Messages Nonprofits Can Use to Raise Awareness

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raise awareness

Last month I encouraged you to stop focusing on the medium (the package into which you stuff your content) and to begin making the message (the “goods” you have that will be useful and relevant to your target audiences) your center of attention. I told you to stop thinking “marketing communications” and to begin embracing “content marketing.”

Bottom line: I told you to build a content marketing program to hone your messaging.

Let’s review:

“Marketing communications” seems to be the term with which nonprofits are most familiar. Does this sound like you: “We’re the best kept secret around.” “No one knows what we do.” “If folks understood the depth and breadth of our work they’d want to support us.”

Here’s the deal folks:

You can’t explain people into caring about you.

No matter how much information you spit out it isn’t going to sink in. Why?

  1. The first reason is that it isn’t relevant. It isn’t meaningful. It isn’t what your constituents care about. They’ll pay attention only when they’re persuaded that doing so is an excellent expression of who they are.
  2. The second reason is that human beings aren’t wired to process facts easily. We’re wired for storytelling and drama; something that inspires us to become actors in the story.

What this means for nonprofit content marketing is that you should be developing messages that help your would-be supporters easily see themselves as actors on your stage. And not just actors, but Oscar-winning ones!

So how do you do this when what you’re really interested in at this point is “raising awareness?” What type of content can you share that will assure your message doesn’t go in one ear and out the other? What type of messages will simply get lost?

The wrong type of messaging is the type it’s easy to ignore.

That would be the ego-centric stuff like “We just won an award.” “We’re the biggest nonprofit west of the Mississippi.” And the reams of numbers factual type of stuff like “We serve 11 counties and help 80,000 people.” “We’ve increased outreach by 38% over the past four years.” And the complicated, makes the reader scratch their head, messaging like “We provide preventive, interceptive, therapeutic, psycho-social, physiological help.”

Dry. Boring. Mind-numbing. And all about you.

Sadly, this is the type of language found in many nonprofit mission statements. And too many of you think that’s what you need to share with folks who don’t know much about you. Unfortunately, this type of messaging seldom includes anything of remote interest or relevance to your readers.

Stop thinking that your goal is to “educate” people. Most of us don’t want to be educated by you. It comes off as lecturing. Or even badgering. No one wants to have a finger pointed at them indicating how stupid or morally bereft they are for not knowing about this or that problem and not doing something about it.

Okay. So what might be the opposite of the wrong-headed approach? How about assuming that your reader is intelligent and a good person? All of your writing should come from this place. A gracious and grateful place. A place of love.

The right type of awareness-raising messaging includes these elements:

  • Simple, clear and compelling.
  • Tells a story (even if just by implication from a shared image).
  • Encourages (and makes it easy for) folks to jump into the story with you.
  • Makes your reader the story’s hero.
  • Incorporates emotional triggers.
  • Includes an implicit or explicit call to action.

Here are six suggested messages you can use to raise awareness for your cause using social media effectively. And not just passive awareness, but awareness that leads to action. You will notice that this messaging is a two-way street, always including something your reader can do while their awareness is being raised.

1.         Offer a Treat

Give people something they want or need. Something they can use. I’ll bet your organization has a lot of treats just lying around. How about a list with “Spot the Signs of Dementia?” Or “Recommended Reading for New Moms?” Or “5 Walks in Local Parks?” Or “Nutritious Snacks for Kids?” Or “Free Arts Activities for Families?” Or “Tips to Make Your House Energy Efficient?” Or “Stroke Know-How: What to Look For?” You can develop entire campaigns around these types of messages (e.g. try using hashtags on Twitter or creating community Pinterest boards). Another way to give folks a nice little gift is to provide an E-Book or “Special Report” in exchange for them joining your e-mail list. This has the added benefit of providing a way to keep building your subscribers’ awareness of your work, towards the end of ultimately inspiring them to become donors.

2.         Challenge Folks to Make a Specific Pledge

The Challenge was an extraordinary example. Folks were asked to donate or pour frigid water over their heads; then challenge someone else to do the same. The San Francisco and Marin Food Bank asks people to “Take the Hunger Challenge” and try living for a week on $ 4.50/day. They offer support groups so folks can share recipes and talk about how it’s going on various social media platforms. Both of these challenges share some common elements that go into a formula for successful awareness-building messaging. They center around a gimmick. They invite people to join a group of like-minded, caring folks. They trigger our desire to help. They’re fun to do together. You get to join people you admire (e.g., celebrities, peers, community v.i.p.’s) and become just like them, harkening back to Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence, in particular that people will tend to do what they see others, especially “authority figures,” doing.

3.         Share How to Help Others

This is another way to tap into people’s natural inclination to be helpful. People want to act on their finer qualities and better nature. Research by U.C. Berkeley psychologist Dacher Kelter of the Greater Good Institute shows that human beings are wired to be selfless. (Also see WSJ Hard-Wired for Giving, including the key scientific takeaway that when people decide to donate to what they feel is a worthy organization, parts of their midbrain (the same region that controls cravings for food and sex) light up). One example comes from The Humane Society of the United States which asks people to pledge to take their pets with them during a disaster evacuation. Another is the American Heart Association awareness campaign showing folks Two Steps to Staying Alive with Hands-Only CPR.

4.         Ask People to Be Advocates

There are two ways to approach this. You can simply ask folks to sign a petition in order to inform their elected officials or other policymakers or leaders to do something.  Take a look at the petitions on Change.org for examples. Or you can begin with one active, online person who can help you reach many other people. One way to begin is by finding those folks who are most enthusiastic about your cause, organization, service or product. You can do this by asking people via email, Facebook or Twitter to let you know: “On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend us to your friends?” Those who answer 9 or 10 are your most likely ‘brand advocates’. The other way to figure this out is by simply noticing who shares your content the most; then reach out to them. This latter group is golden, as they’re the ones who genuinely enjoy sharing. Plus they tend to be on the look-out for new things to share.

5.         Ask People What They Think

We all like to be listened to. We’re flattered when others ask us for our opinions or advice. And what a great way to open up a conversation that’s about your reader, rather than all about you. The best way to invite reader response is by asking an open-ended question at the end of your message. Your can do this on Twitter or Google+, via group discussions on LinkedIn, through a post on your blog or simply by sending a tweet. Do they agree/disagree with you, and why? Do they have examples to share that would help others? You want to show folks you don’t know it all and, you value their opinion.

6.         Ask People to Share Your Content

Of course, this only works if you’ve followed all the rules above and have offered up content that’s relevant, meaningful, interesting, inspiring, entertaining or otherwise deemed worthy by your readers. Remember we began with building a content marketing program to hone your messaging? Well, once you’ve brainstormed all sorts of messages that will resonate with folks, why not ask these same people to share with their networks? It gives them a specific action to do, making them begin to feel a part of your community. And it has the added benefit of spreading the word beyond your current connections. Today’s consumers rely increasingly on peer recommendations and word of mouth, so getting folks to be your ambassadors on social media can be much more effective than advertising.

The bottom line, when it comes to raising awareness, is you want folks to remember you and connect with you in some way. For that to happen, you’ve got to make them feel something. Traditional outbound marketing techniques – blah, blah, blah, it’s all about us – do a very poor job of making folks feel anything, but bored or chastised or condescended to. Instead, try some inbound techniques that engage folks in a dialogue. Begin by offering something of value. Then get folks to act on their values by getting them to do something. Get them to feel. As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

About the Author:

Claire Axelrad

This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing leadership experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a web and audio presenter for Good Done Great Nonprofits and was recently honored as “Best Fundraising Blog” by FundRaising Success’ 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. Her passion is instilling an institution-wide culture of philanthropy to help organizations build constituencies and drive increased income to sustain and expand missions. +Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad
This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing leadership experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a web and audio presenter for Good Done Great Nonprofits and was recently honored as “Best Fundraising Blog” by FundRaising Success’ 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. Her passion is instilling an institution-wide culture of philanthropy to help organizations build constituencies and drive increased income to sustain and expand missions. +Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad

@CharityClairity

Lifelong learner, listener, lecturer, lover, e’lucidator of all things philanthropic, passion-forward and people-centric. Fundraiser. Marketer. Innovator.

Check out the latest from @wildwomanfund here: “Anatomy of a Good Nonprofit Infographic” http://t.co/e5K8BAYC8x – 4 hours ago
Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad

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