If you work for a nonprofit or social venture, chances are you have a lot on your plate. In an environment where budgets are tight, and both leadership and staff are wearing multiple hats, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut with how you talk about your organization, what it does, and why it matters.
So how do you know if what you are staying still rings true – that the language you use in conversation, presentations and marketing materials, as well as on your website, is clear, compelling and inspires action? Here are five things you should do regularly to make sure your messaging doesn’t get too far off track:
Take a look at your materials. – Each time I start a messaging engagement, I ask the organization for all of its most recent materials including newsletters, annual reports, brochures, and fundraising appeals and acknowledgements. I lay everything out on a table while I have the website and social media accounts displayed on my monitor, and I take a look at everything together and see where the inconsistencies are. Is the same language being used across all of these vehicles? If not, why, and what needs to be changed?
Talk to your stakeholders. – Most people like to be asked for their opinion. Chose a handful of staff and board members, volunteers, donors, partners, and others who might come in contact with your organization, and ask if they’d like to have a phone call or cup of coffee (I usually recommend having about 20 conversations – you can also put together a short online survey). Find out what they think your organization does and how they describe you. Often you’ll see clear patterns emerge and be able to tell quickly if there’s any confusion.
Communicate with program staff. – Communities change over time – businesses, residents and politicians come and go – and those changes often impact the organizations and programs working there. It’s important that leadership as well as staff in externally facing roles like communications and development stay on top of what’s happening on the ground. Try to meet regularly with program staff and review data on the communities and people you serve to make sure what everyone is saying is in sync with reality.
Find out what everyone else saying. – It’s good to know what other organizations in your field are saying, especially organizations that are fundraising powerhouses, since they have the budgets to conduct more sophisticated research and marketing campaigns. Sign up for other e-newsletters (tip: create a separate folder in your inbox for these so you don’t get overwhelmed) as well as e-newsletters for associations or other networks in your field to help make sure the language you’re using is in line with best practices.
Know what’s going on in the world. – It’s important to know how developments in policy, the economy and society at large can affect your organization, the work you’re doing and how you talk about it. Words and expressions we once used might no longer be socially acceptable or even accurate, the tide of public opinion can turn in favor of some causes and away from others, and a new administration might leave you scrambling to save one program or staff up another. Your messaging will likely need to be refreshed every few years in order for your organization to stay relevant over time.
From the series
Truth Be Told: How to flex your marketing chops