Soon you will be called upon to communicate on behalf of your organization. It may be as simple as a blog or a social media post or more complex like a presentation or report. Regardless, you must communicate effectively. Will your message achieve your desired result? Here are 6 things you can do to make sure that your communication hits the mark.
1. Remind People of the Problem
Don’t take for granted that your audience already understands the problem your organization is working to address. State the problem. Be clear and direct.
Even the most known and discussed issues—education, global warming, food insecurity—are complex at their core. What challenge are you uniquely addressing?
For example, if your organization supports students as they get to and through college, what challenge are you addressing that other similar organizations don’t? Why are you needed?
Be very specific about the exact problem facing the exact population you serve because no one can appreciate what you’re doing without first understanding the context.
2. Engage the Reader
Great communication addresses the receiver’s, not the sender’s, point of view. When you want to get someone’s attention, use the second person “you” and speak directly to that person’s concerns.
Consider the difference between these two examples:
- The Education Fund needs donations to give students a chance to fulfill their college dreams.
- Your gift to The Education Fund supports a student as she fulfills her college dreams.
Which example is more engaging? Which organization are you more likely to support? Speak to the reader instead of talking about yourself.
3. Highlight People, Not Programs
Studies show that we are much more likely to respond to the emotional story of a person’s challenge and success than to statistics proving the efficacy of the program designed to serve them.
We can learn about a youth-adult mentoring program, but hearing Sarah’s personal story of getting into the college of her dreams after participating in an after-school mentoring program makes us cheer for Sarah and all that she’s accomplished. We know the program is successful because we watched Sarah succeed.
There are, of course, appropriate times to share numbers. Some people need data to reinforce what they feel emotionally. When sharing data in a story context, though, use only numbers that are truly surprising, and frame them in a way that helps people conceptualize what those numbers really mean.
For example, reporting that 1,200 people received a scholarship isn’t nearly as impressive as saying that the number of people receiving scholarships this year would overflow Harvard’s largest lecture hall.
4. Keep It Simple
When you come into contact with someone for the first time, whether it be online, in print, or in person, it’s tempting to share everything there is to know about your organization.
Successful messaging demands that you stay focused on a high-level idea and mention only those things that help convey the essence of your organization. Be disciplined about what to share. Don’t overwhelm people with too much information. Share only what is necessary. Then speak and write in plain language.
5. Avoid Using Acronyms, Abbreviations, and Jargon
Referring to your organization or program by its initials is a mistake. If your name is too long, change it. Every time you use an acronym or other shortcut for your name, you miss an opportunity to remind people of the business you’re in.
For example, many of us may not recognize the acronym “MSF” despite the fact that the organization won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. It’s only upon hearing the full name Médecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders that we know the organization.
Reading the MSF acronym can make us feel out of the loop because we don’t know what it means—and we’re unlikely to ask. Instead, Doctors Without Borders is a great name. It’s visual and evocative. Using it in its entirety, each and every time you refer to the organization helps donors connect to the mission.
6. Focus on Benefits Instead of Features
“Features” are what your organization does: provide programs, use volunteers to deliver services, etc.
“Benefits” are the solutions and positive outcomes that result from your features: lives are changed, children are protected, adults find jobs. Benefits motivate donors; features do not.
Rather than telling people about your scholarship program and how much money you distribute, focus on the way your community has changed because of your scholarship program. Describe the lives that have changed, and the increased economic health of your community.
Your scholarship program is a feature. Changed lives and a community are the benefits.
Your organization addresses problems. Talk about the impact you have before you talk about your specific approach. Donors don’t give money to processes (features). They support outcomes and solutions (benefits).
Put these 6 practices to work today, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your communications improve.
Have more great suggestions? We want to hear them!