Developing an organization's communications strategy is a lot like determining where to fish: question after question. Where do you drop your line? To what depth? Using what bait and hook? Are fish even in this area?

The folks who must firmly hold onto the ever-slippery responsibility of delivering effective communications know that decisions must be made. While a nearly endless supply of books, videos, courses, degrees, workshops, and articles exist on distributing messages well, many organizations share a very common and basic challenge: building a framework.

Specifically, a framework serves an organization by providing a consistent perspective on what "effective" really means. Creative isn't the same thing as effective, though it might help. The latest technology won't ensure success, though it, too, might help. Supportive design, strong content, medium, brevity: all serve as communication factors, not guarantors of success. All should be considered, but within a framework.

Let's examine a framework worth considering. To start, this statement is a relatively easy plot of common ground to claim: Effective communications are read. Sorry for the typo. Effective communications are READ. Four key principles exist that can serve as the lens through which to examine—plan and evaluate—communication pieces: Received, Engaged, Acted Upon, and Delighting.

Received. Does this piece make into the hands, or onto the screens, of the audience for which it's intended? If not, don't waste time and money to do it. While this might seem like an extremely elementary starting point, consider the substantial volume of communications that target you in just a single day: emails, tweets, posts, pins, sidebars, and other advertisements (look to the right or left now), what you were handed at church, and your postal mailbox (work and home). Now think about how many are deleted or discarded without being engaged. How will your piece avoid the trashcan, physical or electronic, so that it has a chance to do its job?

Engaged. If a piece makes it into an intended recipient's hand or onto his/her screen, the next step is to help that person thoughtfully (although possibly briefly) read and receive the message. Knowing as much as possible about the audience will help. Make it too long and a person loses interest; too short and a person won't understand. Too flashy and stylized distracts. Too dull and boredom persuades the person to move on to something else. Whenever possible, ask others for opinions—paying close attention as to whether they understood the main message—which should inspire action.

Acted upon. Too many communication pieces appear as educational experiences and not calls to action. Before crafting a message, clarify what the recipient should do as a result of receiving and engaging. Some might see this as a pathway to measuring success. While that's true, the more basic motivation behind this portion of the framework is this: if you can't clearly articulate what you want someone to do, be prepared for the recipient to do nothing. On the other hand, if no action need take place, question why the communication piece exists.

Delighting. Strive to help people enjoy the communication experience and they will more likely receive, engage, and act upon future pieces from you. In many cases, this means avoiding the temptation to ramble and succinctly ending the communication.

David Staal, senior editor for Building Church Leaders and a mentor to a first grader, serves as the president of Kids Hope USA, a national non-profit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students. David is the author of Lessons Kids Need to Learn (Zondervan, 2012) and Words Kids Need to Hear (Zondervan, 2008). He lives in Grand Haven, MI, with his wife Becky, son Scott, and daughter Erin.

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