3 Creative Ways to Enhance Your
Nonprofit’s Communications Strategy
By: Peter Panepento
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected. So far this year, we have been confronted with a series of events that have turned our world on its axis — including the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.
In both cases, nonprofits were confronted with urgent and tragic situations they weren’t planning for — and they had to make quick decisions about how to communicate effectively about complex, sensitive, fast-changing events.
Those who were nimble and creative managed to keep their key supporters engaged. Some even captured the attention of new donors and supporters. Those who were slow to act have been left behind.
This has been especially true for nonprofits that manage peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns and in-person events — all of which were thrust into transforming long-planned events into virtual campaigns in record time.
I recently worked with the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum to survey and interview leaders of programs that had to make this quick pivot. In nearly every case, those who staged successful campaigns this spring and summer attributed their success to their ability to communicate clearly, creatively and consistently. Meanwhile, groups that struggled to raise money and support had one big regret: They didn’t communicate early or often enough.
It’s safe to say that we’re not finished with having to confront big, unexpected crises. At
some point — likely soon — we will face another defining moment where it will be essential to
provide clear, timely messaging.
To do so effectively, it’s important to set your organization up to:
- Communicate quickly.
- Employ creative communications tactics on the fly.
- Make your message stick through ongoing and consistent communications.
Below is advice on how you can achieve these three goals.
Even during good times, fundraising campaigns face hiccups: Thunderstorms threaten your
outdoor event. Road construction causes delays for those attempting to make it to your event
on time. Your scheduled performer cancels due to a sore throat.
While you can’t predict any of these situations weeks or months in advance, you can lessen their impact if
you have a crisis communications protocol. A crisis protocol offers a roadmap for how your organization
will develop and approve an urgent message. It also provides clear instructions on how to actually deploy
that message in a pinch.
The first step in developing your protocol involves enlisting a small team that is empowered to create and
share messages quickly. Ideally, it includes top leadership and staff who have access to your website’s content management system, as well as your email marketing and social media accounts.
And because crises don’t always happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays (in fact, it’s rare they do),
members of this team should be informed in advance that they could be deployed off-hours.
When you’re working to inspire your supporters to donate to your nonprofit or raise money on your behalf,
it’s important to find ways to capture their imagination.
This is challenging during normal times — and it becomes an even bigger obstacle when you’re dealing with disruptions.
Often, the most creative campaigns start not with talking, but with listening. It’s important to have upfront conversations with your biggest fundraisers or team captains to share the goals about your campaign and solicit their input on how you can achieve these goals.
Such conversations can help you shape your approach and spark creative ideas. They also help get your supporters engaged and invested in helping you spread the word.
Many of the most effective peer-to-peer campaigns this year have built on these early conversations to create campaigns that engage supporters through gamification and encourage them to share their progress with friends and family.
American Cancer Society, for example, invited runners to track the miles they ran during a week in June to chart a virtual journey across the U.S. Runners actually made it across the country and back — and then across again!
Teams participating in ZERO — The End to Prostate Cancer’s virtual walk were challenged to recruit participants in all 50 states. Each state represented by a participant in its spring walk was colored blue on an online map.
The ALS Association’s Greater Chicago Chapter, meanwhile, provided memorable and practical tools to help team captains carry out a virtual walk event this spring by distributing “Superhero Supply Boxes” packed with materials such as bandanas, sidewalk chalk and door hangers. The boxes helped participants market the event in their neighborhoods.
The result? Fundraisers hosted 150 “mini-walks” in their own communities on event day. In many neighborhoods, housebound neighbors came outside to cheer on their friends as they walked the streets (encouraged by the door hangers).
While speed and creativity are important, your messaging will likely fail to deliver if it’s not delivered consistently.
Marketers are familiar with the “Rule of 7,” which states consumers need to hear a message seven times or more before they will take action.
For nonprofits that manage peer-to-peer campaigns and other events, it’s not enough to simply send a few email marketing messages or tweets and expect supporters to begin actively raising money on your behalf.
You need a steady drumbeat of messaging — and you need to be willing to get your hands dirty and get personal.
That’s why groups like the Arthritis Foundation played host to weekly coaching calls and engaged in personal outreach through its local chapters to encourage participants to get engaged in its spring virtual walk campaign.
And it’s why the San Diego Humane Society supplemented its email and social media messaging with personal phone calls to each of the people who registered for its spring campaign.
Consistency matters. So does personal outreach. In fact, the most creative and effective campaigns aren’t built on slick imagery and collaterals. They’re built on hard work — both upfront when you create your crisis protocols and during the campaigns themselves when you do the day-to-day blocking and tackling that’s needed to deliver and repeat your messages.
The good news is that if you plan ahead and are willing to roll up your sleeves, you can create effective communications campaigns that hit the mark — even during adverse conditions.
About: Peter Panepento is co-founder of Turn Two Communications, a communications and PR company that specializes in helping nonprofits, foundations, and socially-minded companies.
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