How Nonprofit Communicators Can Cut Through the Clutter to Engage Overloaded Audiences

Call me Carrie Bradshaw. Ok, I’m musing on nonprofit communications, rather than thirty-somethings and sex. Small difference.

But like Carrie, as the host of this week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, I get to tackle a critical issue, noodle on it myself and ask colleagues for their points of view. Love it. Move over Sara Jessica Parker.

Today we’re tackling a biggie — how do nonprofit communicators engage audiences who are saturated by marketing messages and images? And how do we compete with for-profits who bring more resources to the table?

Got incredibly pointed, useful, inventive posts from Carnival participants this week. Three major strategies emerged:

No More Marketing — It’s a Two-Way Conversation
R. Craig Lefebvre sums it up: "It’s no longer about getting attention, it’s about earning it. Once they find you, you have three seconds to engage them, or they’re lost – maybe forever."

Nonprofits should be communicating with, rather than at, audiences, says Allison Fine. Focus on participation, not dissemination.

Cut the B.S.
Flip the funnel, and let your donors/volunteers/board members/program participants do the talking, suggests Seth Godin.

Mark Rovner couldn’t be more on target as he celebrates the death of b.s. and the rise of passion and genuineness. Mark includes some concrete tactics you can put to work today — nothing like the tangible.

From across the pond, Whitewater’s Anna Crofton stresses the importance of integrity and authenticity and messages that are simple and compelling. Fellow UKer Steve Bridger recommends the power of storytelling, especially when it’s visual — nothing more direct and genuine than that — and has a great example in The Water Buffalo Movie.

Two expert communicators – Michele Martin and  Michael Gibbons emphasize that sticky messages have to be emotional and concrete. They both cite Made to Stick as the guide of choice. Add me to the list.

Find the Tactics that Do Work
Houtlust’s Marc van Gurp showcases some powerful, inventive and CHEAP examples of cutting through the noise. You won’t believe these incredible models for us. These are great ways to get attention, the first step in true audience engagement.

Stay nimble and creative. Katya Andresen sees success coming from a mix of pithy messages, accessible ideas, celebs showcasing your cause, and intelligent risk-taking.

Denise Graveline sees blogs as a powerful secret weapon for nonprofits.

Engage your audiences where they do pay attention, advises Nedra Weinreich. Don’t spend time or money fighting the clutter of traditional marketing venues. Jump into making it easy for loyalists to spread the word and working fan communities. Nedra suggests some great tactics to put into play.

Higher ed marketing expert Bob Johnson recommends, "paying maximum attention to people who are already engaged with your organization. And using their favorable word of mouth to use your stellar service in the nonprofit universe to recommend you to others with similar interests."

Nothing better than "word of mouth on steroids," agrees Michael Hoffman.

The folks at Frogloop have some great tips on cutting through the noise, including honing email subject lines to perfection, personalization to the nth degree and online storytelling.

Thanks much to all contributors. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

What do you think we can do to engage our audiences in this world of marketing overload. Please share your ideas in the comments box below.

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Nancy Schwartz on January 31, 2007 in Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications, Strategy | 8 comments

  • Nancy thanks the cotton candy is on me!!

  • Great question to get the ball rolling, and what an abundance of amazing answers! Thanks for including mine in there.
    It’s my turn to host the Carnival next week (2/5), so I just wanted to put in a plug to ask all the nonprofit bloggers out there to submit a post. The theme will be social marketing — as in using marketing to promote health and social issues. If you have a post from this week or last you would like to have considered for inclusion, please send it to me at by Sunday. Thanks!

  • On Social Marketing and Social Change

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  • I love all this discussion, but it all strikes me as a bit obvious.
    Being authentic?
    Engaging your audience?
    Staying nimble?
    Hell yes (but of course!)
    Those tactics (and more) are what get you to the starting blocks and hardly to the finish line. The tactics may have changed (myspace, blogs, second life, blah blah blah) – but good marketers have always, and will always win by being authentic, relevant and REAL.
    The tactics in question may be more different than ever, but the basics have not changed. I’m guessing that it’s slightly harder to learn to be authentic than it is to open a myspace account :)
    From my limited (but opinionated) position, the real challenge lies in having the guts to open yourself up to criticism and discussion. In order to connect with some level emotion, you can’t be the perfect company selling the perfect product to perfect customers.
    Maybe try this… relax a little, act like a human being and you’ll see and hear some amazing things. In other words, drop the act and TALK with people, not at them.
    Great carnival!

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