Better Messaging

“Did you hear what I thought I said?” is an age-old question.  Its purpose is to remind us to ensure that the listener or reader understood what we meant to communicate.

The risk of miscommunication for a nonprofit is high. Nonprofits with poor messaging risk losing clients. Since funding often comes from clients as well as others, poorly constructed messages can cause significant losses.

Here are seven tests for any communication to ensure it will gab, hold, and inspire your readers or listeners (staff, donors, public, etc.):

Does the message start with a high-level view that describes how lives are changed in a simple and inspirational way?

Is it clear how the support you are requesting will be used?

Is the message mission and client centric?

Does the recipient learn something from the message?  Is the recipient going to think the message is important?

Is there a story (anecdote) that makes the message seem real, practical, and uplifting?

Do the statistics make the impact of the anecdote seem significant to many individuals or families?

Is there a compelling (from the recipient’s perspective) call to action, including a sense of urgency?

In every message, the recipient should feel like they are joining your team rather than buying or paying for something.  The message should lay the foundation for long-term support even if the recipient has been a supporter for years.

Before you craft your message, determine the value you hope to receive from sharing the message.  The effort you put into crafting the message should justify the value of the support you hope to receive.  If you want $1 in support, write the message on a napkin.  If you want $10,000 from your supporters, put in enough effort to earn the support you want.

Next Step:

Ensure your message is as valuable to the recipients as the support or response you want will be to your nonprofit

Use the seven points above to guide your message creation

Test every message on a limited number of supporters

It is less expensive to test a message than spend time trying to re-engage a supporter or do damage control.  In addition, testing costs very little when compared to the value you hope to receive from your message.

The message is always what the recipient receives regardless of what was intended.  One simple way to test a message is to ask a third-, fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-grader to tell you what the message says.  If their version agrees with yours, you know your message is clear.

Adults are very busy.  Therefore, they read very quickly.  If a message grabs them, they will think about it and potentially act on it or reread it.  If it is easily comprehended by a young person, you know that an adult doing a quick read will grasp it.

Another point to remember: If your vocabulary is unfamiliar to your young readers, it is probably too technical or unnecessarily detailed for a broad audience

Take It Further:

Ask a sampling of supporters to act as critics of your communications so that you know your message will resonate with your supporters (if they are acting as critics, it will keep a poorly worded message from doing any harm)


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