The Value of Annual and Long-term Communications Plans for Associations

By Dani Mihalic • October 6, 2022

Many associations seem to forget about the importance of a communications plan, especially when they have their head down working on the day-to-day tasks that always seem extra important in the moment.

However, setting your intentions for how you want your association to progress and succeed in the future is just as important as the tasks you need to complete to survive the day. Although having an overall communications plan is one step in the right direction, there is value in having both an annual and long-term communications plan.

Here’s why you need both of these plans to ensure the success of your association.

Why does your association need communications plans?

No matter how big or small your association is, a communications plan is something highly important to your employees, members and other stakeholders.

Both of these plans provide an incredible amount of value to your association as they act as a support tool for future growth and retention.

Not only does it help you to grow your membership and boost revenue, two key things that are mission-critical for any association with its sights set on success, but they also play into the rest of your important goals.

Your communications plan will allow you to think about goals such as engagement, monetary growth, retention, and more and will act as a guiding light to help you achieve the targets you’re working so hard towards.

What is your annual communications plan and why is it important?

An annual communications plan is a document that will set out your goals, objectives, and activities for the year ahead.

This task will involve gathering information from the year before, benchmarking against the previous year’s communications plans, and assessing which activities are feasible bearing in mind the budget, resources, and time you have available to you in the following year.

Although a year may seem like a long time, when you look at it from the perspective of an association, it isn’t that long. 

A year isn’t enough time to see multiple campaigns through, so the challenge with these types of plans isn’t understanding what’s realistic and being smart about what you think your team will be able to achieve in just 12 months.

What is your long-term communications plan and why is it important?

Unlike your annual communications plan, with a long-term plan, you are not as restricted when it comes to things like budget, resources, and time.

In these plans, you are outlining the goals you have for your association many years in advance. It’s not as granular as deciding on your campaigns for the year but will look at your operations in a much more holistic way.

With a yearly plan, it can be easier to spot any opportunities and threats that could affect the way your association does business. However, with a long-term plan, it can be very difficult to identify any threats that could affect you in 5 years, so it’s often important to show some flexibility and understanding that the exact plans you’re communicating now may not look the same when they are finally actioned.

Ultimately, long-term and annual communication plans are two very important documents that any association needs, but serve very different purposes. Where annual plans look at a small space of time and find ways to maximize resources over this time frame, a long-term plan will be focused on the future of the association and how different campaigns and tasks can help take you to where you want to be.

What should your communications plan include? 

When it comes to putting your goals on paper in the form of a communications plan, there is a certain way that your information should be laid out.

The generic sections that should be in every communications plan, whether it’s annual or long-term, are:

  1. The executive summary
  2. Information about your association (mission statement, products/services, etc.)
  3. Market analysis
  4. Audience demographics and segmentation
  5. Goals

Within the specific order of your communications plan, you also need to include sections for:

  • Membership department
  • Continuing education department
  • Your audience and members
  • Past member/prospective members
  • Vendors/sponsors/partners
  • Event promotional campaigns and post-show communication
  • Career Center promotion – both to employers and candidates
  • Product-specific promotion – magazine promo, annual report, etc.
  • Newsletter strategy
  • Member renewal communication plan and strategy

Within the plan, you may also want to start noting down your plans for specific campaigns that you have coming up in the future.

Some of the campaigns that you may be planning for can include:

  • Membership milestones
  • Mentor/mentee promotion
  • NextGen segmentation
  • Surveying
    • Membership surveys
    • Readership surveys
    • Post-show surveys
  • Webinar and certification programs
  • Content planning

Get your association on the path to success

Your communication plan is the first step toward’s your association’s success, but it doesn’t mean that all the work stops there. Once you’ve written down your goals and objectives, the next stage of the problem lies in taking the actions to make it all happen, which we can help you with.

About The Author

Dani Mihalic is the director of marketing at Naylor Association Solutions. Reach her at [email protected].