Have you ever had a conversation where you thought you were being clear, but you later realized the person you were talking to understood the conversation differently?
You both were talking about the same thing, but what was communicated was very different.
Something was missing and you can’t put your finger on what it was.
Unfortunately, nonprofit communications can be this way too.
I’ve had leaders say things like…
- “We spent a bunch of time and money trying [insert great idea] but it didn’t work.”
- “We can’t get anyone to respond. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in what we’re doing.”
- “I can tell you what doesn’t work, but I have no idea what does.”
You’ve got great ideas, and you’re working to connect people, but something isn’t working. You assume the issue is the event or a lack of interest by partners.
The interesting part is, that the “great idea” is seldom the problem. Other nonprofits are doing similar things and having good responses.
So why isn’t it working for your nonprofit?
More often than not, the issue is a communication challenge. What you think you’re saying and what the listener is hearing are two different things.
Thankfully, there are simple fixes to these communication challenges.
Here are 3 Top NonProfit Communication Mistakes and How to Fix Them
1) You say too much at once
Your volunteers, donors, and partners live busy lives and have limited bandwidth. While you spend all week serving people, thinking about your next event, and fundraising, your partners don’t. They live busy lives and have limited bandwidth.
When you communicate everything at once, they get overwhelmed and nothing sticks. A typical listener can only take in so much information before they shut down and stop listening.
Be intentional about what you share.
Pick the top 2-3 things in the life of your nonprofit and share them clearly and frequently. On average it takes 7-11 impressions for your reader/listener to internalize the opportunity you are presenting. When you mention something once or twice no one is “getting” it. Use a calendar to plan communications out in advance so you aren’t caught off guard as deadlines approach.
A good rule is… an opportunity needs to relate to the majority of the readers/listeners for you to share it publicly. If it doesn’t, you should find a more direct way to share it with the people it relates to.
Yearly Fundraising Gala Event – relates to the majority of volunteers, donors and partners = Share widely
Donor Appreciation Dessert – only applies to a small percentage of your audience = Find other, more direct way, to share with them
2) You only talk to insiders
I’ve been eating at In-N-Out Burger in California for nearly 30 years. But it wasn’t until the past few years that I heard about their “secret menu.”
This menu includes creative ways to take their basic ingredients (burger, fries, and drinks) and switch them up for different flavors and portions.
Why didn’t I know about this menu?
Because they haven’t printed the information on the menu board. Their printed menu is so simple, you have to know what to ask for or they will serve it like they always do
Unfortunately, most nonprofits treat social media followers, email readers, and video viewers in much the same way. You assume they have context and understanding about our organization that they don’t have.
So you make announcements and plan events as if the listener sat in the planning meeting with us, knows the backstory, and what action you want them to take.
Your announcements read like:
2nd Saturday of the Month
**Details in the works, stay tuned!**
We still need weekday volunteers.
Email the team.
BTB Information meeting, Tuesday in the AMA meeting room at 6 pm. See you then.
In the absence of clarity, people won’t take action. Your readers/listeners need context if you expect them to respond.
Answer the questions people outside your organization would be asking:
- Who is this event for? (Expected Audience)
- What is this event about? (Context and Explanation)
- When and Where is it occurring? (Location Details)
- What is the expected Next Step to participate? (Call to Action)
Join us for Mission Night Out. A night you get to experience stories of struggle and life change. Learn how housing and shelter alone isn’t the only solution to the many homeless in Fresno.
When: May 14th
Where: Peoples Church
Get your tickets below!
3) You share details with no heart
The power of your nonprofit is its ability to meet real-world needs in tangible ways.
- You use horses to help people recover from trauma
- You teach people about the ocean and its inhabitants
- You empower students to finish school and stop the cycle of teenage violence
But instead of celebrating the difference, you are making… Your communications focus on the next event and “exciting” ways to get involved. When the communications, and your efforts, fall short and don’t connect you wonder why.
The short answer is, that your readers/listeners approach every opportunity, subconsciously or not, with a mental question…
“What’s in it for me?”
Your audience longs for their lives to have meaning and purpose. They want to know what makes this opportunity something worth considering, and boring announcements with stale details aren’t enough.
It’s your responsibility to show them how they can be part of something bigger and share ownership in the impact you’re making.
Highlight the impact you are making and the benefit of being part.
Go beyond event details and present examples of changed lives as a result of your nonprofit. Find creative ways to share stories about your clients, volunteers, and donors. Help them see the way your organization has been successful in the past and the difference it can make for others in the future. Then ask them to be part of the solution.
Djenifer is an orphan living in Haiti. She struggles daily to feed herself and grow spiritually. As a part of the Be.Love. ministry to at-risk children, Djenifer is learning skills for life.
Before B.Love. … Djenifer had a life, after Be.Love. she has hope!
Be.Love. currently works with 400 in her community, and plans to grow that to 600 in 2022.
Would you consider a year-end gift to help us impact more orphans next year?
If your nonprofit is struggling with these communication mistakes don’t worry. There is hope.
You can reverse the trend by doing one thing…
Say Less + With Greater Clarity + In Ways That Connect With People
Do it consistently and you will see growth in your nonprofit.
Neglect it and you will struggle to connect and retain the people you already have.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below