First, if you’re not sure if your group needs a strategic communications plan, check out my related post: Do I Really *Need* a Strategic Communications Plan?
But once you’ve figured out that you need to focus your time and money on communications that will be effective, here are three options.
Some of our Canadian friends have developed an excellent guide, a Strategic Communications Planning Handbook for Nonprofits (available via Scribd, a website for sharing documents). It starts with an explanation about some of the benefits of a strategic communications plan, and the first 60 pages offer highly specific directions for making one. There are support materials and some sample communications plans included. (Unfortunately, the organization that produced this guide, the Institute for Society, Media and Civil Society, no longer exists.)
Spitfire Communications has developed some great communications planning tools, including the Smart Chart 3.0 and the Just Enough Planning Tool (which they developed in partnership with the Communications Leadership Institute).
Smart Chart 3.0 has a printable 22-page guide with many (many) boxes for you to fill in as you answer the questions in the chart (which is at the end of the PDF). Or you can create an account and record your planning work on the site. This document is easier to scan than the Planning Handbook I mentioned above becasue there is less step-by-step instruction in it. But it has all the essential questions for crafting a communications strategy.
The Just Enough Planning Tool is actually more than communications planning, but communications figures prominently into it. What I find is that some groups get stuck on communications planning because they don’t have the other pieces of their campaign strategy in place. This tool enables you to craft the broader plan, and integrate communications planning. Like the Smart Chart 3.0 site, you can create an account and record your work on your plan online as you collect all the information that will be a part of it.
All three of these tools are straightforward, but similar to any planning process, they will take you time to complete (weeks or, more likely, months) for an effective and realistic plan.
Bottom line: it takes time, but, if like most groups, you’re having to watch how you spend your group’s time and money, you can’t afford to skip communications planning.