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Ever have the feeling that you’re doing a whole lot of communicating but still not making any progress toward meeting your institutional (or personal) goals? Usually what's missing is an overarching strategy that flows directly from your core mission.

For several years I worked with the Radiant Communications team training nonprofit groups (grantees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) in how to develop a strategic communications plan. The Radiant model is still the best I've seen.

Note: No communications model, however effective, can move an institution forward without first (a) achieving broad internal consensus on the institution's core mission and (b) applying top leadership to interpret that mission into clearly defined goals. Absent those elements, you can expect fragmented, ad hoc communications activities that don't add up to much and might cause more harm than good.

The Radiant Model: Moving from Mission to Action

And finally—once the plan is up and running, continue to evaluate what you're doing and use that knowledge to adjust and fine-tune the plan.

Tamar Abrams and I discussed these areas in an online resource for Community Partnerships for Older Adults, another RWJF grantee. Here's a quote from that resource:

"Often the biggest hurdle [an institution] will face in developing a communications plan is understanding and accepting the 'strategic' part—the muscle that creates forward motion and progress. Being strategic means moving out of a reactive stance and taking charge. It means shifting the [institution's] energy away from putting out fires, or sending random shots in all directions—and instead focusing some hard-nosed attention on using communications to accomplish the [institution's] goals."

Hint: If you ever find yourself in a meeting where everyone wants a brochure, or jumps to debate the best kind of widget to "get your name out there" . . . you're probably not in a strategic mode.

Sally Patterson, president of Radiant Communications, Inc., completed a 2nd ed. version of the book Strategic Communications for Nonprofit Organizations: Seven Steps to Creating a Successful Plan, which I recommend.