What is your elevator pitch? Does everyone in the organization know the pitch and do they deliver the same message in the same way? The Baltimore Community ToolBank has a great strateby to address these very questions. Every Monday , the ToolBank has a staff meeting with the message for the week written on a whiteboard. This whiteboard is prominently displayed in their office where everyone who comes to volunteer, donate or for a meeting, sees the messaging. Sometimes the ToolBank posts this message on social media like the following posted on its Instagram: “2425 tools washed with rainwater this year”. This specific messaging is a strategic way of ensuring everyone in the organization is talking about what matters, in the same way. What if one person said, “2425 tools washed with recycled water this year”, or at a fundraising event, a board member stated, “2425 tools were washed with repurposed water this year”. These are very different messages. Although repurposed water can come from a variety of sources, including a toilet, Baltimore Community ToolBank is not sending a message regarding repurposed water in general. Rather, the ToolBank, a leader in rainwater collection and repurposing from their 40,000 square foot rooftop, is focused on publicizing their ongoing strategic plan to leave as little footprint as possible by capturing the rainwater and using it to wash their tools. The ToolBank that loans tools, tables, chairs, wheel barrels and much more to community-based partners for pennies on the dollar are also environmentally conscience and holds communication in high regard throughout their organization.
Organizations that excel at communication are stronger, smarter and vastly more effective. Sean Gibbons, the Executive Director of The Communications Network, explained this idea on the Podcast “Nonprofits are Messy” with Joan Garry (episode 13) Sean discusses how the organization’s message and passion needs to be clear to those inside the organization as well as made easily understood to those outside. This precise messaging helps those outside the organization understand what your work is and why it is important. Gibbons challenges, that communications in a nonprofit can seem like it is adjunct to the ‘work, and when this is the attitude, the opportunity to share your story and bring more people on board is missed. He suggests that nonprofits are in the ‘idea’ market, and that large social issues cannot be solved by ONE organization. The ideas of your organization’s mission, vision and purpose need to be sent out into the ‘world’ and partnerships need to be rendered. If representatives of your organization can not explain clearly why, what you are doing is important the message is lost to those within the walls of your nonprofit, the hard work and importance is never understood by those outside the organization.
Social media can help target your messaging but be cautious of these sirens in the water, as it is easy to fall for every new, fast moving, shiny new platform. When new platforms arise, i.e Snapchat, it is a good idea to look at your messaging, who are you targeting and decide if this new venture is worth your staff/volunteer’s time investment. In the podcast, Gibbons talks about how, The Communications Network created a persona for their social media presence. At about 21 minutes into the episode, Sean talks about how they represent themselves as Helen Mirren on social media. This personification helps with their messaging and their ‘voice’ on various media. Take a pause…..who would your organization be?
Being strategic about communication is not a waste of time. Simon Sinek, in his vastly popular TED Talk Start with Why, challenges business to focus on their Why. If it is unclear to the people in your organization why you are doing what you do, they will have a hard time talking or explaining why the work you do is so important. It is worth spending time thinking about what your overall message is and to decide how to talk about your work.