Embarking on a communications planning process can involve a lot of parts and pieces. Conducting audit of past materials, assessing your competition’s messages and communications, researching your target audience, developing key messages, and creating an editorial calendar are all par for the course. One piece of this planning process always stands out to me as the most important – developing your messages. This more than other parts strikes me as essentially important because without the willingness and ability to develop the right messages, going through the motions of everything else can prove to be fruitless.
The messages that underline your non-profits communication are those most important points that you want to communicate to your audience over time. Typically, when I help organizations through a message development process, I imagine it as a Venn diagram. There are the messages your organization wants to share and then there are the messages that are relevant and interesting to your target audience. Ideally, you end up selecting messages in that area of overlap to be effective on both fronts. Today, let’s talk about one side of that Venn diagram – the messages that your organization wants to share.
Messages -- the bedrock of your non-profit's communications in 2018. Here are three questions to help you identify your messages.
Most non-profits have multiple messages that they want to get across to various audiences. Some will be specific to clients or program participants. Some will be specific to volunteers. Some might be specific to donors. Depending on the breadth and depth of your communications work, you might have multiple audiences and multiple messages to handle. It can get tricky to manage of these messages.
Whether you are in a position where you are trying to prioritize many messages, or you are just trying to figure out that one most important message, I want to give you a few questions to consider as you tack down your messages. Here are three questions to help you flesh out your ideas.
What message(s) must your organization share this year?
By “must,” I mean what do you absolutely need to make sure your audience(s) understands as a result of your communications. I like using this question when I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the options because this question gets me to simplify and streamline my thinking. It’s a way to getting to the essential messages and letting the rest go.
What message(s) feel urgent and important for your organization to share?
I like this question because in the past it’s helped groups I’ve worked with identify where the passion lies. It’s a question that often helps the group to get to a consensus about the messaging and ultimately, agree on something that fires everyone up. Being able to communicate with a certain passion and conviction is a quality that should be valued in your communications, and has the potential to connect your organization even more to your target audience.
Which message(s) have a cultural or social timeliness to them?
I ask this because sometimes it’s best to strike while the iron is hot. It’s a question that might also help you find the middle ground in your Venn diagram where something is relevant to your organization and is also meaningful for your audience. In my year-end reflection, I wrote that I think the socio-political climate is increasingly polarizing and I think it will continue to impact engagement with non-profits in a positive way. If your work is connected to something that is happening in the news cycle or at a national or state level, consider having a message that incorporates that. It will help your audience know where your organization stands and again, has the potential to connect you to new audience members because you are clear about who you are and what you stand for.
I hope these questions help you (and your team) as you think about and plan your communications for 2017.
I’d love to hear about the messages you have on tap. Leave a comment below and share your 2018 messages.