Writing powerful messages is always a tough challenge, and sometimes it’s impossible.
I was reminded of this while at a meeting in New Orleans (what a great place for a conference!). A group of professionals who deal with child abuse and neglect were frustrated as they tried to craft an effective message to support their prevention work.
As the discussion unfolded, I realized the barrier to their success had nothing to do with words. It was caused by a fundamental and unresolved issue: what strategy they favored.
The program strategy of some in the group was standard child abuse and neglect prevention: educate the public and professionals about how to recognize and report it so that appropriate agencies could intervene to stop it quickly.
The focus of others in the group was dramatically different. Their strategy was to promote, in a variety of specific ways, stronger and healthier families as a way of preventing child abuse and neglect before it occurred.
These polar opposites were a barrier to creation of a single clear, concise and compelling message.
This group wasn’t unique. How many times have you suddenly realized there was a good reason you floundered in creating messages for your organization? I’ve found three reasons groups fail as they try to design good ones:
- The organization hasn’t decided what it wants others to do once they’ve heard the message. A message that’s not built around a clear call to action is like a body without a spine – floppy.
- The organization hasn’t settled on the strategy for achieving its goal. A strategy is the path for getting somewhere. A bunch of different strategies looks like a plate of spaghetti with strands going every which way – a set-up for a message that goes every which way but the right way.
- The organization doesn’t know who it must activate with the message. Messages are designed to be heard by people with certain self-interests. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, how can you decide what to say?
An organization’s leaders must be involved in addressing these issues. The task can’t be delegated solely to communication professionals. Organizations with strong, effective messages are almost always ones where top leaders recognize their role in message creation and actively engage in the decision-making required to produce powerful ones.
P.S. Learn how to strengthen your nonprofit’s messaging with the all-new Nonprofit Tagline Database and 2011 Tagline Report.