Ill communication? Try these 7 Beastie Boys-inspired ways to scale up and align your nonprofit’s comms approach
My first post here focuses on scaling up communications activities and developing a cohesive narrative. In the past three months, I’ve met with several Chicago nonprofit organizations during the past several months, and many are facing the same communications challenges. The number of nonprofits in the state is increasing, there are 23% more than 10 years ago, and many are facing the growing pains of going from small to mid-size organizations.
“We love Organization X, but we don’t hear enough about what they’re doing” is a common refrain from donors and supporters. The important work of actually running a nonprofit often supersedes the need to communicate about it. And the messages from those that are communicating regularly can become diffuse and devolve into repeated requests for gifts.
With an assist from the Beastie Boys, who released a wonderful tome recently, the following are tips for streamlining your communications, both your content and the operations of your team. In the end, you can create a narrative arc that begins to mold perceptions of your brand in service of your mission.
1. “Everybody’s rapping like it’s a commercial. Acting like life is a big commercial.”
One of the best first steps is auditing your communications activities. What activities absolutely must take place (the weekly e-newsletter, keeping the website up-to-date, writing speeches for the Executive Director), what is optional and what are the pie-in-the-sky ideas and potential moon shots that can be temporarily set aside. It’s astonishing how much time low-yield tasks can occupy for communications folks. Consider the organization’s strategy when determining which projects to prioritize. That’s not to say we won’t aim for moon shots—we will—but those are best saved for when we are really good at the regular activities.
2. “I’m the Kung Fu master versus the Sumo wrestler. Got the beats in Manhattan you can hear in Westchester.”
What can you do with the personnel, volunteers and budget available to you? Reflect on how you and your team members are spending their time each week. Then think about what you do best, whether it’s being a conduit to other managers or leadership, big-picture strategy, or keeping projects organized and on time. Consultants might be able to help with some strategy and high-level tactics, but day-to-day tasks are a little more difficult to outsource. Take into account the needs of your audience, too. If social media is the hub of activity for your fans, then devote more time and personnel there. If email still reigns, then devote more attention there.
3. “Pass me an iron and I’ll bust a chip shot. Then you throw me off the green because I’m strictly hip-hop.”
When prioritizing messaging, think about the need your organization fills. If 850,000 people in the region face food insecurity, be sure to state that—often. Not every one of your constituents is going to be aware of your statistics, even though it may feel like you are talking about them every day. Most folks don’t have the time to read every newsletter you wrote, or they haven’t been at every one of your events. It’s worth repeating this basic information so that the figures sink in. Then you have a nice opportunity to talk about the newest strategic plan and all the ways people can get involved in tackling the problem.
4. “I’m like Sweetie Pie by the Stone Alliance. Everybody knows I’m known for dropping science.”
Demonstrate the most elemental impact your organization makes. This is at a high level of urgency for all organizations. Potential supporters are being bombarded with messages from charities as the nonprofit landscape becomes crowded. If I’m a donor I’m thinking about what is the point of this organization? What impact is it making? What information is the organization able to provide that no one else can?
Simply bringing all communications back to impact can help you cut through the clutter and remind people of how the organization benefits the world. After all, this is why we got into the business in the first place!
5. “I got my hair cut correct like Anthony Mason. Then I ride the IRT right up to Penn Station.”
One of my favorite B-Boys quotes accompanies this advice: Create a content calendar. It sounds like an obvious idea, but it may not be—especially to non-communicators. Mapping out the myriad emails, social media posts, press releases, one-pagers and many more projects will help you, your team and other staff stay organized. And when news does break, remain flexible enough to respond quickly and align it with your broader messaging.
6. “Be true to yourself and you will never fall.”
Develop the voice of the organization and make sure it reflects the energy and personalities that are present inside your walls every day. Do as much as you can to capture the essence of the organization and its primary activities in real time. Tell the small but important stories of impact that are often overlooked. And stay true to conveying the mission of the organization and the enthusiasm of staff and volunteers. You won’t regret it.
7. “Cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.”
The Beastie Boys have almost nothing to do with nonprofit communications, which leads me to my last tip. Have fun. The issues we work on are so meaty that they can be all-consuming. But the best communications spring from creative people with a great sense of humor. Keep it lighthearted, and the great ideas will flow. Life is too short to do otherwise.
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