Rising Above the Clutter In The Next Normal

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With remote-working days stretching into weeks, Non-profit development and communication teams must adjust their tactics to engage stakeholders and advance their organizations’ mission through philanthropy. Donors, alumni, grateful patients, members, volunteers, and friends all need to know that you care and that they matter. The desire to engage and to give has not changed; it’s our approach that must adapt.

Never has this been more true than in a crisis of change and upheaval, the likes this country and every community hasn’t seen in a century. The story you crafted to tell your donors in December has no relevance today. March. No. August, not really. As the days and weeks drone on, circumstances change daily. Who is affected? Who is employed? Will school start remotely or in person? Will your staff be on site? Will your organization open
its doors?

When times are tough, integrated fundraising and communication strategies matter more than ever. For many non-profit institutions, maximizing communications potential is complex, often taking a back seat to the more pressing service issues, annual fund fundraising organizational goals.

Rising above the clutter requires a compelling message that will not only capture your audience’s attention but be persuasive enough to hold on to it. Taking the time to craft such a message is critical. Rushing the process usually results in “me too,” internally focused, irrelevant communication, which is ultimately a waste of money.

Often, goals are set, and messages are developed through wishful thinking and ratified by a few senior staff and volunteers when a marketplace perspective is required. Furthermore, organizations often create a message without ever considering: who will hear it, what they want the recipient to do, or how the message will make the recipient feel about the value the organization delivers.

Your audience yearns for the truth. Don’t sugar coat what is and what isn’t. It’s important that you examine the good and the bad, for there is no truth in the telling if you don’t examine how and why the organization came to the place it is today. And recognize that what is today – will, in all probability, not be the same tomorrow or next week. This allows you a tremendous opportunity to communicate with your constituencies. And luckily,
the immediacy of our technologically connected world will help you
do that.

Your communications program should not change an attitude or behavior but create increased awareness, recognition, and
support for your institution and its important work.

The goal is to support and expand your fundraising effort – reaching your stakeholders with the information they need and want; developing targeted and strategic communications and public relations activities that build the relationships you need today and for the future; and creating messages that inform interest activate.

In terms of timing, a comm-unications program cannot start early enough. Communication helps support campaign goals, but it takes planning and resources to generate positive awareness, attitudes, and enthusiasm, build credibility, and surmount obstacles.  It takes more than a newsletter – more than a few “tweets” – more than a few on-air pitches.  It requires a strategic communication plan and the creativity and long-term view to carrying it out.  It involves commitment from the institutional staff and volunteer leadership and the necessary resources to do the job.

Here are ten tips to consider as you develop your organization’s communications program:

1. Institutions must strive to achieve the “brand pinnacle. If your campaign is to be successful, a concerted and deliberate communication effort will have to be carried out.  A positive and aggressive program must be devised whereby your institution expresses its goals through “branding” and a closer working relationship with its key publics. First, you must reach out to the “key opinion” leaders in the donor community and enlist their support for your institution by educating them on your institution’s “value.” Second, you must build on the relationship with strategic partners – preferably with a brand that has a reputation for being “trustworthy.” Trustworthy brands are becoming the donor’s roadmap through a giant worldwide bazaar in which tens of millions of other sellers are trying to lure your donor away.

2. A worthiness-based Case for Support. Special focus will be required in the case document, and all literature must be specific about the program elements of the campaign.   A robust worthiness-based case is more important than ever today. Institutions must be prepared to address three critical case questions: Why this organization? Why these projects? Why now?  With these messages clearly articulated, communicating the mission’s importance and the donor

community’s campaign becomes the primary task.

3. You are sharpening a good message. The current challenges call for honing your message and elevating your storytelling to help maximize fundraising success.  Your message must grab your audience’s attention and make them want to listen to and explore what you have to say. It is best if your message connects with your audience’s interests and conveys what you want your audience to do in a clear, understandable manner. As you create your message, realize that messages that inform are different from messages intended to catalyze action. Carefully consider your objective.

A good message is focused and succinct. It speaks to how you can solve your audience’s problem, why they should trust you, and why do business with you over anyone else. It needs to be relevant and in the language your market understands, not peppered with technical jargon or industry terminology. By having one meaningful, targeted positioning statement as a guide for all communications, you will convey a consistent image and, most importantly, a consistent message.

4. Identities create a brand image.  Image means personality.  The personality of an organization is an amalgam of many things.  Many marketing activities besides your institution’s identity contribute to the image.  These include, among others, social media,  public relations, advertising, fundraising, special events, and crisis management.

5. The opportunity. Today’s environments are multimedia, multi-channel, multi-sensory, digital communications, transportation, products, and services becoming global.  The consumer is bombarded with images and messages.  It is not enough just to focus on your core competencies, quality, and customer value.  To achieve campaign goals, it is imperative to develop a strong point of differentiation using branding to create positive overall stakeholder impressions that depict your institution’s multifaceted personality.

6. Generational messaging. Your messages need to be crafted to address the generational values of your stakeholders.  That means you need to know and understand the five American Generations and where your donors fit.

7. Repetition, proof statements, consistency. Your message needs to be carried out in everything you do – not just grab the audience once but re-enforce why the audience should continue to pay attention. Include substantial evidence that proves that what you are saying is true. This lends credibility to your position and will further hold your audience’s attention. One of the communication industry giants, David Ogilvy, was fond of saying: “Three tips for getting your message out. Tip 1, repetition. Tip 2, repetition. Tip 3 repetitions.”

8. You are describing your Impact. Trying to communicate too many things dilutes your message and will diminish the probability that your audience stays tuned to what you have to say. Donors want to know the impact of their giving, but the defining implications are not always straightforward. We’ll look at examples of compelling impact stories and statements and share a framework for demonstrating philanthropic impact in this crisis and beyond.

9. Measure, adjust, evolve. Once you have developed a compelling and relevant message, continually monitor and track it to ensure your audience is listening to you and interpreting what you say in the way you want. Consider regular surveys or focus groups to ensure your message communicates value and
is compelling and relevant for your audience.

10. Speak with one voice. Once you have created your compelling message, make sure that you train the entire organization on it. Speaking from a single, unified voice is a potent tool for putting your organization on a path for growth. And make sure your message is clear. Communicate how things have changed over the last number of months. Remember that people are still trying to figure out the
“new” normal, constantly evolving. Work from home for some may be ongoing. Is that the case for
your organization?

About the Author
John Martin has more than 30 years experience in the not-for profit field, on both the organizational and consulting sides. Through his consulting work with clients seeking counsel for major capital and endowment campaigns, Mr. Martin has earned a reputation as one of North America's top strategists for the not-for-profit sector. His brash mix of social concern and aggressive business smarts has helped raised hundreds of millions of dollars for colleges, hospitals, human service organizations and arts and cultural groups throughout North America. John Martin was chosen the 2007 Professional Fund Raiser. He can be reached via email: martinmgi@cs.com