Associations’ communications needs vary enormously depending on the number of their members and the target group, among others. Each association, however, is legally mandated to inform its members of the annual meeting. More generally, an association’s communications shape its public image and inform people about the association and its activities. Effective communications increase awareness of your association and encourage new members and volunteers to join. Communications can also help the association build a good reputation, which can be beneficial when applying for grants.
Define the objectives, target groups and channels for your communications
- Make a realistic assessment of your organisation’s resources. Do you have a single person responsible for communications or several active individuals who share the workload? Does the association have funds it can use for communications? What is the communications budget like, i.e. how do you allocate the funds between your various communications needs?
- Clarify the objectives of your communications. Are they, for example, increasing awareness of your association, reaching potential new members and volunteers, generating debate and discussion, or perhaps building your brand as an influential organisation and a credible partner?
Keep in mind, however, that the objectives for your communications should always be based on your association’s core strategy and mission. Public awareness of your association or generating debate is rarely intrinsically beneficial. They should be actively pursued only if they support the association’s other goals: a high level of awareness can make it easier to find new members, volunteers or donors. Generating discussion or public debate can be useful if the association aims to influence people’s opinions or highlight a particular issue.
If the resources for communications are very scarce, determine which objective is strategically the most important for your association, and focus most of your resources on that.
- Specify the target groups for your communications. A target group refers to the group of people whom you wish to reach through your communications or whom your message is intended for. The choice of a target group should be based on the association’s strategic and communications objectives. If your objective is to find more volunteers, consider the type of people who would be most willing and able to promote your association’s objectives, and target your communications to them.
The practical activities of the association also affect the choice of a target group. If the association only operates in a specific area, it is usually wise to limit the target group to those living in or near the area.
- Consider what kind of communications would get your target group to take action. If you’re trying to attract new volunteers and your target group are the people who are already interested in the issues you work with, use communications to create an appealing image of volunteering with your association, and make joining easy. You can, for example, share your existing volunteers’ positive experiences or inspiring stories from volunteering with your association. Also communicate clearly and frequently about how one can become a volunteer.
- Find out where to reach your target group and be active where they are. Which communication channels do they use and what type of information are they looking for? Newspapers and magazines, social media, websites, events, and communal bulletin boards are examples of different communication channels.
Create a communications plan and feature topical issues to draw attention
Create content and a schedule for communications based on the previous specifications: What does your communications involve and in which channels is it carried out? What is the schedule? Who is responsible for carrying out communications?
High-quality communications are systematic: communicate regularly on the selected channels and keep your website up to date. Be concise and clear. Choose topics and a style which evoke emotions and inspire people to take action. When it comes to content, important features include people, stories, timeliness, and accuracy of the information. Remember to also like, share and comment on others’ posts on social media. Those who actively engage with others are more easily noticed, helping you increase your association’s visibility.
Showcase your association’s achievements as well. Pictures and videos make your communications more interesting and impart information about the association’s activities. However, remember to always ask event attendees for a permission to take photographs. You can also utilise stock photos which many sites offer for free.
Communications tools and further information
Canva (opens in new tab) is a free of charge online service for creating designs for social media or marketing purposes.
Mailchimp (opens in new tab) is a free of charge online service for creating newsletters, among other forms of content.