A recent survey of more than 900 nonprofit leaders reveals a major communications crisis facing the industry - messages are simply not connecting with donors, volunteers, clients, and other key audiences. In fact, this survey (GettingAttention.org) indicates that many nonprofit leaders characterize their primary messages as poorly targeted, difficult to remember and uninspiring. Uninspiring?!? Unimaginable!
On a regular basis I speak with nonprofit leaders that are struggling with this very issue. Board members and staff are not networking or fundraising for the organization because they don’t know what to say. Advertising and marketing dollars are being wasted because no one is paying attention. Organizations are failing to connect with people that really care about their issues and therefore are under-resourced. Though this is a serious issue, it is one that can be easily resolved by being strategic in the creation of your marketing messages.
As we mentioned in previous articles on developing a strategic message, strategic messaging is the process of intentionally creating messages that appeal to the desires and motivations of your target audiences - whether donors, volunteers, funders, government officials, or partners. While strategic messages are consistent with the organizational mission, they are presented from the viewpoint of the audience.
Strategic messages do more than just generate attention and interest, they are targeted messages that will motivate people to act on your behalf and help you accomplish your goals, because they realize they will be satisfying their own desires at the same time.
Step 1: Know what you want.
What action do you desire? This action will be the foundation of your messaging and serve to answer the question, “Why are you communicating at all?”
Step 2: Identify and understand your target audience.
Determine who can best help you achieve you goals and what motivates them to get involved. This requires understanding the moods and motivations of individual audience segments so that you can create appropriate messages for each.
Step 3: Find mutuality.
Ultimately, the goal is to find that common ground or shared space where your needs, wants, and desires intersect with those of the audience(s). This intersect or overlap is what opens the door to engagement.
Step 4: Create your strategic marketing messages.
Finally, it’s time to write the message. When writing, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Be relevant. Keep the audience in mind for each message and always write from their viewpoint. Too often, organizations get to this point and then fall back into the trap of writing from their internal perspective. Don’t fall to this temptation. It will be helpful to include members of the audience and have them evaluate what you write to see if it speaks to them and resonates with their desires.
Avoid jargon. As nonprofits, we have all kinds of acronyms or clinical terms that we understand but make absolutely no sense to the listener (or reader, recipient). Don’t allow these to be part of your message. This may be challenging - but it is critical. You can ask your friends and family - those unfamiliar with your work - to see if they know what you are trying to say. If not, change it.
Keep it short. Ideally, strategic marketing messages are no longer than 25-30 words. Length is important because as we said early on, they need to be easy to remember so that people with a variety of levels of communication skills and familiarity with the organization can use them. They also need to be short so that the listener can remember them without feeling overwhelmed.
Remain consistent. Finally, keep in mind that the message should ALWAYS remain the same, but how it is presented can be unique for each person. Rebecca Leek, author of Message Matters, says in her book, “Words are flexible, the message is not.” So massage the words not the message.
Keep in mind, this is a creative process. After your message is created, you will still need to consider the implementation and evaluation of the messages. You will need to evaluate how effectively your message connects with your audiences and possibly make changes based your findings. Many organizations will also need to change their target audiences from time to time - resulting in an updated or new strategic message.
The goal of strategic messaging is to give everyone in the organization simple, compelling, and memorable words they can use to connect with a variety of audiences - getting them excited about what your organization is doing. Creating them well will also make poorly targeted, unmemorable, uninspiring nonprofit marketing messages a thing of the past.