Who’s minding your message?

leadership, messaging, words, leading, leaders

Photo credit: CetasKinetic

Newsflash: It’s not the resident English major or wordsmith who should be minding your message. It’s the leaders.

Minding your message is much about culture than it is words. This is where leaders come in.

To successfully use words to advance your mission, leaders have to create an organizational culture that values and prioritizes finding the words that will make you stand out from the crowd.

Easier said than done, you might say, and your to-do list is plenty long as it is. That’s fair. Luckily, organizations that effectively use words to advance their mission have some common characteristics.

For starters, consider these five:

  1. They gain internal alignment before going for external amplification: How can you effectively engage people externally if your house isn’t in order? When you’re internally in sync on your why and your what, the words fall into place.
  2. They are crystal clear on who matters most to their mission: The ‘general public’ is never held up as a potential audience in the hope that if you cast a wide net, you’ll catch at least a few fish. No! Instead, these organizations know exactly what types of people they need to connect with in order to be successful. In this way, they liberate everyone from distraction.
  3. They are willing to fail: You’re not going to hit it out of the park every time. You have to be willing to fail if you’re serious about succeeding.
  4. They embrace competition: There are a lot of organizations on a mission to make the world a better place. (This is a good thing!) By definition, this means there’s competition. Organizations that embrace this speak both to what defines them AND what differentiates them. If you stop at what defines you, you’re only half-way to finding the right words. You’ll be lumped in with every other organization that shares your cause–education, environment, arts, homelessness, hunger. What makes you different from other organizations tackling this issue?
  5. They tow the line: Once you’ve defined and differentiated your organization, you can find your words and create your messaging. But let’s be clear: everyone is expected to say every word exactly the same. BOR-ing. Rather, pick 3-4 key words that you expect staff and board to use consistently. Give examples and let people personalize. And then make everyone stick to it–including yourself. Over time, those are the words that external stakeholders–donors, volunteers, supporters–will use, as well. This is how your organization will establish the mind share it needs to be successful.

Culture change is hard work, no doubt. But how cool would it be to lead an organization that knows exactly how to use words, language and messaging to get your good work noticed? Pretty darn cool.



You’re a marketer

I’ve run off and on for, oh, 20 years or so. I’ve run a marathon (thanks to Team in Training) and multiple half marathons, including the Mercer Island Half Marathon earlier this year. I get up around 5:30am about three times a week to run anywhere from three to seven miles.

And yet I would never call myself a runner.

Every time I run, I see someone who I consider to be a true runner. Their feet barely hit the pavement, their arms swing effortlessly at their sides, there is a rush of wind as they pass me. Now those people are runners. Clearly.

This is a goofy mentality. It focuses on labels instead of product, effort, impact and achievement. It’s a little bit of a bummer when it comes to me and running. It’s a big, fat bummer when it comes to nonprofits and marketing.

When I do a training or a workshop, I will frequently start by saying, “You are all marketers.” A small, but notable, shudder makes its way across the room. “Me. A marketer? No way. Egads.” People shift in their seats and look visibly uncomfortable.

Most non profit professionals refuse to think of themselves as marketers. Why is this? If marketing is telling a story that inspires people to take action that will make the world a better place AND the way that story gets told is primarily via the actions of the people working for non profit organizations, then every single person who works for a non profit is a marketer.

Twitter, Facebook, e-newsletters, brochures, websites, taglines, elevator speeches. These are all tools we use to tell our story. But they are not the story itself. In and of themselves, they do not inspired action and engagement.

I may not wear Vibrams (the five-fingered, barefoot running shoes), but I’m still a runner. And you may not have ‘marketing’ in your title or your job description, but your enthusiasm for your mission makes you marketer anyway. You inspire people to action every day. Is that so bad?


Leaders & Doers

At today’s Tune-Up Tuesday meet-up, leadership came up again and again. It’s one thing to set strategy and it’s another thing to implement the strategy. Marketing strategy is decided by leadership (usually) and marketing implementation is done by managers, coordinators, assistants, etc. (usually).

The thing is once you start implementing you put the strategy to the test. And sometimes it doesn’t pass the test so you need to revisit. And this is where it can go sideways.

For the one doing the implementation (a.k.a. the ‘doer’), they need input/buy-in from leadership. But it can be nigh onto impossible to get their attention if it’s not ‘strategy season’.

So what’s a doer to do? Make a specific, actionable suggestion for how to course correct and show exactly how it ties to organizational goals.

Example: Our fundraising goal for the year is to increase our median gift size from current donors. However, our Facebook objective is to acquire new donors. Given our limited resources, I suggest we adjust our Facebook strategy so that we deepen relationships with current donors rather than attract new ones.

Be concise and specific. Be clear on which changes require leadership sign-off and which ones the doer can venture forth and figure out. Role clarity is key.

Related note: The more your organization uses social media, the more you should be open to failure. It takes a lot of tinkering to figure out what works. If you’re afraid of failure, you won’t tinker. If you don’t tinker, you won’t figure out what works. Permission to fail is one of the biggest gifts a leader can give.