rebecca leet

Welcome back to guest blogger, Rebecca Leet who helps nonprofits sharpen their goals and connect with the people who can achieve them. Here’s Rebecca…

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Guest Blogger on February 16, 2011 in Branding and Messages | 1 comment
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I’m thrilled to welcome back guest blogger, Rebecca Leet, who helps nonprofits sharpen their goals and connect with the people who can achieve them. Here’s Rebecca…

Here in Washington, DC, we’re recognizing again one of the classic rules of effective messaging: when conditions change, messages usually must, too.

The Congress that starts work next month will have a lot of fresh faces.  Republicans have replaced Democrats as the power in the House of Representatives.  And some of those Republicans are Tea Party folks who don’t march to the same drummer as other Republicans.

In short, there will be a lot of new people with different desires than the people they defeated.  And when the desires of your target audiences change, your message must too.  Otherwise, you won’t connect with your audience long enough to persuade them to act on your behalf.

Some groups miss this fundamental reality.  They figure less advantageous conditions simply require them to talk louder, so they bombard legislators with activist emails, hoping that 100,000 emails with the old wrong message will be more effective than 10,000 with a new better one.  Others get caught up in the “should” snare:  they don’t change their message because they insist others should support them for the “right reason,” which is what they put forward in their message.

Savvy message makers know better.  Here are two examples of how some experienced Washington advocates are re-designing their message:

  • One environmental leader has suggested changing the environmental focus on global warming to a public health focus.  Instead of arguing for legislation to combat global warming, advocates will urge the legislation as a way of saving children from asthma or pregnant women from mercury poisoning.
  • Groups working to prevent child abuse may switch from promoting strengthening families as a prevention strategy because conservative legislators often see that as a private responsibility.  A more effective argument might focus on the costs to government – more juvenile delinquency, increased demand for social services etc. – of failure to prevent abuse.

When dramatic change occurs in your sphere – whether it’s internal or external – look again at your message.  Do you still want the same action?  Have you targeted the right audiences? Do you know what those audiences want?  If there’s a new answer to any of those fundamental questions, you probably need a new message.

P.S. Learn how to strengthen your nonprofit’s messaging with the all-new Nonprofit Tagline Database and 2011 Tagline Report.

Nancy Schwartz on December 16, 2010 in Branding and Messages | 0 comments
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I’m thrilled to welcome back guest blogger, Rebecca Leet, who helps nonprofits sharpen their goals and connect with the people who can achieve them. Here’s Rebecca…

As soon as I finished Switch, Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book, I began recommending it to clients and colleagues because they give such a practical perspective on making change and provide a simple framework for doing so.

Early in the book, they note that achieving behavior change requires someone to “script the critical moves” of the process. I’ve learned the same lesson working with messaging clients: Having a scripted process for developing messages not only results in an effective message, it also increases the confidence of non-communications colleagues that they can effectively participate in the development process.

Boosting that confidence is important, because participation from your colleagues in other departments is essential to developing good messages.

This is the 5-step process I’ve developed to “script” the creation of messages.  It has helped clients achieve a variety of goals: advancing social policy, raising money, establishing corporate identity, promoting new business practices, and explaining complex ideas.

I find using simple questions at most steps directs individuals’ thinking without intimidating them by directive statements that give the feeling they’re engaging in a formal, foreign process.

Step 1: What is the action we’re trying to make happen through this message? The whole point of communicating is to get target audiences to take an action you want.  What is it?  Action drives message development, so articulating the action has to come first.  This is often the most difficult task for a message development team.

Step 2: Who can make that action happen? This is a much better question than “who are our target audiences” because it doesn’t allow the team to mindlessly rattle off the groups the organization already communicates with.  This question may lead the team to discover they’re communicating with people who can’t achieve what the organization wants – and they’re not communicating with some who can.

Step 3: What do these people desire that would prompt them to act? Focusing on what target audiences desire, rather than what they need, is key to developing effective messages.  People will move faster to satisfy a desire than to satisfy a need.  For more on the importance of focusing on desire, see my March blog post, Broken New Year’s Resolutions — A Lesson in Knowing Your Audience.

Step 4: Is there overlap between what they want and we want? Hopefully, this step is dispensed with quickly, yet it’s very important and potentially very strategic.  If the organization knows what will motivate its target audiences to act, it has to make sure that it can deliver to those desires.  This may require shifting resources, raising money, or adding capacity – and if the organization can’t or won’t do that, it won’t be able to activate the people it needs …. and there’s no point in developing a message.

Step 5: Write the message. Remember the basics. Write from your audiences’ perspective, not yours.  Use simple words not jargon.  Less is more: fewer words and fewer major points make for more effective messages.

Using a simple, consistent process over time may build a messaging culture.  That’s what happened with one of my clients, which is changing the way we prevent child abuse in the U.S.  They launched a radical new prevention approach in 2003, supported by a powerful message.  The approach is being adopted at amazing speed, and at every developmental point the organization has created more messages to support their work.

None of the people in this organization is a professional communicator, yet it developed a messaging culture.  By last year, its approach had become the most widely-recognized approach nationwide – twice as well recognized, among target audiences, as the next-best approach.

P.S. Get more in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing  success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Guest Blogger on October 28, 2010 in Branding and Messages | 3 comments
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Nonprofit-Communications-Tennis

I’m pleased to welcome back Rebecca Leet, who helps nonprofits sharpen their goals and connect with the people who can achieve them.  Rebecca covered the importance of knowing your base and nine questions to ask about your organization’s messages in her last posts.  Here’s Rebecca…

It seemed as if every restaurant TV was tuned to the recent Masters Golf tournament. Yet during one such exposure, I realized that the difference between golf and tennis mirrors that between communicating through traditional media versus new media.

Contrasting the two sports gives communicators a way to bring home how different marketing is today than it was 10 years ago.  The contrast may help our colleagues grasp the fundamentally different relationship organizations have with our audiences now.

Golf is the old communications environment in which your organization had great control. Except in crisis situations, you had time to plan, create, and deliver communications.  You had time to create its message. You had time to get ready to launch the message, to “tee it up”.  And you could choose what channels to use – the environment into which the message was launched.

And if the message turned out to be a dud, you could revise it and re-launch – like a golfer who hits into a sand trap, inspects the lie, considers his escape and chips back onto the fairway.

Tennis is our lives in today’s communications environment where there is very little control. Sometimes you can serve up a message, but just as often the communication initiative comes from outside or the “other side of the net.”

Once the communication has begun there’s no pause in the action.  A tennis player has to be able to react immediately to the shot that is coming at her.  She has to be in the right place, at the right time, and have the stroke (read communications skill) if she wants to stay in the game.

Next time you’re building a colleague or board member’s understanding of how the communications landscape has evolved, try the golf/tennis analogy.  Reinforce it with concrete examples of communications wins, and losses, on your part and by colleague organizations.

It’s likely that at the end of that conversation, they’ll have a much greater understanding of the complexity of today’s communication environment and why you’re taking the steps you are to engage your base.

P.S. Get more in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Guest Blogger on April 28, 2010 in Planning and Evaluation | 1 comment
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I’m pleased to welcome back Rebecca Leet, author of Message Matters, who helps nonprofits and foundations sharpen their goals and connectwith the people who can achieve them.  Rebecca covered the importance of knowing your base in her last post.

“I had lunch recently with a long-time client, the head of a national environmental organization.  Even before we ordered, she shared her worry that a major program just wasn’t living up to expectations.

She wondered if developing a message specifically for that program might help.  She glanced over her shoulder a little sheepishly and asked how do I know if we need a message?

She shouldn’t have looked around nervously because she asked a good question. And its a question more orgs should ask before they jump into the message development pond. Instead, they start by saying I think we need a message rather than asking will a strong message help?

Here are nine questions to ask to gauge whether messaging will help you reach your goal:

  1. Am I satisfied with how well people listen when we talk about the program?
  2. Does the conversation reflect an understanding of the program’s focus and impact?
  3. Do our team members discuss the program in basically the same way?
  4. Are we talking to the right people, the specific groups that will help us achieve our goal?
  5. Do we connect quickly with our audiences – do they engage or are they staring at us blankly or with confusion?
  6. When we talk about our program, do we use language our next-door neighbor will understand or are we using jargon?
  7. Do we understand what desires motivate our target audiences and connect with those wants in our messages?
  8. Will we use a message if we develop one?  (Yes, that’s a legitimate question!)
  9. Are we willing to involve colleague departments (e.g. development, research, chapter relations) in creating the messaging because we need their insights and want them using the messaging, too?

Although much of my professional life is focused on developing messages, I’m the first to say that a powerful message is not the answer to every floundering program or reluctant donor.  It’s worth asking yourself, before you start, whether a strategic message is really what you need.”

P.S. Messages that connect are a priority for all organizations and the prerequisite for motivating your base to act. Learn how to craft the most essential message — your tagline. Download the Nonprofit Tagline Report, filled with must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 2,500+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Guest Blogger on April 8, 2010 in Branding and Messages | 1 comment
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Rebecca LeetI’m pleased to introduce you to Rebecca Leet, author of Message Matters, who helps nonprofits and foundations sharpen their goals and connect with the people who can achieve them.  She’s my second guest blogger in a periodic series of guest posts and it’s great to add her perspective to the mix. Welcome, Rebecca…

“I discovered years ago that the best time to shop for a near-new stationary bike or treadmill is February. Why? Because those who made a New Year’s resolution to exercise realized pretty quickly that although they need to work out, they don’t want to.

Those gleaming treadmills ready for re-sale remind me of a truth we communicators often overlook: people’s actions are driven more by what they want than by what they need. It’s a lesson that message developers can’t afford to forget.

Focusing on desire affects every aspect of creating a message that connects.  It affects the focus.  It affects the words. And focusing on desire may totally change how you  target audiences for your message. Here are two examples of how it has:

  • I once worked with a social service agency that was making a giant shift in the way its 6,000 professionals would work going forward.  The agency needed a message to motivate them to change.  By focusing on the desires that drove the staff, we realized there were two distinct segments among the target audience (the workers): one saw the change as an opportunity and the other saw it as a threat.
  • Another client was introducing a radically-different approach to preventing child abuse.  Three years after launching it, some stakeholders wanted to know how to implement the new practices, and nothing more.  Others wanted to be involved in improving the approach.  When we began developing a message, we thought our audience would break down by profession – social workers, early childhood professionals, etc.  They didn’t. They were the Implementers and the Innovators.

Next time you craft a message for your organization or program, consider what desires lay behind the actions your audience takes.  You’ll be surprised how groups that looked different suddenly look similar.  And groups that looked the same may look different.”

Thanks much, Rebecca, for a crucial reminder!

P.P.S. Messages that connect are a priority
for all organizations and the prerequisite for motivating your base to act.
Learn how to craft the most essential
message — your tagline.
Download the 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Report, filled with must-dos,
don’t dos, case studies and 2,500+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz on March 25, 2010 in Branding and Messages | 0 comments
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