Make a plan for communications

As part of a six-month series on district operations, the Did You Know? monthly feature in eResource will highlight chapters of the NACD District Outlook Task Force report: “Blueprint for Locally-Led Conservation – A Strategy for District Success and Sustainability” (available here on our website). This month’s chapter tackles communications.

For most conservation districts, many of their residents, landowners, and local and state government officials, have little or no knowledge of what a district is, much less what a district can or is currently doing to conserve their community’s valuable natural resources.

Conservation districts can’t afford to be a ‘best kept secret’ any longer.

Each district’s survival depends on having a good communications plan that reaches out to all the constituents in their district. This plan should be comprehensive but also feasible given the resources available (e.g. personnel, training, finances, etc.).

In implementing this plan, districts can draw on resources provided by their traditional partners – state/territory associations, state/territory agencies, NACD, and NRCS – and illicit help from other partners in accomplishing their outreach goals.  Conservation districts are where the work ultimately gets done, but districts need to work with and through partners to accomplish their missions.

The survival of conservation districts depends on having a clear identity as a local entity as well as being part of a state and national conservation network and partnership. Conservation districts need to ensure that public officials and community groups recognize them as the “go to” organization leader for working with natural resource conservation issues. Together, we are stronger as part of a local/state/federal partnership network than as individual conservation districts.

The manner in which the public receives information has evolved and requires timely and concise communications. No longer is a quarterly newsletter or occasional article in the newspaper adequate. Successful conservation districts have harnessed the power of email, the internet, and social media to spread the word about their activities and create dialogue with customers. This requires a coordinated effort and planning by the district board and staff.

Every effort should be part of an overall communications plan which links to community needs, values, and concerns. Districts need to be aware of state and federal laws governing the public’s right to access government data, their obligation to produce such data and data privacy laws. Understanding the various data practices and laws can be complex when state and federal laws conflict. Conservation districts will have to be conscientious of data practice laws while communicating the public value of their efforts, including conservation results and outcomes.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DISTRICTS

Conservation districts need to develop and implement a communications plan that clearly articulates their identity and message consistently across all media while maximizing contacts for the district, its partners, the public, and government leaders. A successful communication plan includes these characteristics:

  • Clearly identifies activities and projects, goals, budget, time frames, and district board and staff responsibilities
    • Board members are invested in the communications plan and participate as well as staff.
    • District officials and staff are trained in all types of media.
    • Every communications activity reinforces the “District Brand,” the district’s identity, and includes your logo as well as the logo of NACD in joint communication with other partners.
  • Defines audiences and message
    • Recognizes the many audiences that the district addresses.
    • Focuses on building relationships with, or collaborating with audience groups.
    • Shows how your conservation district is relevant in addressing natural resource concerns.
  • Outlines the types of media to be used
    • Successful, progressive conservation districts utilize all types of media, not just newsletters, newspaper and broadcast media, but also websites, social media, and opportunities through conservation partnership communications.
    • Communications plan should provide a protocol for two-way communications, including a standard for answering inquires in a timely fashion
  • Provides ways to evaluate progress
    •  The communications plan should explain how effectiveness is measured.
    • Conservation districts should review their communication plan at least once quarterly to determine where changes need to be made.