I work with a number of grassroots organizations that don’t have dedicated communications staff or departments. Nor do you need them in order to be successful at communicating. There’s a lot of great information out there about strategic communications for nonprofits, but some of it relies on a person already understanding some basic elements (or jargon) that are the bedrock of strategic communications planning. Here’s why these terms are actually useful for making the limited time you have for communications count.

1- Editorial Calendar

Your editorial calendar is like a “to-do” list combined with a roadmap for effective communications. An editorial calendar tells you what anyone/everyone in your organization is developing for outgoing communications, and which communications are going out at any given time to which segment of your most important audiences (see below for more on audiences).

These calendars can be in an actual calendar format (like a Google calendar) or in a spreadsheet or in a project management system. The most important thing is that it be in a format where you’ll find it easy to refer to on an almost daily basis.

“How often should things go out?” is often the biggest question when you’re first setting up your calendar. The timing of outgoing communications is generally based on when things will work for a particular key audience to receive a particular piece of communication. Example: your key audience doesn’t want to learn about an event for the first time the day before it happens. But they would appreciate a reminder the day before or the day of the event. By placing these points in your editorial calendar in advance, you can take care of communications that you know you need to send out without last-minute rushing.

Sample editorial calendars: Lightbox Collaborative’s 2014 Editorial Calendar and Kivi Leroux Miller’s posts on editorial calendars.

2- Key Audience

When you are planning or crafting any communication, ask yourself, “who am I trying to reach?” There is no general public. You always want to consider “who is this for?” at every step of the process in order to be compelling and invite people to take action. I keep writing about how to identify your specific key audiences because it’s so central to strategic communications. Knowing who your key audience is helps you set priorities, schedules, and can make it so much faster when you’re ready to produce content.

3- Content

Why use a generic word like “content?” So that you can start strategic communications planning by starting with the more general “we’re going to create content” and then consider: what’s the best format to deliver a specific message to a person in your key audience and get them to take action? Instead of saying the more typical, “we need to send an email” or “post this on our website.” This can lead to you winding up more focused on the medium you’re using than who you’re trying to reach and what the goal of this particular piece of communication is.

Content is anything you’re creating that people can interact with: by reading/watching/listening to/touching/clicking. Content can include story text, images, photography, tweets, video, audio, phone scripts, letters, reply envelopes and mass email.

4- Channels

A channel is a more specific word for medium — a way to distribute content to an audience. When you write an action alert, you post it to the web, but you let people know about it via a social media site and/or email. Each of those is a channel. And they each have their nuances. “Social media” is a plural term that refers to many channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. It’s not like you create identical content for each of those.

As you’re setting up your calendar, consider adapting each piece of content you’re for as many channels as possible to reach the right audiences. Images that you post to social media may be useful for a print publication later. You can take a blog post and turn it into the basis for a fundraiser letter that goes in the mail. That powerpoint presentation you do all the time can get posted on the Internet.

Let your content have as many lives as possible by optimizing it for different channels to reach your key audience.

5- Key Performance Indicators/Measure of Success

You need to be able to know if your content is having the impact you want it to – a measure of success.

Are you hoping for a certain number of RSVPs for an event? Are you hoping to generate a certain number of donations from a mailing that goes to 2,000 people? The measure of success also helps you decide things like, “how much staff time should go into this particular piece of content?” and “is this communication worth doing again?” So decide what you’re going to measure, then identify a “key performance indicator” (KPI) that you can use to check your progress on reaching your goal.

Now go read more about strategic communications! Or let me know other terms you want me to clarify for you.