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Foundation Operations: Communications-> Strategic Communications-> Successful Strategies

Successful Communications Strategies

There are many vehicles available for disseminating a message. An organization might use an annual report, its Web site, special reports, or press releases to communicate to the public. Developing the message is as important as disseminating it; the tips will help inform the process.

First, it is important to determine the audience for a particular message, campaign, or report. Be specific, by asking the following questions:

  • Who are they?
  • Why do you want to talk to them?
  • What do they need to know?
  • Where are they in relation to your point of view?

Then, you must determine the message you would like to convey by developing the story and identifying the key points. In a report, the introduction is most important to capture the reader’s attention. Describe the most important finding at the beginning. An executive summary is useful to distill the main messages of your product.

The most effective reports are short and tell a good story. Providing examples helps the reader put your message in context. Use tables, bullets, other methods to convey the information. Word choice is important: avoid jargon, and use short and simple words.

Finally, make your reports accessible. The easiest way to ensure your audience sees the report is to post it on the organization’s Web site. In addition, many people will not pay for reports. If your message is critical, distribute reports for free.



The California Wellness Foundation, Reflections: On Communications Strategies That Accent Grantees (Woodland Hills, CA: February 2003). This issue of Reflections shares what the foundation has learned about communicating its mission and tailoring messages to reach specific audiences through the use of compelling stories.

Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Jargon Files is an online jargon dictionary that explains jargon and offers suggestions on how to avoid it.

IconLogic, Technical Writing Labs ( These on-line exercises provide tutorials on eliminating passive voice, writing concisely, cutting “dead wood,” and other topics.

Proscio, Tony, Bad Words for Good: How Foundations Garble Their Message and Lose Their Audience (Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, New York, NY: 2001).

Proscio, Tony, In Other Words: A Plea for Plain Speaking in Foundations (Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, New York, NY: 2000).

Proscio, Tony, When Words Fail: How the Public Interest Becomes Neither Public Nor Interesting (Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, New York, NY: 2005).

SPIN Project, Identifying Your Target Audience (, This tutorial provides more information on target audiences and how to get to know them.

Spitfire Strategies, Smart Chart ( This communications planning tool provides a step-by-step process to help nonprofits make informed communications decisions.


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