Ep 61: How to Build a Smart Communications Plan (with Ben Wyskida)

by Joan Garry

In this episode, Ben Wyskida, CEO of Fenton Communications explains what you must do to build a successful communications plan for your nonprofit.


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How great would it be for your nonprofit to show up in a front page article in the New York Times? Pretty great.

But that’s not a strategic goal. At best, it’s a tactic as part of an overall communications plan.

What is a communications plan? How does it differ from a strategic plan? How do you set SMART goals? Are press releases dead? Do you need a full time Communications Director to develop and execute an effective plan? Can you use an outside PR person? And what if neither of those are options financially?

How do you know if your communications plan is working?

Too many organizations struggle to prioritize and understand how to communicate with its various audiences. Figuring this out is vital to a successful communications plan.

Ben Wyskida, political strategist and CEO of Fenton Communications, a media strategy firm dedicated to social change, joined me on the podcast to answer some really important questions I had about successful nonprofit communications.

About Ben Wyskida

Ben Wyskida is an accomplished political strategist and communications expert, with nearly 20 years of experience working for progressive social change. Since 2017 he has been the CEO of Fenton. He previously served as an Executive Vice President at BerlinRosen Public Affairs, where he built the firm’s Philanthropy and Cultural Activism practice. There, Ben counseled many of the nation’s leading foundations and advocacy organizations on messaging and communications strategy. Before BerlinRosen, Ben was with The Atlantic Philanthropies, where he developed capacity-building programs and provided crisis communications support for a portfolio of grantees working on health care reform, immigration and social security. Ben has led communications for The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and The Nation Magazine. He began his career as an organizer for Sierra Club, winning a long-shot campaign to preserve more than 6,000 acres of pristine Maryland wilderness. Ben brings to Fenton deep expertise in criminal justice reform, sustainability, human rights and public interest law. He has been a leader in “media for media” communications for investigative journalism nonprofits, and in developing impact campaigns for filmmakers and authors working for social change. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Stonewall Community Foundation and lives on New York City’s Lower East Side with his partner, composer Nico Muhly, and their dog Óskar.

In this episode

  • What is a communication plan? Can a nonprofit thrive without one?
  • What are the core elements of a communications plan?
  • How do you segment your audiences and which questions do you ask each one?
  • How do you tie strategy to communications and can you have one without the other?
  • Who are you pitching and what do keywords and Google Alerts have to do with your database of pitches?
  • How many months should you plot on your communications plan?
  • If you hire a communications director where do you look? Which sectors and backgrounds should you be open to?
  • How do you know if your communications plan is working?