Television, direct mail, e-mail, events—there are many channels that nonprofits use to disseminate information. Each of these mediums differs in the way it delivers and communicates information. Certain elements, such as a visually creative story, are more essential to a medium like television than to an event. The single-page direct mail letter is going to be significantly different than the 60-second public service announcement. How can nonprofits, with limited resources and volunteer-led programs, ensure consistent messaging across all mediums?
Below are 10 steps to help nonprofits deliver a consistent message regardless of the medium.
- Determine your audience: Accurately identifying an organization's audience is the first and most important step to ensuring messaging consistency. A poorly identified audience leaves volunteers and employees with content and communication gaps that will inevitably be filled on the spot. Such last-minute messaging is one of the primary culprits that can lead to the creation of mixed messages or even messaging that contradicts the organization's mission or intent.
- Develop three to four primary messages: Developing three or four primary, organization-approved messages gives employees and volunteers the ability to select the most appropriate one for a particular medium. This is one reason why identifying the appropriate audience—or, in some cases, audiences—is so important. Flexibility is essential for communicating with multiple audiences and through multiple mediums while maintaining consistency.
- Make the messages clear: An ambiguous or unclear message can ruin the effectiveness of any communication piece.
- Speak with a single, identifiable voice: This is a difficult element to monitor, especially from the inside. It might be a good idea to go outside the organization and test to ensure that messages convey the same overall personality for the organization. For example, if the organization wants to portray a young, hip personality, then the messages created need to have a young, hip tone. Likewise, if an organization's audience is older and tends to be highly educated, the language and tone of the message needs to match the speech and persona of that audience.
- Deliver messages in a consistent format: In this use, format refers to the path and nature by which a message is delivered. It isn't the medium, which refers to e-mail, direct mail, or television; rather, it is the path or direction in which the audience is brought to the message. For example, if a personal story about how the organization has made a difference in someone's life is the format used to deliver the organization's mission statement, then stick with it. Use a personal story in the e-mail campaign, in the public service announcement, and in the direct mail piece. Using a consistent format doesn't mean organizations should use the same story over and over. Add elements to the story or use different personal stories to make the communications appealing while still bringing the audience to the primary message.
- Use repetition: Repeat the message over and over in all channels. When creating a piece of collateral, start with the message and work your way back. Don't let a piece of communication go out without having your primary message mentioned in, if not the focus of, it.
- Develop an internal communication plan: It is important to make sure that everyone in the organization is on board and understands the primary messages. Every employee—including volunteers who are working on marketing materials, events, or promotions—should be able to identify the messages and be able to use them without hesitation. An unquestionable understanding of the organization's messages by all employees and necessary volunteers will help ensure consistent messaging across mediums.
- Gather internal feedback: Make sure that messages are understood and accepted by employees and volunteers. Messages can be explained to employees without using marketing jargon. After all, they are the people who will be using them. Employees and volunteers should be able to take a message and make it their own. Also, don't be afraid to get employees' and volunteers' feedback about the effectiveness or accuracy of a message. Sometimes, they have the best idea of how the audience will react.
- Appoint a messaging monitor: Most organizations have someone who is responsible for branding. Although implied in this duty, messaging is frequently forgotten. It is amazing what can happen when someone is held accountable for a particular element. Identifying and appointing a qualified person to check specifically for messaging inconsistencies is another way an organization can ensure that it conveys the same message at all times.
- Remember—messaging is a part of branding: Just as an organization ensures that its logo and colors are used properly, so too must it ensure that its messaging is consistent. The branding and messaging work hand in hand to create the nonprofit persona. And portraying the same persona consistently can go a long way toward expanding awareness of an organization and, in the end, increasing the number of donors and fundraising effectiveness.
Because constituents today are bombarded by messages from all types of organizations, it is more important than ever to maintain a consistent persona. And the best way to do this is with consistent messaging. These 10 steps will help nonprofits ensure that they portray the same organization in every interaction and communication with their audiences. The most important thing to remember is that consistency is king. Always portraying the same persona will help organizations stick out from the plethora of other nonprofits that are all trying to reach the same people.
Darryl Gordon, November 2007
© 2007, Kintera®, Inc.Darryl Gordon is vice president of marketing for Kintera®, Inc. Kintera provides software as a service to help organizations quickly and easily reach more people, raise more money, and run more efficiently. The technology platform features a social constituent relationship management (CRM) system, enabling donor management, e-mail and communications, Web sites, events, advocacy programs, wealth screening, and accounting.