Three Big Communication Mistakes Nonprofits Make

An organization’s success depends on strong relationships with each of the audiences needed to fulfill the mission. But strong relationships depend heavily on mutual understanding and clear communication. While there is so much focus these days on the tools of communication, such as social media, a more important issue is nonprofit messaging. Here are three communication issues I find in many nonprofit organizations.

Talking about what you do, but not why you do it

Nonprofits are great at talking about what they do. After all, programming is the backbone of their work in the community. But it’s critical to make the connection to why it is important and how it matters. People need context and a clear line to how it affects them and their world. This means being clear on the greater societal issue you are trying to solve and how it impacts our society. This “theory of change” is what connects your work to existing and new audiences. It gives context. Remember, people don’t give support to organizations. They give it to causes and change.

Treating audiences as one

All of your audiences have different relationships with the organization. They may even have completely different motivations for helping to fulfill the mission. Younger donors, for example, may have different motivations than older donors. A legislator may need a different message and call to action than donors. Volunteers need specific messaging they can use to talk about the organization to others. Yet, far too often, nonprofits have one set of messages.

A better approach is a strategy of tailored messages to different audiences and sometimes tailored to individuals. Of course, to do that you have to know those audiences well. Getting to know those audiences through surveys, focus groups, and follow-up calls will help you understand them and their motivations. From that flows more targeted messaging.

Not having clear communication goals and strategies

When I ask nonprofits about communication goals, the answer is often, “We want to get the word out,” or “We need to raise awareness.” The idea behind this is that “if people only knew X, they would do Y.” It simply isn’t so. Many a campaign has focused on raising awareness without clear calls to action. Social media is full of such things. After all, every day is an awareness day of some kind or another. Sadly, “engagement” on social media is how this awareness is being measured when what should be measured is progress against goals. That doesn’t mean awareness isn’t necessary or helpful, but it is a terrible goal that is difficult to measure and, more than not, doesn’t bring you any further to fulfilling your mission.

The problem is that few organizations can identify a specific audience (see above) and what they want that audience to do with all this new awareness. Maybe the real goal is you want them to write checks, volunteer, come to an event, download a resource, go to the doctor, write their congressman, or any number of things that support your mission and your overall goals. That requires a methodical strategy that you can apply across all your communication channels and to all of your audiences. Having a plan helps you to do that and, even more importantly, be able to effectively measure it.

Dodging the problems

A research-based strategic communication plan will identify each of the audiences you rely on and use research to increase your understanding of those audiences. From there, crystal clear messaging and feedback loops helps those audiences do what you need in order to further your work.

Clear Wisdom Public Relations and Consulting uses a tried and true methodology to set research-based goals before selecting the appropriate strategies and tactics. This method assures greater success. Whether it’s planning for the future, strengthening communications, or building stronger relationships with all those you rely on to fulfill your mission, give me a call. Let’s talk about it.