How to Create an Effective Message for Your Nonprofit

This is the blog transcript of our video “How to Create an Effective Message for Your Nonprofit”. If you’d like to see more of our videos, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

Are you frustrated trying to communicate with your nonprofit audience? Do you struggle to create meaningful messages? We’ve been talking about all things marketing and communications in the nonprofit sector this month. Listen here for more tips, tactics and advice for nonprofits who want to do more with their marketing messages.

Hey everyone, I’m Ian Campbell, CEO of Mission Suite. Before we jump into today’s video, do me a favor and hit the subscribe button and ring the bell so that you’re notified whenever we post new videos.

We’ve been talking about nonprofits all month, and it is inspiring to think that what we are talking about here could be helping organizations as they reach out to donors, potential donors and volunteers. If you missed any episodes, please do go back and take a look. We’ve covered some interesting topics, and there is more to come.

Today we’re talking about how to create compelling messages for nonprofit organizations. And, as usual, there is a lot to cover, so let’s get to it!

I hear from many in the nonprofit community who struggle with creating messages that consistently land, especially when talking to the same people year after year. It can be a challenge to keep it fresh. And I would challenge everyone listening and watching to think a little more about your organization and your ask. Compelling and impactful content is there; you have to look a little harder for it sometimes.

It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Before anyone can get to writing the messages themselves, you should make sure your board, leadership and communications team all have a solid base to start from. What are your organizations’:

  • Stated goals
  • Vision
  • Mission statement
  • Immediate needs
  • Donation Cycle

As with almost everything, the more you know, the better you can speak to your audience. If you are not crystal clear on any of these things, your messages will suffer.

Strategy and Communications Plan

Again, before you can write a single word, your organization should have a current communications plan. And guess what – it’s homework time. Yes, your nonprofit goal is obviously to raise as much money as possible for your cause, but there’s more. Some items you should have on paper include:

  • Are our mission statement and core values up to date?
  • Are we paying attention to awareness and advocacy?
  • How are we reaching out to various revenue streams?
  • How are we recruiting volunteers?

Knowing your organization’s mission will keep everything consistent as you talk internally and with donors and potential donors. Use your mission statement to drive messages to your audience for the most impactful communications. If you think this is small and something you might not need, I will argue that your branding and strategy will create cohesion, and your audience will be able to tell.

It is unlikely any single message will carry your organization over the finish line, so you should have a plan. Work on a series of communications throughout your donation cycle to keep your donors connected. Many people would call this a ‘funnel’ or ‘the buyer’s journey.’ If your goal is to solicit donations, start with a plan to speak to your audience and move them to the next step with a compelling message. This will help you accomplish two things:

First, it will help your organization get to know your donors and create engagement. If every time a donor hears from you, you’re asking for money, they may eventually stop reading your messages. Think about it: it’s not fun to only hear from a nonprofit when they want your donation. Create messages that will inspire and tell your donors more about your cause.

Second, of course, your goal is to capture the donation. And you can but make that message compelling too. If you’ve segmented your list, make your call to action impactful for that audience, and you will be successful.

As you’re mapping out your plan, pay attention to what segment receives what message and when. This is another great reason you should be using a C R M like Mission Suite. You can easily map out your donor’s journey and keep track of all of it in one place.

Know Your Audience

Just as you need to know the organization, you need to know your audience, too. In our last episode, we talked about segmenting as a way of getting to know your audience. Segmentation is the first step in personalization and creating an impactful conversation with your donors. As people choose to give for various reasons, they will also likely respond to your messages in different ways. And you can’t assume that everyone wants the same thing. Think about how you can get to know segments of your audience and how you can speak to them in ways that will move them to action.

Also, while you are getting to know your donors, make sure you’re meeting them where they are. A large number of your audience is likely on social media, and those messages are just as important. Younger donors and volunteers are consuming content on social media in record numbers. Your messages here could be the start of a life-long donor relationship for your organization.
We talked about nonprofit groups being so agile and adapting to change quickly. And so many nonprofits answered the call of the seismic shift in how we communicate. There are so many benefits, the least of which is potentially reaching millions; there is no reason for you to avoid social media. It is, frankly, an absolute must for almost any organization.

Still, many nonprofits are overwhelmed with the thought of including social media into their communication plan. If this describes your organization, I do have some advice:

Test which platforms are best for you and focus your energy there. You can’t be all things to all people on all platforms.
Keep your posts short and compelling. Don’t forget to add a link and a call to action.

Your social media doesn’t have to be your primary source of communications, but you should recognize it for the powerful tool it is. Use social media to reinforce messages by matching a mail campaign, conveying information, and even the all-important ASK.
I know, this seems like a lot of work, and you haven’t even written a single word yet. But trust me, as a marketing professional, I can tell you that having all of these items – your email campaign, social media messages, brochures, etc. – thought out and written down is an absolute necessity and will pay off over time. Sending messages without a plan might seem like it can work, but I promise you that getting your branding and strategy together will help you and your team tell your story more authentically and more clearly. Your most successful strategy is a series of communications over time, not one message sent over and over again.

Start with Consistency

For starters, I would suggest that any organization – for-profit or nonprofit – create a style guide for their marketing, communications, and social media. This guide should include not only colors and fonts but also a guide for language tone, too. As you find your way to excellent communications, don’t forget that you also need to stay on-brand. On-brand messages will help your audience connect with you more easily. When your audience knows what to expect, delivering your messages will be that much easier.

Yes, you can still personalize your messages and still keep your messages on-brand. Your on-brand messages make it easier for your audience to recognize and trust your organization. The message can change, of course, but the tone should be consistent.

Keep it Authentic, Relatable and Positive

Speaking of authenticity, your donors want to hear from the real you. And, while authenticity is so important, there is no handbook for “how to be authentic.” Genuine authenticity speaks to your ability to openly talk about your organization’s mission, vision and goals. This could include a real story about your personal involvement, testimonials from those who have benefitted from your organization, to name a couple. Thinking about your cause and mission and learning how to tell those stories best is a compelling way to move your supporters to action. You don’t have to embellish or create drama; just tell the story.

As you are crafting messages, make sure your points are clear, and your message stays on topic. Tell stories about your cause that others can understand and relate to. And then use facts and statistics to back it up. Your audience is much more likely to be moved by the narrative than just the numbers.

For some nonprofits, it can be tempting to drive your point home with doom and gloom about what happens without our nonprofit, but keeping your communications positive is key to connecting. Instead of painting a picture about the bad things that happen, speak to all the good your organization does. When we can focus on the good, others are much more likely to be inspired to give, volunteer and much more.

Personalization

Personalization is a great way to connect with your audience. There are tons of studies that show how donors respond much more favorably when a message is personalized. Actually, this is a big challenge for some, too. We’ll talk much more about personalization in next week’s episode, too. For now, I would encourage anyone to find a way to include personalization. And again, if you have a good C R M, this should be easy for your communications team. If not, please let me know, and I’d be happy to tell you more about how Mission Suite can help with this and some other options that could give a lift to your messages.

Call to Action

In talking with some in the nonprofit sector, this is a piece that often gets forgotten. Many nonprofits assume their audience knows what you want them to do – you want them to give. But because that is your ultimate goal, that doesn’t mean you and skimp when writing your call to action.

A solid call to action should be easy to find in any and every message you send.

So here is the challenge: communicate with your audience and include a call to action that is not just “write us a check.” This is where you can ask for more from your audience. Think about what you need and put the call out. If you need more volunteers – ask. If you need to secure great live and silent auction items for your event – ask your audience.

Back to homework once more we go – think about the names on your donor list as more than just revenue streams; they should be considered your engaged audience. The data you have and your segmentation should point you to a section of your audience that is highly engaged, and you can ask for more.

In short, think about your specific call to action and how you can use that to get more for you and your organization.

Test, test, test

Don’t be afraid to test. Test your messages, test your audience, test your plan – all of it to find out what will work best. And then, if you have to modify your messages, do it. Testing is important to find out what is working, what will work again, and possibly more.

In the simplest of terms, I would recommend further segmenting one section of your audience with a new message and an old message. This is known as an “A B Test” and is one of the easiest ways to gather data. And, while not every message will land every time – this can help you understand and further craft messages.

Think about it: you wrote a great new ASK letter, and you sent it out without testing. Whether it does great or it fails, you’ll want to know why right? Testing can help you find those answers. If a great new message beats the old message, you have a new message to work with. But if it doesn’t work – you’ll want to know some of the surrounding circumstances. If you have an A B Test set up, you might be able to pinpoint some other factors that lead to the not-so-great response to that new message.

To recap: your nonprofit needs information and data to craft compelling messages for your audience. And those messages will land best when you can clearly tell your story. And, of course, if you have questions or further thoughts about anything you heard today, I hope you will reach out, and I’m happy to tell you what I know.

Hey I hope you got something out of this video.

And if you did, go ahead and give it a thumbs up and maybe a share so that others can see it too. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel and ring the bell so that you’re notified whenever we post new videos and while you’re at it, check out these videos too!

We’ll see you next time around!

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