Non-profits are operating in a time that is increasingly noisy and fraught with competition for attention. Organizations have taken to using frequency and volume of communications to capture that attention. But as I tell my students and clients, trying to be the loudest megaphone is not a viable strategy for capturing attention and turning attention into relationships. Instead, non-profits need to lean into their authentic communications style to increase resonance with their target audience.
In a previous articleI posed the question, “How do you cultivate authenticity for your organization?”
It can seem like a strange question for an organization to try to answer, I get that. In that article, I suggested four principles that can help us move towards authenticity. Today, I want to unpack these principles and discuss how your organization can apply them.
#1 You must be willing to be true to yourself over following the pack.
Albert Einstein once said, “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.” I find that many organizations are afraid of not being popular and well liked by “everyone” at the expense of being true to themselves in communications. But taking a step away from your organization’s true self, means that you may not have the chance to connect with the people who are most likely to resonate with that because you’ve set it aside.
Consider these questions for reflection. What are the instances in which your organization was unwilling to take a risk to be true to itself? Why was it unwilling to take a risk in that moment? What was the opportunity cost of not being true to itself?
#2 You must have values, beliefs, and a world view that are evident throughout your communications. Sometimes this means taking a (polarizing) stand.
Your organization likely has a set of values or beliefs that guide its work. It may also have an analysis or world view that is informing how it works. These pieces are part of the core that makes your organization who it is. If you’ve brought these pieces into your fundraising work, chances are you may have these values in common with your donors. Continue to bring them into your donor communications as a way to strengthen this connection. This develops an all-important narrative about your organization and its donors.
#3 You need to consistently show up so that people see your organization. Be there at the opportune moments and have something to say.
It’s hard to have a relationship with a person who sporadically shows up to participate in it. Or in the case of non-profits, an organization who only shows up to ask donors for money. If your organization wants to deepen its authenticity with donors, show up at times when you don’t need to ask for money. Show up to have conversations about issues you care about. Show up to ask donors what’s on their minds. Just show up in ways that are not asking for money sometimes.
#4 Above all else, you need to be in it with your donors and your broader audience. What are they feeling? Why are they feeling that? Be in your feelings and experience together.
It’s no secret that feelings drive a lot of fundraising and drive donors to stay connected to a cause. One of the most important communication opportunities we have with donors is to be in our feelings together. To empathize with one another about something that’s happening. In my book, there’s nothing more authentic than being real about our feelings. If there’s something happening that’s causing your organization and its donors to have feelings, talk about it. It’s a communication opportunity that can lead to a deeper connection.
Think about what’s happened in the last six months. Has something happened related to your issue area that has brought up feelings? How did (or did not) your organization address this in communication?
Being the loudest megaphone online and offline may not be a viable relationship building strategy, but authentic communication is. As we head toward the mid-point of 2019, take this opportunity to evaluate your communications and reflect on what you can do to make them more authentic.
Vanessa Chase is President of TheStorytellingNonprofit.com and co-founder of Stewardship School. Her goal is to help nonprofits connect in more meaningful ways with donors through stories and stewardship. She works with nonprofits throughout North America—including BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, Union Gospel Mission, and Cancer Care Connection—and is an internationally recognized speaker. Vanessa is also the Board Chair of Women Against Violence Against Women.