Are We There Yet?

The Challenge

Communications plans for philanthropies that support higher education often begin with news releases and end with the annual report. But simply creating content doesn’t guarantee your work will meet your organization’s needs. Crafting a high-impact communications plan that delivers measurable results, especially for smaller nonprofits, requires a detailed evaluation. Assessing the impact of your communications will provide answers to guide your work in the years ahead.

The Solution

Evaluating a specific aspect of your communications plan doesn’t require a forensic audit or a team of high-priced consultants. You don’t need to assess the value of your entire communications output. Rather, take it step by step and ask yourself some very basic questions.

First, exactly what will you evaluate? You can assess the impact of your Twitter account, annual report, or maybe a new blog. You have plenty of options.

Next, define your goal and align it with your organization’s long-term objectives. What are you trying to achieve with your Facebook account that supports a specific program or a larger institutional goal?

Now, pinpoint the audience that will be the focus of your evaluation. Who’s reading that blog or studying the annual report? They have the answers you want.

Now, define your baseline. Choose data you want to analyze at the start so you can compare it to the statistics you’ll collect along the way. How many people are following that Twitter account? What are your membership numbers?

Also: Choose the questions that will steer your evaluation. To be efficient, pick a limited number of questions and get as much detailed information as possible from them.

Create meaningful milestones: intermediate results you’ll compare to baseline data to measure your progress.

Determine the tools you’ll use to collect the data you need. You could try interviews, focus groups, surveys, or data analysis, among many other options.

Finally, set a budget for your evaluation. Here, you may consider a variety of factors—from the cost of staff time to consultant fees. Generally, your evaluation budget should be at least 5 percent of your overall communications budget.