By Nancy E. Schwartz
Messaging is one of the most overlooked and under appreciated charity and association marketing strategies there is. That was confirmed in a recent messaging survey of more than 900 U.S. nonprofit communicators. Just 16% of respondents said their messages connect with their target audiences.
This is a huge loss, as effective messaging has significant ROI (return on investment). Creating engaging messages requires only a minor (if any) financial investment plus a moderate investment of time, but offers tremendous returns. The return on investment is huge: without messaging that connects, you’ll get nowhere with your marketing.
And, in a survey recently undertaken of non-profits by the Charities Commission here in New Zealand, between 50% and 80% of respondents said they were likely/most likely to need assistance with communications in the next 12-24 months.
I hear from many charity and association communicators who do believe in the power of messaging, but just don’t know where to start. This article guides you through crafting the four cornerstones of your nonprofit’s messaging—your message platform.
Three Must-Dos Before You Shape Your Message Platform
Take these three steps to ensure relevancy, the essence of messages that connect.
- 1. Clarify your top one or two communications goals—what you want to achieve; the action you want your audience to take to get you there.
- 2. Identify whom you need to engage to do so (your primary target audiences, no more than three).
- 3. Get to know what’s important to your audiences (wants, values and concerns) so you can articulate what’s in it for them and ensure no barriers stand in their way, and learn how best to reach them.
The Four Cornerstones of a Charity or Association Message Platform that Connects
When you’ve completed the three must-dos outlined above, you’re ready to draft, or refine, your organization’s messaging. These four components are the cornerstones of a strong message platform.
Be aware that although these elements are presented in a linear manner here, the message development process is cyclical rather than linear. For example, what you learn in building out your key messages and related support points may highlight an element that needs to be incorporated into your positioning statement. Design your timeline, and roles and responsibilities, for this process with that in mind.
1. Positioning Statement
Connects your organization with those you want to engage by 1) linking it with what’s important to them; and 2) differentiating it from others competing for their attention, time and dollars.
A one to three sentence statement that positions your organization most effectively in the environment in which you work. It conveys the intersection of what your organization does well, what it does better and differently than any other organization (uniqueness), and what your audiences care about.
Key components of your positioning statement are:
- What you do.
- For whom (whom do you serve).
- What’s different about the way you do your work.
- Impact you make (something tangible, like a stat, is compelling here, see example below).
- Unique benefit derived from your programmes, services and/or products.
Most, importantly, this is not your mission statement. Your mission statement is internally oriented and serves as your organizational road map. Your positioning statement connects your mission with what’s vital to your audiences, so must be externally oriented.
How to Use
Exactly as written in all print and online communications (with the exception of the occasional narrowly-focused flyer or mini-site).
- The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation is a professional, non-profit organisation whose members believe all New Zealanders should have access to accurate information to enable them to make informed choices about food and the effect it has on their health. We help New Zealanders make these choices by providing a balanced viewpoint on important issues around food, nutrition and health.
- @Heart has been providing support services to children with heart conditions and their families since 1984. Our practical and emotional support is vital for those affected, helping them cope with the day-to-day challenges of living with a childhood heart condition.
Extends your organization’s name to convey its unique impact or value with personality, passion and commitment, while delivering a memorable and repeatable message to your audiences.
Running no more than eight words, the tagline is your organization’s single most used messaging component. An effective tagline provides enough insight to generate interest and motivate your reader/listener to ask a question, without providing too much information so that she thinks she knows everything she needs to and doesn’t want to read more or continue the conversation.
Be aware that if you are creating a Maori version of your tagline, you may have to massage the direct translation to convey the same meaning.
How to Use
Exactly as written in print, online and verbal communications, including business cards and email signatures.
- Organization: Lifeline Aotearoa
- You can choose change
- Ka Taea koe te huri to ao
- Organization: Social Development Partners (formerly NZFVWO)
- Strong Organizations for Thriving Communities
- Organization: Nutrition Foundation
- Enhancing the quality of life of New Zealanders by encouraging and enjoyable food choices as part of an active lifestyle. (Very long!)
- o Kia whakareia te ōranga o ngā tāngata o Aotearoa ma te whakamana i ngā wawatā hei tohu kai hauora, kai reka, hei oranga kakama
- Organization: @heart (also has taglines for each program)
- Functional and emotional support for New Zealand kids, teens, adults and families affected by childhood heart conditions.
3. Key Messages or Talking Points
Succinctly elaborate on your positioning statement and provide the necessary proof required for validation, while enabling you to tailor your messaging to specific groups among your target audiences.
- A set of three to seven key messages that build on the information conveyed in your positioning statement and respond to most common questions asked by your current and prospective audiences.
- Most talking points should run no more than two sentences. They can be customized to a specific goal or focus, topic or group.
- Be prepared with supporting points (a.k.a. proof points) for each talking point.
- Frequently developed for use in specific campaigns (fundraising or issue-oriented) and/or for specific audience groups.
How to Use
- Use in both written and verbal conversation.
- However, talking points do not represent the exact words that must be used (especially in conversation), but rather convey the essential ideas to be conveyed. They can be customized for greater impact–to the specific interchange, the interests of the person you’re speaking with or emailing, and/or the topic of conversation.
4. Elevator Pitch
Enables you to transform any social contact (not just those that take place in an elevator) into a conversion opportunity (asking for more information, scheduling a call, etc.) in 60 seconds or less.
A conversational technique featuring a variation of your positioning statement, customized to the interests of the person you’re talking with, the context of your conversation, the “ask” you’ll be making and/or other factors. Takes no more than 60 seconds to deliver; 30 seconds is ideal.
These are the four steps to get there. Start with step one and end with step four, but the order of steps two and three can vary:
- 1. The lead-in. This is where you introduce yourself and your role in your organization to set up the conversation. It’s intended to spark the interest of the person you’re speaking with.
- 2. The differentiator. This identifies your organization as providing a unique resource valued by the person you’re speaking with, one that deserves immediate attention.
- 3. The hook. This is an open-ended conversation starter that allows you to assess the prospect’s interest level.
- 4. The call to action. This is the request to schedule a follow-up call to discuss the matter further, make an online contribution or participate in a gathering for prospective members, thereby making the conversion. Make it specific, clear and doable (e.g. don’t ask too much, especially in an initial conversation).
NOTE: It’s vital that the “pitcher” is adept at following the lead of his conversational partner to make the most of the short period he has. Role playing is an effective way to build this skill.
Hi, I’m Geoff Lawson, CEO of The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust. We help grandparents who are faced with raising their grandchildren alone. Did you know we have over 5,000 members?
We have 5 Field Officers and over 30 support group co-ordinators throughout New Zealand, providing a critical support network for grandparents of all ages, mostly over the age of 50. With estimates of over 10,000 New Zealand children being raised by their grandparents we are in great demand.
With energy levels that may be less and earning capacity decreased, our members are thrown into the stresses of child-rearing again - just as they are looking forward to a time of greater leisure and relaxation. This adds extra financial, physical and mental stress, as grandparents try to establish a safe, stable and permanent home environment for their grandchildren while battling with legal complexities.
We need your support so we can offer solutions for the myriad of issues our members are facing.
These video clips of elevator pitches for U.S. organizations like yours are useful models of what to do, and what NOT to do. You’ll know at a gut level what works and what doesn’t.
Now It’s Your Turn—Next Steps
Your next step is to compare and benchmark your organization’s current message platform against this checklist:
- What elements are in place as defined above (or near enough)?
- For those that are in place, were they created based on the three “must-dos” outlined at the beginning of this article?
- If yes, you have some of the four cornerstones already in place.
- If no, you’ll need to start at the very beginning, with your positioning statement.
- For those cornerstones you need to revise, or create for the first time:
- Start with clarifying your communications goals.
- Identify those you need to engage to meet those goals, and get to know them.
- Start shaping your cornerstones based on this framework.
Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide. Nancy works with the New Zealand Association Resource Centre Trust to assist build capacity and capability with non-profits. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update here.