I started to write a post about title tags (sounds boring, but they actually matter), but I am just too excited to focus on something that granular.
Several weeks ago, Lucy Bernholz, who writes Philanthropy 2173, asked:
Her post is worth reading, but here are three of my take-aways about what the most recent presidential campaign demonstrated:
1. The message matters.
A powerful message isn’t just dressing up an idea in new clothes. It comes from understanding underlying values: what people really want, and what they are concerned about. Savvy product marketers and advertisers understand this when they sell cars as reflection of personal identity rather than a set of features. With its message of “saving lives every day,” the American Cancer Society understands that people want hope. The Humane Society understands that many people care deeply about the animal-human bond. The Elizabeth Hospice in San Diego, which must talk about death in a culture of youth and invincibility, speaks to the underlying value of comfort that people have found in hospice when facing terminal illness: “We listen, we care, we comfort.”
I don’t want to pick on any specific philanthropies, but often organizations are too abstract (“expanding horizons through the power of one-on-one friendships”), too focused on describing what they do (“a powerful voice…”) or too focused on the features (“we are the crucial first link in the system that…”). We fail to move people.
2. The message-carrier matters.
One of the first things that a crisis communications expert does is to identify the spokesperson – someone who will be seen as credible, and who at least offers a sympathetic public face. That’s why nurses are preferred as hospital spokespersons rather than old white guy administrators for many issues. On more proactive messages, some of the best message carriers are the beneficiaries of the organization’s efforts. March of Dimes understands the power of personal stories, and has found an innovative way to collect and share them through its “Every Baby Has a Story” interactive story map. CARE uses videos and testimonials from women around the world as part of its “I am powerful” campaign. Going in to this election, voter turnout was running less than 60%, in part because many groups felt disengaged or disenfranchised. Who better than Barack Obama to convince people who felt cynical about the political process that their vote – their one vote – could matter?
3. Finally, the medium matters.
Showing a grasp of electronic communication and social networking was crucial to attracting younger voters (even ones not all that young). And that isn’t just because these voters use and prefer these modes of communication. It’s that a candidate simply isn’t seen as “with it” if he or she doesn’t demonstrate a level of comfort through their campaign organization.
So what can philanthropists learn? Too often, we restate or spice up mission statements as the basis of our message, rather than identifying and speaking to underlying values with evocative language. Too often, our executive directors are the voice of the organization, rather than spokespersons who not only carry the message but live the issue or problem. And too often, websites and social networking are seen as less than critical because we think that our donors are older and aren’t using electronic communications. Not only do we miss an important part of the communications equation, but in doing so, we’ve just told a whole segment of the market that we aren’t “with it” enough to engage them.
What do you think non-profits and causes can learn from the election? What organizational or cause-related websites convey a powerful message, and demonstrate that they’re “with it”?