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Are Your Messages Right for Right Now?

Posted by on April 6th, 2020
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding   

I was recently part of an online discussion of foundation communications directors discussing how to change their annual reports in light of COVID-19. Almost all of them had scrapped their earlier chosen themes, rewritten their copy, and selected new photos to better reflect how they were responding to the pandemic.

You may be wondering what messages your organization should send that that will be both appropriate and compelling. And if you’re working to be extra thoughtful during this unprecedented time you’re not alone.

We’ve partnered with many of our clients over the past few weeks to hone their messaging to better meet the moment. That ranged from directing their communities to vital resources, speaking out for social justice, asking for urgent support, or—in one case—choosing not to share a pre-written blog post.

We’re sharing some of the key learnings from those conversations to help you update your language, as well.

No matter what your organization does, the impact of COVID-19 and its aftereffects requires that you rethink your messaging. Even if your message is that you are business-as-usual, you must think carefully about why, what, how, where, and when you’re sharing your message.

As always, we encourage you to follow our Minute Message Model when crafting messages. This means focusing less on the details of your work and more on the challenges you’re addressing in your community.

In addition, here are five questions you have to ask yourself before communicating with your audiences right now.

1. What changed and what’s remained the same?
One of the first questions to ask yourself is what’s different today than it was a few weeks ago. Focus on societal needs, not operational changes. For instance, your community center may be closed right now, but the need for health and connection remain. Speak to those needs and what you’re doing to address them.

2. What do your audiences need from you right now?
As a part of our brand work with clients, we help them develop personas for their most important audiences. With each of these personas, we work together to craft a value proposition statement that articulates the emotional and functional benefits that person receives when engaging with the organization.

But in light of COVID-19, those needs may have changed. So begin your message work by taking a look at your audience profiles and asking what that person is worried about in this moment and how you can address that need. Put yourself in their shoes, write down what that person needs, and how your organization can answer that need.

3. Why do you need to communicate?
When you hear an ambulance behind you in traffic what do you do? You get out of the way. The same thing must be true for your messaging. Before scheduling your next communique, ask yourself whether that message is serving your community or blocking traffic for more important communications. Given the cacophony of our media landscape, you have a duty to echo important messages, share critical information, and focus on what really needs to be said.

4. What should you filter out?
No doubt there are certain messages you’ve shared in the past that today might come across as tone deaf, or even offensive. Even photos of crowds right now can trigger some viewers to question your commitment to social distancing. So scan your website and key communications and edit out the messages and themes that were made for another time. Themes of unity, strength, service, caring, commitment, and health resonate well right now, but it may not be the time to reinforce being carefree, indulgent, or living in the moment.

Likewise, share the stage. Acknowledge that yours isn’t the only cause worth focusing on right now, but that you’re part of a broader host of issues that need attention. I recently received an email from an executive director in my community who runs a home for those released from ICE custody. She asked her donors NOT to give right now because she had all she needed and that other causes needed the attention right now. It was one of the bravest statements I’ve seen a leader make—and ensured that I’ll be there when she asks again in the future.

5. How does your brand guide your actions and your voice?
My colleagues Stephanie, Romayne, and Sarah have all written great blog posts recently about how to lean into your brand in difficult times, how brand should guide your actions right now, and why you need to stay focused on your goals.

The fundamental role of having a brand strategy is to have clarity about who you are as an organization. Your brand is your reputation and should guide how you look, how you sound, how you act, and what you do in good times, as well as bad. So lean into your values, positioning, and promise to help guide how you should communicate with your community.

Get Ready for What’s Next
In my next post, I’ll write about the enormous philanthropic opportunities that lie ahead and how you can prepare for donors who are ready to rebuild.

In the meantime, if you think you need a brand tune up or help crafting the right message for right now, give us a call. We’re here to help.

Image courtesy of Nappy.


Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.

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