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GuideStar Blog

Getting Heard


How effectively are your nonprofit’s communications cutting through the clutter?

Information overload

If you’re like me, your email inbox is bursting with newsletters, special offers, fundraising appeals, receipts, spam, and, astonishingly, an occasional message from someone you actually want to hear from. Your physical mailbox is probably in a similar state and your brain is mush from processing all of that information as well as everything else you read, see, and hear in the course of a normal day. You and I aren’t alone.

The exact number isn’t clear, but it’s been estimated (somewhat sketchily) that the average American is exposed to around 5,000 marketing messages every day. Whatever the actual number, getting through all that noise and actually being heard and understood by your constituents is difficult—whether they’re clients, policymakers, advocates, or donors.

So how do you do it?

Know better

Sadly, there are no easy answers. Part of it is knowing your audience; knowing how they like to communicate, what’s important to them, what they want to hear about, where and when is best to reach them… and then acting on that knowledge and tailoring your communications to their preferences. People are much more likely to listen if you reach them at a time and place that’s convenient and when you’re saying things they’re interested in (at Big Duck, we call it being audience-centric).

Keep it consistent

Another big part of communicating effectively is being consistent. Not just consistent in how your communications look, sound, and feel, but also consistently communicating who your organization is—why it exists, what it does, and what makes it unique—through every aspect of your communications.

When every point of contact—from your logo, to the tone of your tweets, to the way your offices look—underscores the central aspects of who your organization is, you present a coherent, memorable whole to your audiences that makes your communications easier to process and more likely to sink in.

Give yourself regular check-ups

Judging how consistent, audience-centric, and in line with other best practices your own communications are can be tricky. It requires taking a step back and reviewing everything with fresh eyes, which can be tough when you’re close to an organization and you know exactly what you’re trying to say with each letter, email, or Facebook update.

But reviewing your communications once in a while is another important part of making sure you’re being effective. Without checking in occasionally to see how you’re doing, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut, communicating in ways that are no longer effective or truly reflective of your organization.

At Big Duck, we’re all about helping nonprofits communicate more effectively. So to that end, about a year ago, we developed a nice little online assessment tool to help nonprofits get a better sense of how their communications stack up.

The brandraising scorecard (as we like to call it) asks 21 simple questions about your communications and then gives you a customized report about what you’re doing well, what you could improve, where to focus first, and what to do next. Think of it like a Cosmo quiz for your nonprofit’s communications, but more helpful and less likely to reinforce gender stereotypes.

While it doesn’t have all the answers, it should serve as a jumping-off point to start you thinking about what you might be able to do to reach your audiences more effectively. You might even use it to start an internal discussion about how to set your communications priorities over the next year.

Whatever you get out of it, don’t hesitate to let us know what you think: we’re always looking for input and interested in making
improvements along the way. (See what I did there?)

The preceding is a guest post from Madeleine Milan, Strategist at Big Duck, a marketing and communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits to help them raise money and increase visibility. If you are interested in submitting a blog, please send your name, contact information, and a sentence or two about the content of the post to

Topics: Communications Nonprofits