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Shut that door – the importance of staying focused in comms

23 September 2011

Knowing what you won't do will make your strategic plan stronger, says nfpSynergy's driver of ideas Joe Saxton 

Most comms teams (or comms people, if there is just one of you) will have a plan for what they want to do. The issues they want to focus on. Their priorities for the coming year and how they want to improve and develop. And these kinds of plans are really important for the development of a charity’s communications.

But often they miss out one key area: an explicit statement of what they aren’t going to do, the areas that they won’t be focusing on – the doors they will shut. It's easy to assume that having a plan of what an organisation will do automatically dictates what they won’t. This is right, except for two things: trustees and CEOs. And opportunities. And human nature. And just about everything else an organisation does.

The reality is the strategic plan that doesn’t get buffeted about by an organisation probably indicates an organisation where not much is going on. Why do I want organisations to be explicit about what they won’t do, when they are already saying what they will? The reason is simple.

No-go areas 

The human mind is brilliant at justifying why an action that is clearly wrong is actually right (as any dieter will tell you). So if a plan doesn’t spell out the things aren’t to be done, the chances are that somebody will find a way to justify going off strategy. The kinds of thing that might be spelt out as "no-go" areas could be: 

  • We won’t support new fundraising events.
  • We won’t develop any new publications this year (unless they are fully funded).
  • We will develop our Facebook and Twitter profile, but no other new social media.
  • We will only do parliamentary work on a single issue.
  • We don’t need an app.

For most people who work in comms, it’s fairly easy to work out which issues they should stop doing: it’s the ones that CEO or trustees have as their pet projects alongside the formal strategy, or the ones that distract from what they regard as core tasks.

It’s probably good to discuss the development of a list of "no-go" areas with colleagues, partly because not everyone will have the same issues on their list, but also because many colleagues may not realise the difficulties they are causing for the comms team. Airing the issue more widely may help start a general discussion on priorities. So start shutting doors.

Joe Saxton

driver of ideas, nfpSynergy

Joe Saxton is driver of ideas at nfpSynergy, and is the founder and Chair of CharityComms. Joe works on a range of specific projects particularly those looking at impact, communications or trusteeship. He also works on the overall direction and development of nfpSynergy.