The Messaging Trifecta

Think about the last big request you made of someone that went unanswered. Maybe it was to a colleague, a potential donor, or a journalist.
Why do you think they didn’t respond?
According to a recent survey of nonprofit communicators, more than 7 out of 10 nonprofits describe their messages as off target. That leaves 30 percent of nonprofit communicatorswho feel that people are truly hearing their key messages.
Good news: those who are getting regular (and positive) responses from their requests for support all have one thing in common: they lead with the why. They’re able to articulate their unique reason for being in such a way that others embrace it freely and actually feel compelled to support both the organization and, often, the asks that follow.
Leading with the why is not a new concept, and it’s one you’ve likely heard us talk about before. By now, you’ve likely watched Simon Sinek’s blockbuster TED talk, and you’ve heard how critical it is to give people a reason to engage with your work right at the outset. But knowing that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to do.
The reality is that most organizations bury their own headlines. They bury their why – the reason their organization’s work is important and critical at this moment in time –  in paragraph after paragraph of conversation and copy, rather than simply inverting that conversation and leading with their most important point. By the time the organization gets to making their appeal or their ask, they’ve already lost the listener or reader because the case hasn’t been made.
What we’ve learned in the last several years of watching how nonprofit leaders communicate is that there are three kinds of messages that spur action. And when used in tandem, the power of this message trifecta truly comes to life:
  • Make it Real. If you want someone to do something for you, you’ve got to give it to them straight. That means in plain language. Put the technical speak aside, and speak to me as if you speak to your friend or neighbor. Some individuals believe that the more complex their message, the more impressive. But just the opposite is true. The simpler you can make your messages, the more compelling they’ll actually be.
  • Make it Relevant. After 15 years of pitching nonprofit stories to the media, I’ve gotten pretty used to hearing, “but tell me why THIS story matters.”  “What’s different about this organization’s style, or approach, what’s unique?” or even “Why is it important for us to be doing this right now, at this point in time?” Relevant messages are those that people hold on to, so much so that they go from being allies to advocates and perhaps even ambassadors of your brand. Relevance is a vital door opener to any ask, so be sure to show that you’re in sync with what’s happening in the world around you, and show that you understand where you fit in to the larger picture.
  • Make it Repeatable. Feed me a good story that proves why I should support you. Stories help people who are less familiar with your work understand its impact, and they provide a ready-made vehicle to get others to talk about you and your organization or to step up and do something about your cause. If you tell a story that paints a picture of your organization and the impact you’re making, you’re much more likely to make someone remember it and repeat it to someone else.
So with your “why” at the ready, but before you send out that next big ask of a funder, a board member or a corporate partner, ask yourself the following:
  • Have I made it clear what my ask is all about? (Have I made it real?)
  • Have I made it clear why I’m asking now, and what kind of impact this support could make? (Have I made it relevant?)
  • Have I done a good enough job proving it? Have I included a quick story or anecdote that reinforces my point in a compelling way? (Have I made it repeatable?)
Nail this messaging trifecta and know that your chances of a positive reply are surely improved.
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