Vital Survey Reveals Messaging Crisis For Non-Profits


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How to miss targets with Non-Profits messages
Biting review of excellent messaging new survey.Top New York Non.-Profits expert Nancy Schwartz surveys 1400 Non-Profit communicators and finds a "sorry state of messaging". Professional Word director Neil McPherson reviews the survey and suggests reason for non-profits malaise: Rigidlly factual writing and passionless content.

Published in: Business, Career
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Vital Survey Reveals Messaging Crisis For Non-Profits

  1. 1. Sharing experience and expertise with art & non-profits marketers Non-Profits Miss Out on Connection with Potential Supporters Neil McPherson Professional Word Sharing genuine high-quality research and ideas about effective marketing for non-profits is a rare online phenomenon. Not the usual “it’s a snap and it’s sold”. Limited coverage is the toughest disadvantage that non-profits face; that is, after limited resources and public indifference. But here is that rare something exceptional (and immediately-useable) designed for non-profits communicators everywhere. It’s about … The sorry state of non-profits messaging today “Messaging Crisis for Nonprofits” is the newsletter headline to a vital new article under a “Getting Attention” logo from veteran marketing consultant Nancy Schwartz, principal of Nancy Schwartz & Company in New York City. I subscribe to that excellent newsletter and I would love to share it and my thoughts as a fellow professional in the arts and non-profits sector. Nancy Schwartz’ hefty report conducted at the end of 2009, was released in January 2010. It reveals what she describes as: “the sorry state of non-profits messaging today”. It reviews the probing questions asked to more than one thousand non-profit communicators; then follows up by digesting the findings and pointing to actions that should provide a remedy for the sector’s malaise. If you read Schwartz’s 2009 Tagline Report for the same group, you’ll see that in their principal communications she was looking for a memorable message, with distinctive brand focus, personality and values – a message designed to motivate an audience to act. (Her web site gives you access to that free report as well.) 1|Page
  2. 2. Sharing experience and expertise with art & non-profits marketers The survey data came from communicators in non-profits organizations of all sizes, issue-focus and geography and drew on a massive response to questions like: “How effective do you think each one of your messaging elements is?” Respondents were asked to rate their messages to prospective clients, donors and others, over a range from: "Don't Have/Not Effective" to "Very Effective”. Among the survey questions Schwartz had offered response triggers to her survey group, for example: "Don't Have/Not Effective/Somewhat Effective/Moderately Effective/Very Effective.” The messaging elements in focus for this survey included: tagline (organization), tagline (for programs or campaigns); positioning statement (briefly: what the organization does for whom, how, and the unique value delivered); talking points or key messages for the organization and about talking points or key messages for programs, campaigns or audiences. The survey adhered to a professional, rigidly fact-focused approach. The questions were not “leading” in any legal sense, but they did, I think, demonstrate Nancy’s deep knowledge of the non-profits arena. So right then and there, respondents received a lesson in marketing, perhaps without recognizing it. The principal finding was that 915 or 84% of the non-profit communicators surveyed said that “their messages connect with target audiences only somewhat or not at all”. Schwartz’ “Getting Attention” article proceeded to delineate other key findings about messages: 86% characterized their content as difficult to remember; fewer than 50% were in line with the organization’s core message (“Inconsistency leaving confusion in its path”) … Effective messaging had been stymied by a lack of focus and mixed leadership support in the organization. Turn those findings “on their ear” therefore, would be an excellent recipe for a coherent marketing strategy. Why are non-profit marketers going wrong, and why? Several hot suggestions Being a mere observer here, I take the liberty to vent my passion about issues I see running beneath the surface of the survey responses. Nancy’s was a professional survey and report. At all times she took an objective, clear, and dispassionate approach. This was probably despite amazement she must have felt as the responses rolled in. She knows her field thoroughly and she’s obviously walked into many non-profits physically and online. I imagine that she uttered a gasp or two. There was evident concern, within the organizations themselves, about how they designed and delivered of one of their primary marketing tools: messages transmitted and received. There was almost a sense of being lost in the dizzy world of buying and selling. I experienced that when I left employment in a government public service (teaching English) and hit the streets. Do I read too much into the data? I don’t think so. This long-time arts and non-profits marketer and communicator from Australia and USA found one comment in Nancy Schwartz’ web site that struck me: “Nancy Schwartz & Company provides high- impact marketing and communications and services that match your vision and meet your goals.” “Match your vision and meet your goals”, is a neat high-wire act for any consultant, but an essential objective for marketers in a “sensitive” field like non-profit organizations. 2|Page
  3. 3. Sharing experience and expertise with art & non-profits marketers “Match you vision and meet your goals” - significant words in the realm of non-profits marketing. For consultants helping their clients to retain their initial enthusiasm, even a “calling” and pursuing a worthy goal, often seem an elusive target for consultants who offer their ideas and experience to guide marketing communicators. Why did findings in Schwartz survey trigger this reviewer? I believe in giving back to the arts and non-profits a real chance to act like creative people again despite their surroundings, especially the internet. Arts clients who I see and read about and those I recall from other “climes” provide many clues to the disarray that Nancy has pinpointed. Each working day, many non-profits and arts communicators share a creative dilemma: feeling compelled to, or at least drawn towards, producing content that is rigidly factual; the sort of stuff that in fact sometimes buries the dream and ideals that energized most the participants in the first place. They have to produce content that dampens-down their power source; the edge that separates arts and on-profits people from most other marketers. That compromise presents a massive loss of innocence for many a creative individual in today’s communication maelstrom. No wonder they miss-fire. Failing to “stick to their own knitting”, some new marketers in this specialized arena follow the “horse-feathers” strewn about by the legions of marketing gurus. They seem like lemmings heading to a precipice. Get-rich-quick techniques entail adherence to “key word” research, SEO, 3|Page
  4. 4. Sharing experience and expertise with art & non-profits marketers bang-for-buck and other aids to survival and “conversion”. Some communicators, including staff, let go of their passion and their deep respect for ageless values. There lies the pity. This process depletes and diminishes many people - a recipe for burnout, if it goes on un-recognized for what is: a mirage, a deception. Like many of my colleagues in communication industries and professions like broadcasting, marketing and public affairs management, I have experienced that let- down first-hand. Hold that passion! Am I talking through my hat in suggesting marketers can produce and disseminate passionate, even controversial, copy and succeed with it? Yes. Here is just one example, which fell on my desk recently. It comes from Joel Comm, author of a popular and practical book: “Twitter Power - How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time.” It was a blog post of his, that garnered his biggest ever comments response, over 1400. He still uses that post as marketing tool. It was a passionate report of an alleged deception by a pyramid-style marketing scheme on the internet. You can read more about it here Joel Comm “Twitter Power” Now Joel is successful in that same minefield. He must have paid a personal emotional price, maybe even in self-respect. I don’t know. There is worse pressure for arts-business marketers. Most creative people rejoice when their content matches what they really wanted to say. Within normal social and traditional constraints, that is possible to experience at least sometimes. But the often-overlooked “outside pressures” are insidious. Google and McDonalds’ could benefit all sane people in the western world at least, if they employed more creatives and fewer engineers, technicians, web geniuses and lawyers in their teams. It might stem the tide only momentarily: the ice-cap of creative and passionate writing would just dissolve a little slower than it is doing now. That seems to be what has surfaced in the masterful survey conducted by Nancy Schwartz and her company. Non-profits surveyed, often missed effectively engaging their potential and current supporters, volunteers or advocates. The message was blurred and no connection was forged. When they ended up sounding like snake-oil salesmen, they sounded unconvincing, almost disconnected from the visions and goals of their target “market”. Many a lemming’s fate 4|Page
  5. 5. Sharing experience and expertise with art & non-profits marketers Tramping Onwards through a Jungle Match the vision and goals of your audience and you are on the right track to engaging your potential base supporters. It marks a courageous step that might turn out to be a marketing plus for non- profits, if they only cling to it. Correcting and re-running messages is not an easily-acquired art. Often, arts organizations, for instance find they have flung themselves into the marketing world as an accident of their job, whereas their training and preferences come from another world. They then either toss their passion and goals aside or dilute them. Other recent surveys have unearthed many business operators and marketers, in the arts and non- profits and the small business area as well, who tend to “soldier on” with their marketing despite their unique situation and central importance to the culture as whole. They may have been among those swept along by the “flavor of the month”, the sure-fire techniques dished up by so-called “opinion leaders” and experts. They should have noticed that many of the “market dominators” wouldn’t know their way around either an independent bookshop, regional theatre, museum or any organization that seeks to serve, not just to prosper. They tend to write a lot but not to read much. Non-profits organizations encounter them every day. Maybe they should stand up and fight. Read Nancy’ Schwartz complete report: “Messaging Crisis for Nonprofits” Nancy Schwartz & Company Helping Non-Profits Succeed Through Effective Marketing A talented virtual team of communications planners, writers, designers, and web developers, Nancy Schwartz & Company has provided services nationwide in USA, to a wide range of corporate and non-profit organizations. Nancy and her team have been consulting in New York City and beyond since 1995 and have integrated Internet strategies into their work from the outset. Links to Nancy Schwartz: 5|Page
  6. 6. Sharing experience and expertise with art & non-profits marketers Neil McPherson Professional Word Author of this review article: teacher, marketing and public relations consultant, media manager and journalist, Neil McPherson loves to shares his long, wide-ranging experience and expertise to help boost the marketing content for arts and non-profits business. He also enjoys assisting marketers in his new home Germany, to make the most of their English as a Second Language. He has also worked in Germany for Berlitz language school Neil’s consultancy specializes in arts and non-profits marketing, with a world-wide online reach and perspectives contributed by a small team with members located in Toronto, Sydney and the team co- ordinator (Neil) in Mainz, Germany. Wendy (Canada) and Munaiba (Sydney) also provide on-the-ground assistance in their regions. Each contributes to Professional Word’s substantial resource of business and government experience plus hard-won expertise in marketing and communications, brand management and copywriting. You can follow Neil at Twitter @lonewordsmith and Slideshare(Business, Professional Word), Linked -In (Lonewordsmith) and Xing © 2010 Neil McPherson Professional Word 6|Page