About Internal & External Communications
Internally, statewide afterschool networks must be able to share information and exchange ideas efficiently and effectively with partners at every level, from the steering committee to work groups to regional affiliates, and across organizations, geographic locations and operating systems. How a network handles these communications can directly impact how engaged partners are in the work and how effective the network is overall. Internal communications vehicles can include everything from listservs to collaborative editing tools.
Externally, communications are critical to build and mobilize support for quality afterschool and expanded learning programs. Mapping key audiences, messages and tactics can help a statewide afterschool network organize what can be overwhelming work. Networks communicate with afterschool staff and leaders, media, policymakers, agencies, stakeholders and the public and each may require a slightly different message. Vehicles to reach key audiences vary widely; those commonly used by networks are earned media strategies, annual convenings, email blasts/newsletters, websites, action alerts, one-on-one meetings with lawmakers, site visits and community events.
- Know your audience—Most networks have at least 20 partners, a set of internal structures that include a steering committee and various work groups. All must be kept abreast and engaged, but at differing levels and on varying topics.
- Efficiency is key—On average, workers spend 4.75 hours per week arranging an average of nine meetings with seven parties. Users of scheduling systems like Doodle report spending just 15 minutes per meeting.
- Repetition—Adults have to hear the same message three times before it is absorbed. Adults have to hear the same message three times before it is absorbed. Adults have to hear the same message three times before it is absorbed.
- Learn the elevator speech—It’s best to get your message down to a pithy 30-second pitch to draw in a new supporter or get quoted in the media.
- Timing is everything—Elected officials read their local paper, rely on staff for issue expertise and want opportunities to get in front of their constituents, especially around elections.
Strategies to Support Internal & External Communications
- Think about the key elements of any communications plan—goal, audience, message, messengers and tactics.
- Plot out a campaign of activities to reach key audiences at critical moments.
- Tailor your approach to your audience. Hone appropriate approaches to different audiences, as well as any polling you can find (ask allied groups; see Afterschool Alliance polling reports; search news articles). Use low-cost survey tools to gauge the needs and interests of your field and partners periodically.
- Seek pro bono or discounted services from a local public relations agency or from university students/interns for help updating collateral, graphics and websites.
- Mine others’ resources to build up content for communications.