Clear, consistent, compelling (and a few other C’s – see below!) messages are even MORE important for us because we:
- Are often trying to generate awareness and motivate action without a tangible “product”
- Must compete for attention with thousands of other worthy causes
- Need to communicate with a wide range of audiences – constituents, donors, volunteers, partners, government and more
- Use a diverse group of formal and informal ambassadors to help tell our story
Small and mid-size nonprofit organizations often neglect the development and maintenance of a messaging platform and the training of all staff and ambassadors on how to use those messages. Why? Without dedicated marketing and communications staff and with intense pressure to fundraise and deliver critical programs and services, spending time and resources on messaging can be seen as a luxury. I’ve been in the trenches, so I understand!
Prioritizing the creation of a basic messaging platform – and even more importantly, empowering staff and other ambassadors to apply the platform and craft additional key messages for specific programs and audiences – will make all of your communications efforts significantly more effective.
Here are 7 steps to develop, activate and maintain a basic messaging platform for your organization:
- Gather your guiding roadmaps for all communications: mission, vision, values, multi-year strategic plan, annual operating plan. If you don’t have all of these materials, work with what you do have. The key is to start with your overall goals and priorities as an organization.
- What are the 3-5 most important points you need all audiences to know about who you are, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how they can help? These are the key messages for your organization.
- Use my “6 C’s of Good Messages” as a checklist to polish the language of your key organizational messages:
- Clear… Simple language
- Concise… 1-2 lines
- Credible… Supported by facts
- Consistent… Builds on other messages
- Compelling… Persuasive, inspiring
- Call to action… Motivating
4. Add proof points for every message. These are the quantitative and qualitative “back up” for the claims you make in your messages. Think data, outputs, outcomes, testimonials, anecdotes – all the content that brings your talking points to life.
5. Conduct a content audit of your current communications (website, social media, brochures, appeals, grant proposals, videos, speeches, etc.) to identify gaps between what you’re saying now and what you want to be saying through your messaging platform. The content audit doesn’t have to be exhaustive – a brief scan of key materials can often give you the snapshot you need. Then prioritize the updates and work through the list (knowing that some resource-intense materials like print brochures and videos might need to wait). Pro bono support and skills-based volunteers can be the perfect solution for getting this done, provided they have direction and a staff member does final edits and approvals.
6. Train all staff and all volunteers (including Board of Directors) who will represent your organization in any formal or informal capacity externally. It’s not just the job of the Executive Director or the marketing and communications staff – nearly everyone is serving as an ambassador in some way. Practice using the messages and proof points in written and spoken formats with real-life examples. The goal is for everyone to feel comfortable and confident using the messaging platform. A second level of training involves teaching staff (and volunteers to a lesser degree, depending on your structure) how to draft detailed messages and proof points for their specific audiences (e.g. program staff developing key messages for clients) or programs/initiatives (e.g. development staff developing key messages for an annual appeal). You’ll want to institute some type of approval process for new, formal messages, but this type of “grassroots messaging” can be both empowering and effective. By giving everyone the tools to improve their own communications, you raise the bar across the entire organization.
7. Maintain and update your messaging platform on a regular basis. As a baseline, I recommend reviewing your organizational messaging platform, conducting training and doing a content audit on an annual basis. Proof points should be reviewed quarterly, if possible, since new data and stories are generated on an ongoing basis. To reinforce implementation, it’s also a great idea to integrate messaging questions and discussion into your staff meeting agenda a few times per year.
Good messages that are delivered consistently and authentically can provide powerful support for your organizational goals! I’d love to hear how your organization has been successful in implementing a messaging platform, as well as the challenges you’ve faced.