Messaging in Today’s World

Apr 1, 2020 | All Posts, From The Partners, Messaging, Special Topics

By Susan Ross.

We’ve shared one piece of advice consistently since the pandemic started: Stay in touch with your donors and key volunteers. Mary called it Extreme Stewardship in a recent newsletter, and we know many of you are working hard to do this.

The moss+ross team has had many great conversations with clients over the last few weeks, all of whom want to communicate but are sensitive to the need to get the message “right.” These nonprofits fall into three basic groups:

Front-Line Providers:  Nonprofits that provide food, shelter, health care and education are clearly needed more than ever. The strain on your budgets is very real because of increased demand, and you are working long hours. You must make time to share your message, and you can ask colleagues, volunteers and partner organizations to help you. Resist the urge to over-manage this, just go with the opportunity – as they say, perfection is the stumbling block to progress. In the end, your reputation will be stronger and many new donors may become part of your work.

Hidden Heroes:  Others are facing very real increased costs but must tell their stories to attract the community’s generosity. For example, domestic violence calls are way up, mental health issues and suicide are a growing concern, lack of technology impacts poor families, and displaced workers need help. Make sure the community knows your constituents’ crisis needs. Weave that message into everything you send so the media and your donors see the role you are playing. Give good people a chance to respond by waving your own flag.

The Rest of Us:  Many nonprofits are doing great work, but their messages feel strangely irrelevant right now. It can be tricky not to appear tone-deaf when trying to tell an otherwise great story while a deadly virus is looming. If you are not a direct emergency assistance program, don’t pretend to be. Stay in touch, but stick with your own message, knowing the world will need you when this is over. We have been impressed by the gardens and museums that are sharing beautiful photographs that boost our spirits, not asking for gifts. Patience is the answer, not silence.

Wherever you fall on this list, try some of these suggestions:

  • Start by making lists of who should hear from you. Some fall naturally into groups and will respond to an “all board” or “all ticket buyers” kind of email. This is a bare minimum, so get those out the door quickly and regularly.
  • Make time to call or email key people individually. Create a Top Ten list every week and reach out. These personal communications are the appropriate place for empathy, so inquire about health and safety as well as share relevant information about your cause. Remember, these are people who believe in what you are doing and care about your cause’s future.
  • Aim for updates that inspire your readers – dedication, resilience, character, ways your nonprofit is leaning in – to be sure your people and your mission move forward.
  • Show where new collaborations are developing that may exist beyond the crisis. How are you doing things differently? What are you learning?
  • Share stories of courage and warmth. Front-line nonprofits should include data that show how you are helping and highlight special funds established to cover emergency costs.
  • Don’t try to cram everything into one message. This is going to last a while; you will have time to write or call more than once.

Remember, these communications are with the insiders who will help you rebuild when this crisis is over. Steward these important people using all the resources you can – from your suddenly home-based admin team to your top executives. When this is over, people will remember the organizations that reached out to them and asked them to be part of the response.