprofit associations: The state sets up these associations to help nonprofits access resources and build capacity. Reach out to these associations and ask them to connect you to relevant consultants. You can find the different State Nonprofit Associations here
  • Online directories: A quick online search will provide you with a huge list of consultants. Browse through their websites and look for reviews, their experience, and case studies to shortlist a few relevant ones. 

Once you build a list of nonprofit communication consultants from these sources, send out a Request For Proposal (RFP) to all. Go through their proposals to decide which one would be the best. 

Request for Proposal (RFP)
An RFP is a document that outlines what you need, what you wish to achieve, what you expect from the consultant, deadlines (if any), and deliverables. The RFP should also describe the format of the proposals you want to receive. 

RFPs are typically two to five pages long and include: 

  • A summary of who you are and what you are looking for.
  • A brief paragraph about your organization’s mission, history, and current
  • situation.
  • Statement of need.
  • Desired outcomes and deliverables.How and when the proposals will be evaluated.
  • Your contact information.

You can send out these RFPs directly to the consultants you shortlist over email or social media. 

Nonprofit communications consultants you can hire 

If you’re beginning your search for consultants to work with, you can hire either a:

  • Individual communications consultant
  • Communications consulting agency 

Here are a few recommendations for you to consider. 

Individual nonprofit communications consultants

  1. Tom Ahern: Tom Ahern Communications
  2. Pamela Grow: Pamela Grow
  3. Rachel Ramjattan: Nonprofit Plus
  4. Vanessa Chase Lockshin: The Storytelling Non-Profit
  5. Mary Cahalane: Hands-On Fundraising

Nonprofit communications consulting organizations

  1. Meyer Partners
  2. J.Roberts Consulting
  3. FundJoy
  4. Moflow
  5. Communication Mark

To conclude

Hopefully, the insights above help you assess your situation and decide whether you need a communications consultant or not. 

If you’re still confused, we recommend that you go ahead and hire one, that is, if you have the budget. The experience and knowledge that a nonprofit communications consultant brings to the table are still worth it.  
Featured image: Krakenimages

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