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Turning the comms toolkit upside down

A person writing with their laptop open.

There’s a sentence that every communications professional at a nonprofit has heard (and if you’re like me, dreads): “We need a toolkit for that launch.” This typically means creating an exhaustive, robust library of materials, pre-launch, to get the word out on social media, email, and your website to drum up interest and support for your organization’s upcoming, exciting initiative.  

But does this traditional approach to toolkits make sense given the amount of time and effort it requires? Let’s talk about the return on investment with the traditional approach and an alternative way of building out your library of materials that could result in greater benefit. 

Why it doesn’t work 

In nonprofits, marketing, communications, and fundraising functions often overlap. It’s natural then that the traditional approach to launching a fundraising campaign or marketing initiative would seep into communications. That said, I spent the bulk of my professional years in communications avoiding “the toolkit.” The words immediately evoked visions of past experiences, with many hours and several team members dedicated to carefully crafting exhaustive materials in advance of a particular campaign or initiative for our partners’ dissemination. Then we sent the toolkit to our partners…as an attachment…and watched as no one used it. All that time, effort, and good intention yielded very little return on investment. 

What were we doing wrong? To start, we were applying marketing and fundraising launch best practice to communications. This was challenging, because we weren’t controlling when and if the materials were deployed like marketing and fundraising functions do. Instead, we were asking our partners on a particular initiative to use and disseminate our words through their own channels. And unfortunately, we had created materials based on perceived need, feeling the pressure to provide everything one could possibly want or need on launch day. This meant we weren’t seeking feedback until too late. The result was messaging and imagery entirely branded in our voice, which would be disjointed coming from outside our organization. 

The intention was good, but we didn’t factor in the reality that people want to customize their content. As communicators, we deeply value our unique identity and tone. Also, gone are the days when functions like social media are a side note in a job description. Professionals in these roles rightly value their followers and don’t want to serve content that isn’t aligned with their expectations. Candid doesn’t cut and paste suggested wording in emails or social media posts. We craft content in our own voice and style. So why were we expecting our partners to do so? 

Pivoting to find a better way 

In the leadup to launching Demographics via Candid this year, the request came in for a fully baked, pre-launch toolkit. This time, we argued for a different approach. 

Take the time to clarify your goals, potential audiences, and basic messaging first. We started with one page of clear, simple messaging explaining the details of the initiative as our “source of truth.” We encouraged our partners to customize this content and make it their own. We also created a launch video, incorporating feedback from staff across Candid who were directly engaged in conversations with potential partners. Lastly, we built out a simple but clear webpage using our same “source of truth” messaging. 

Candid’s partnerships team members distributed these materials–the basics–and regularly funneled feedback about what was resonating, what wasn’t clear, and what was missing. With that feedback, we were able to create more materials to share with prospective partners centered on meeting their real-world needs. The source of truth messaging remained intact, but we adapted outreach materials to fit our partners’ needs as we learned them. We tailored one-sheets to our partners’ audiences and provided social media guidelines with general language about the campaign, encouraging partners to customize posts. One grantmaker association even worked with us to craft a bespoke, five-email campaign to encourage their members to sign on to Demographics via Candid. This created a model for an email campaign any partner could follow. 

Where we are now

In less than a year, our colleagues leveraged these materials to sign on over 125 partners. One partner’s outreach resulted in 12 of their members signing on to the campaign directly! Today, the webpage is the main platform and source of truth for information on Demographics via Candid. Built out to meet partners’ needs, it now includes a quick signup form, details on how to access demographic data, press coverage, and an ever-growing list of partners.  

This alternative approach meant we had to launch with the bare minimum, which can create the feeling of being empty-handed. But we had what we needed, and the team was ready to create as soon as we had information to better inform our work. Ultimately, we ended up with a robust set of campaign materials and a flexible mindset that they would continue to evolve. We see more adoption and engagement, with partners sending out tailored, compelling calls to their audiences to participate. Give it a try, flip the campaign materials creation process on its head, and let us know what you find out. 


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