Part 2: Craft Your Message
Evenings provide quiet moments to reflect on today’s activities and anticipate tomorrow’s possibilities. Our minds comfortably toggle between two points.
Another area worthy of such dual examination: Fundraising. Last week we looked at how to improve donor communications. Now let’s explore what to include in message(s) you share.
Your organization or association faces unique challenges. Assume donors / members also deal with their own world of complexities, which means they likely know nothing specific about your current situation, program, or needs. From that safe (and profoundly sensitive) perspective, consider six key ingredients for effective messaging. Mix this half-dozen together in whatever measures make most sense for you – and a strong message will emerge.
Provide an inside look, first on the constituencies you serve and then on your organization. Use strong, crisp stories for the former and a chart/graph to describe the latter. Share new stories and fresh information that recipients can find nowhere else and have not received before. Now is not a good time to recycle content. General stories generally accomplish nothing – so keep them specific, lively, and purposeful: Make ‘em laugh or make ‘em cry, just help ‘em see why their support makes a real difference. You achieve organizational transparency with perspective that feels vulnerable and difficult to share. Supporters love brutal honesty.
Change is now normal. Even expected. Share brief descriptions of recent pivots your organization has made to continue pursuing your mission. Be specific and make sure what you share comes across as both tangible and logical. If an event had to be cancelled but a free webinar took place with a popular speaker, share it as an example of hard work to keep up with the cards that reality dealt you – along with how many people attended, a key point or two the speaker shared, and any similar upcoming plans. Directly connect the event with your mission.
If income dropped, if unexpected expenses arrived, if finances threaten to erode or erase what you do, say it. What major issues prevent you from moving forward? Describe the issue, the impact, and the options you face. Use definitive statements to describe lack of attendance, lack of access, lack of awareness, or any other lacks you face. In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel prize recipient Daniel Kahneman writes, “If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do.” Clarity always beats cleverness. The likelihood of receiving support goes up when recipients easily understand the need, the reason, and the request.
Enormous wealth has vanished in the markets and most industries experienced heavy losses, so many companies, foundations, government, and individuals have less money. This means donation levels will likely decrease and competition for gifts will increase. To what extent no one knows because precedent does not exist. Welcome to the new reality; consider it as you discern any gift amount you request or membership fee increase. Now is the time to tout your organization or association’s unique place in today’s world, no matter your size. Use real-life examples to illustrate your impact.
Create a case for support needed now. If you plan to re-engineer soon, let donors know that you’ll update them along the way. An even better approach: Invite your key donors to participate in the planning, or at least provide an opportunity for them to offer ideas. This gesture will result in greater buy-in, even a feeling of ownership. Yes, this item is worth reading the entire article to discover because of the potential upside it will bring to your efforts with key donors. Inviting key supporters to step closer, to join an inner circle, will serve as a strong maneuver against increased competition for funding.
Trim away any need to impress. Instead, show high awareness and authenticity. You will accomplish much when you articulate reality – especially in tough times. Too often, the desire to look good or appear in control results in messages that undermine the true need you want donors / members to understand. Remember that external communications focus on the recipient, not on you. When they serve as invitations for partnership, both parties benefit – the greatest toggle you can achieve.
Up next: The trendy (but important) term “pivot” – what, how, and why for nonprofits.
© 2020 David Staal. All rights reserved. davidstaal.net
David Staal serves as a consultant to the nonprofit sector following 11 years as President & CEO of a national organization (Kids Hope USA), 10 years in church staff leadership (Willow Creek Community Church), and a 13-year marketing career (Abbott Laboratories). A senior editor for Christianity Today International for 12 years, he also authored these books: