Over the last two posts in my series on build strategy I’ve talked about making decisions about strategy. I’ve shared 4 Questions To Make Strategic Decisions and Do You Need to Start From Scratch? In both of these posts, my goal was to pull back the curtain on how I make decisions for my consulting clients and even in my own business.
One of the points that I’ve reiterated in both of these posts is building strategy around your organization’s strengths. Figuring out how to do more of what you’re already great at is generally a much better idea than branching into brand new tactics.
Today I want to talk about a (non-traditional?) approach to communications and fundraising strategy that is at the heart of how I do my work -- authenticity. I know, the title of this post is a bit of a spoiler, but I have a lot to say on the topic of authenticity that will hopefully be informative and maybe even a little surprising.
To me authenticity is not the end product. There is no one way to be authentic. Rather, it’s a way of showing up that is true to your organization, its values, its principles, etc.
Showing up in an authentic way is a very powerful way to build connection and community. You’ve probably experienced this firsthand with people or brands that you love. So much of that authenticity manifests itself through the way they communicate and their voice. It’s distinct, it’s consistent, and it often feels very “them.”
And YET… one of the things I’ve encountered so many times is organizations thinking that they have to be “professional” in order to be seen as a “serious” non-profit. The problem with this is that it rarely lends itself to a memorable voice or an enticing brand.
One of the books that’s been particularly formative for me on this topic is Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist by Sally Hogshead. In the book she writes about the 7 Fascination archetypes, which are basically 7 types of communications advantages that we all respond to. Her framework suggests that we all have one that tends to be our strength and when we tap into it we are able to communicate at our best.
I took her assessment a few years ago and I’ll share that my top result was Mystique, which is the Fascination archetype of listening. No surprise there! If you’re interested in checking out her assessment it does cost $50 to take, but I personally found it worth the fee.
Now, you might think I’m more of a personal brand but at this point, it’s very much intertwined with The Storytelling Non-Profit’s brand. When I started digging into the Fascination languages and Sally’s research, I felt like I suddenly had a major permission slip to be more myself in a way that made communication WAY easier and more effective. It’s what helps me show up authentically.
I’ll give you an example. Maybe you’re on my email list. I typically receive several replies after every email I send that share positive feedback on my writing style. What I hear most often from community members is how personable my writing comes across. This is such high praise and makes me feel like I’m doing something right.
I haven’t always written emails this way. I used to strive to be much more “professional.” I looked at how other consultants communicated and felt that that was how I needed to communicate, too. Maybe you’ve had that happen when you look at other non-profits’ communications. Comparison is a killer of creativity and authenticity.
Learning about my Fascination language is how and why I write emails the way I do. I notice a huge difference in the responses and results when I take the time to write this way.
So what does all of this have to do with building strategy?
A good portion of your non-profit’s work is built and grown on the back of communications. Fundraising, programs, community building, etc all rely on communications of some kind and very often they rely on mass communication.
Figuring out how to authentically show up and communicate should be a key part of your strategy.
I know branding work can seem like a novelty. I get that. But I think that brand voice is such an important piece that it’s worth doing the work to find your organization’s authentic voice.
Using Sally Hogshead’s Fascination Assessment is one step you could take to explore communications strengths to hone in on how to show up authentically. You can also do some reflection work on what your organization’s voice has sounded like and what you wish it would sound like. One of the writing tips I often share with my students is that I write a few versions of something before I pick a finalist. Email subject lines are a good example. When I write for clients, I’m typically coming up with a list of 10 to 20 possibilities. As I do this brainstorm, I try to challenge myself to come up with different tones and styles. Yes, it’s extra work but it’s worth it.
Here are a few questions that I’ve used to start working on how organizations show up.
- If our organization were a person at a cocktail party, how would they be interacting with people? Introvert or extrovert? Listener or talker? Talking to one person at a time or attracting a big group?
- Has there been a piece of communication that we’ve received qualitative feedback on? What was different about this from other communications? Is this something we can infuse into future communications?
- How do we want people to feel when they read one of our communications? Typically, there will be a through-line emotion that you want people to always feel when they think about or interact with your non-profit. Having that front and center when you write is helpful.
- Is there a medium that your organization communicates their best?
Showing up authentically is an on-going project and something I highly encourage you to consider when you build strategy. How you show up is how you build relationships and, as you know, relationships are key to fundraising.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you considered voice and how you show up as a strategy for fundraising and communications?
Transparency means that you are open to the public and donors about your organization’s operations and goals. When you let people know what your mission is and how you are working towards it, they are more likely to engage with it. Donors look to sites like CharityNavigator, which rate the accountability of a nonprofit, before they donate to it. Take a look at their guidelines for tips on what it means to be a transparent nonprofit. Transparency also means disclosing who benefits from donations, how much the donations are worth and exactly how and when the donations are raised and dispersed. Opening this door between your nonprofit and those willing to fund it allows for an open, honest relationship they’re willing to continue because they know exactly where their money is going. To be transparent with your constituency, you first have to dismiss any fears that they might have. Sometimes this includes telling them things they don’t want to hear. We’ve spoken before about the “overhead myth” that exists surrounding the nonprofit sector. Organizations must address that part of achieving their mission is paying employees, coordinating events and spending money on marketing materials in order to keep the operation running.