Written by Charu Kohli
“The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them.” — Stephen King
This becomes even more pertinent in the case of nonprofits – organizations that work extremely hard to solve complex social problems with limited resources. Nonprofits sometimes struggle to bring their message to the masses and showcase their impact. After all, balancing the rational with emotional can be a daunting task for anyone!
Read on for my takeaways on best practices for nonprofit communications.
Nonprofits are guided by their mission and not economic models or marketing. Effective communication is one of the most powerful ways of advancing a nonprofit’s mission. It makes people believe in a nonprofit’s cause and connect with its audience. Communication should be mission-aligned to foster stakeholder engagement and create greater impact. Moreover, a mission statement can help identify each facet of a communications plan – whether it’s the target audience, key message, focus areas or the end goal. When in doubt, always go back to the mission statement!
Know your audience
People are at the heart of social impact. It’s always a good idea to reach out to them and do a reality check. Do we understand their problems well? Are they benefitting from what we are doing? Have their needs or demands changed over time? What are their preferred modes of communication? These are some of the questions that need to be answered to make a nonprofit’s work more meaningful and relevant.
In the for-profit world, understanding a ‘buyer’s persona’ and ‘personalization’ are the buzzwords. However, this is not easily measurable in terms of sales or growth for nonprofits, hence the need to go the extra mile to understand the social and cultural background of stakeholders becomes important. With the proliferation of social media, this task has become relatively easier than before.
Think in stories
Once we know what our target audience needs and wants, the focus should be on creating compelling, contextual and relevant content rather than something that’s ‘in the moment.’ The intent is to inspire more and more people into the social impact movement. Spend some time on collecting stories around 1. why, what, how of solving problems, 2. what’s worked and what’s not, 3. replicable approaches of doing things, 4. best practices. In a nutshell, generate content that’s both pragmatic and emotional. Impact shared in the form of outcomes for beneficiaries is one of the ways of making the mission tangible and relatable.
Put people in the driver’s seat
When you place people at the heart of storytelling, it helps build an instant emotional connect. Visual storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in today’s times. Nothing puts a smile on someone’s face more than seeing and hearing someone they consider their own. ‘I am the first one in my family to attend college and graduate’ is more compelling that ‘We helped XYZ through college.’ Share stories that bring to life the impact an organization is having on real people’s lives, not just data about the scale of change it is driving.
Collaborate to accelerate impact
Social problems can take years to solve, and we need to ask ourselves – how can we do things better, faster to create greater social impact? Build communication strategies that capitalize on partner relationships and voices. In the case of nonprofits, the more the merrier! Collaborate with partners and other stakeholders to share each other’s content on social media platforms, networking events, industry seminars, etc. This is an effective way to quickly build advocates for a cause and amplify impact.
Different strokes for different folks
Social media influences people like nothing else. Creating one single message and posting it across all social channels is easy, but not always effective. Tweaking the same message to appeal to the interests of each social channel’s users helps. Going back to my example of a first-generation student making it through college, I could use stories on Instagram, video on Facebook, GIF on Twitter and text + video/infographic on LinkedIn to appeal to various audiences on these platforms. Also, including a strong call to action (CTA) drives engagement. If people feel invested enough, they would want to get involved in your cause, and that’s why having CTAs can be advantageous.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Often, we are so caught up in the day to day communication, that we tend to forget that there’s always a crisis lurking around the corner. Nonprofits are formed to serve public interest and therefore, are subject to intense scrutiny always. One wrong move, and the trust is gone. Nonprofits play a huge role when natural disasters and other calamities occur. With so many uncontrollable and unknown factors at play, it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the crisis will occur. Crisis preparedness might just save the day.
In a nutshell, the right stories inspire action and bring nonprofit organizations one step closer to fulfilling their mission! I would love to gather your thoughts on your experiences as a nonprofit communicator. Do share by commenting on this post.