Salsa Blog

Whats Wrong with Your Nonprofit Editorial Calendar (and How to Fix it)

What an Editorial Calendar is:

An editorial calendar is basically an organized to-do list. It’s a collaboration of ideas for your content, all in one place. It’s an accountability tool, a forum for brainstorming, and a source for motivation. It keeps track of content publication across all of your different media channels.  It is The Must-Have Tool for any successful content management strategy.

What an Editorial Calendar isn’t:

An editorial calendar is not static. The contents are not intended to be written in stone. It is ever-evolving. Also, an editorial calendar is not just one person’s responsibility, but should be a shared resource that a larger team is invested in maintaining. After all, how can there be accountability if only one person is keeping an eye on it?

8 Benefits of an Editorial Calendar:

Not convinced you need an editorial calendar? Here are eight qualities you and your team gain by having one:

  1. Organization: Have everything for all of your media channels in one place.
  2. Planning: Gives you time to plan ahead and plan your schedule accordingly.
  3. Audience segmentation: Target each audience and platform accordingly, with the most suitable messaging style.
  4. Commitment: Putting an end date on projects increases the likelihood that they will actually get done.
  5. Accountability: Putting things in writing where everyone can see them means shared responsibility for keeping projects on track.
  6. Creativity: Maps out topics clearly and frees up space for more focused creativity and inspiration.
  7. Accomplishment: Checking to-do’s off the list feels so good! You can then look back and see everything your team has done.
  8. Measurement: Track your data and get valuable insights about content that’s performing well and content that could be doing better. Incorporate these insights into future editorial planning.

Now that we’ve got some ground rules, let’s get to the nitty gritty:

So What’s Wrong With My Nonprofit’s Editorial Calendar?

Depending on whether you’re creating your organization’s very first editorial calendar or you’re refining one already in existence, will determine the right kind of calendar you need for your organization. But one of the most important lessons you’ll learn about creating an editorial calendar is that there is no perfect tool for every nonprofit. A calendar that works great for one mid-sized, women’s rights organization is not going to work for every mid-sized, women’s rights nonprofit. 

Last year, Net Impact shared with us their search for the perfect editorial calendar. They discovered what lots of organizations are still learning - one tool can’t possibly manage all your needs. Getting the right editorial calendar means continuous upkeep and improvement. It’s a living, breathing document like no other. 

Editorial calendars are unique to your organization because organizational cultures are so vastly different, especially when it comes to public-facing communications. Consider your editorial process for a minute - how do you decide when a certain piece of content needs to be written? who writes it? how long does it take to write a blog post? an email? or create an infographic? a video? who has to approve it? how long will that take? 

Given each of these factors, it’s easy to see why editorial calendars can quickly become unwieldy, at best, and unused, at worst. Yet many nonprofits go wrong with their editorial calendar because they’re using the same format they’ve always used! How long has your organization been using its current communications calendar? 

Editorial calendars need to be reviewed, and often times re-assessed, in much the same way your communications strategies do. If you’ve joined a new social network or recently gained new editorial staff, then right now is probably a good time to start building a new editorial calendar.

And remember - a calendar isn’t meant to make your life more difficult, but should bring a sense of order and stability to the life of you and your team. So embrace the process! Think of it like a good spring cleaning for every inch of your communications.

But how do you capture so much information in just one tiny, simple calendar? Well, the truth is you don’t...

Calendars vs. Spreadsheets

The term ‘editorial calendar’ can be deceiving for a couple of key reasons. First off, when you talk about calendars, your mind is likely picturing a calendar layout. While in reality, organizations are managing so many different communications channels these days, the editorial calendar has been forced to evolve as well. Many organizations are opting for a shared spreadsheet to allow for more flexible handling of multiple channels, projects, messages, audiences, and content types. 

It’s important to choose the calendar layout that works best for you and your team. Also, be open to the fact that the calendar that works best for you this year may not be the same one that works as well next year. Whether you use Google Docs, Outlook, Excel, Wordpress or another option - start with the template that lets your team transition the most comfortably. Then, get ready to customize, customize, customize! 

We’ve created this 2014 editorial calendar template in Google Docs to get you started (emphasis on “start”).

The second reason why an ‘editorial calendar’ may not be what you think is depending on how much information you’re keeping track of, you may find it more useful to create multiple calendars, or spreadsheets, instead of just one. Each spreadsheet should be organized by a different category, allowing you to gain deeper and keener insights into the content you’re producing. But trust us, even though the term ‘editorial calendar’ may not quite do justice to the complexity of work you’re trying to organize, you’ll definitely be more successful at organizing your communications with one than without. 

Calendar Strategy: Accentuate the Positives

Regardless of the basic layout you choose, your calendar should be flexible enough to adjust to the changing nature of your team’s workflow and organizational priorities. And it’s important to build a calendar that plays to the strengths of your existing processes rather than one that fights against them. 

Also consider what information is going to help your team collaborate better. At the beginning of a crazy week, what information do you absolutely need before you can start cranking out lots of great content? Prioritize columns that are most important for the team and put ones of lesser priority further to the right. ‘Publish date’ and/or ‘due date’ items are typically going to be among the first columns on your calendar, while ‘Author’, ‘Tags’ or other meta data can likely be pushed back to later columns. 

The goal is integration. A calendar should aim to give the team a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on across all channels. While ideally, each of those smaller pieces of content should connect in some way to support a larger campaign theme, message or audience.

For example, if you are an organization whose strength is its ability to engage many distinct audiences (student leaders, event organizers and legislative coordinators), then you may prefer creating a different calendar or spreadsheet tab for each group to make sure you’re maintaining the quality of that engagement. Or if your organization excels at churning out lots of different content types, then perhaps it’s worth categorizing your calendar by monthly themes to ensure you’re telling a cohesive narrative and not letting pieces of content fall through the cracks. 

And keep in mind that calendars aren’t just about supporting internal processes, they should help you gain greater insight on external impact. The clearer you are about who you want to reach with your communications, the more clearly you can organize your calendar. Try tapping into your nonprofit’s voice for maximum impact. 

Ultimately, creating a good editorial calendar is a lot like developing a good data measurement strategy. If you put good stuff in, you’ll get good stuff out. Your team will easily be able to see any gaps, trends, or obstacles (planning around upcoming holidays/vacations) and re-adjust accordingly.

Pick Your Categories

Categories are the key elements that make your calendar unique. There is no set limit for how many categories you need on your calendar. Just be mindful that the more categories you choose, the more cluttered your calendar is going to be. A good rule of thumb - if the team doesn’t use a particular category at least once a month to improve/monitor/measure their content production, then consider removing it from your calendar altogether.

As mentioned earlier, some larger categories may be best broken out into their own separate calendar or spreadsheet tab if your organization is producing enough content. They are noted below with an “S”.

Here are a few common editorial calendar categories: 

  • Publish date
  • Title of content
  • Author
  • Description of content - Keep it brief! Aim for under 250 characters.
  • Deadline for creation - Useful for keeping your team on task, but there may be other project management tools that may work better. 
  • Theme/Issue/Campaign (S) - What is the larger message? How can you group smaller pieces of content together into a larger narrative? See an example of this in the third “Themes” tab of our 2014 Editorial Calendar Template.
  • Channels/Content Type (S) - You can get as granular with this category as you’d like. High-level: Social media; Email; Blog; Website OR Drill-down into specifics: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, E-newsletter, advocacy emails, etc. See an example of this in our 2014 Editorial Calendar Template.
  • Target Audience/Personas (S) - Who are you trying to reach? 
  • Call-to-action - What are you asking readers to do? Helpful when tracking audience engagement and advocacy action response rates 
  • Key Dates - Holidays, Cause-related dates, staff vacation days, website updates, other important dates that may affect the normal flow of production
  • Name of external designer/producer - Include if you regularly work with external consultants/others whose schedules may affect production or need to be credited in the final published content
  • Distribution Channels - Which external or offline channels are you using to broaden the reach of your content?
  • Source of content - Are you republishing/repurposing content in some way? Where did the original content come from?
  • Status - Consider creating a drop-down menu to let others on a large team know what stage a particular piece of content is: ‘In Production’, ‘Drafting’, ‘Sent to Designer’, etc.
  • Keywords/Tags - What common terms can be associated with this piece of content?
  • Metrics - How will you measure success? Keep this category pretty high-level 
  • Notes - Any unique circumstances or special considerations when posting

Once you have created your editorial calendar, work with your team to set up some ground rules. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Who has access to the calendar?
  • Can the full team edit the calendar? Or is there only one person tasked with updating?
  • How often do you intend to post blog articles? Send emails? Post to your social media channels? etc?
  • Are you allotting enough time for copywriting? design? production? approvals?
  • What is the process for scheduling changes? Who needs to be notified? How?
  • How far out would you like to schedule your calendar? Don’t worry if you’re not there yet, but give your team a shared goal to work toward.

If used correctly, editorial calendars can be essential tools to help your team stay organized, on task and motivated to produce better quality content in a more streamlined way. The key is not to aim for perfection. Build a strong foundation now and be prepared to do some remodeling along the way!

Topics: Strategy