Take 8 Steps to Build a Team of Powerful Messengers

I recently delivered a new message platform (tagline, positioning statement, talking points, elevator pitch outline) to the team at the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) as part of the ramp up to a big organizational anniversary.

These folks do an incredible job with few staff members and a tight budget, even as the scope of their work grows to encompass a larger region and a broader range of environmental health issues. So when EHC’s communications director asked me how to make the most of the messaging, I recommended that he train his colleagues and leadership to be effective messengers.

Your organization too can benefit hugely by pioneering an all-org message team.

Here’s why that’s so important…

The Problem: No Message Team

You’re the solo marketer in your organization, or that’s just part of your job, or you’re one of a team of five or ten. No matter your situation, the reach of your marketing team is limited to the conversations you have and the multiple communication channels you put to work.

But because your colleagues and board have never been formally trained on the key elements of your message platform, the daily work of your organization produces a damaging unintended consequence: Their conversations with your target audiences feature conflicting descriptions of your organization’s focus and impact, inconsistent use of the tagline you’re counting on to stir interest, inquiries and action, plus the dead silences and pure misinformation that these colleagues share simply because they aren’t aware they could do better for your organization, or don’t know how to.


The Solution: A Confident, Well-Trained Message Team

Imagine this: Your colleagues and board members are effective messengers. Their comfort in delivering your organization’s message platform builds momentum and sparks connections.

Because your team of messengers interacts in the course of their daily work with people you’d never get to talk to—whether as program staff delivering services, the donation services team taking phone donations during your fund drive, or board members discussing their board work with colleagues at their own place of work—your organization benefits from consistent outreach to an extended circle of contacts; an exponential gain in building momentum and sparking connection.


8 Steps to a Team of Powerful Messengers

Training your staff and leadership is a high-impact, low-investment marketing strategy for every nonprofit, but one that’s frequently overlooked. It’s the ultimate low-hanging fruit for nonprofits like yours.

Take these eight steps to launch your team of messengers:


Phase One: Groundwork

1. Ensure your message platform is clear and relevant. You may have been using these messages for a few years, or they may be new.

If you’ve done it right, you’ve sourced the insights of your colleagues and leadership in developing these messages and nurtured their understanding of, and buy-in to, the process along the way.


2. Secure leadership buy in by sharing the value of your all-org message team

Position the message team as a program, not a one-off; a way of doing business, not a band-aid. If you (or your bosses) see training as one-time or finite, results will be equally limited (but that may be the way you have to start).

Be aware that this strategy is likely to be a significant cultural shift (tearing down formal or unspoken silos with your organization), and that the transition in full may take some time.

Open the conversation by sharing your vision, then emphasize these immediate benefits and longer-term gains:

  • Benefit:Greater accuracy and consistency of messages conveyed in conversations and communications across audiences and programs
    • Gain: Clearer, quicker connections with more of your target audiences
    • Gain: Increased likelihood of motivating the actions you need
  • Benefit: Improved understanding of organization goals and priorities across the organization
  • Benefit:Enhanced ability to harvest and share relevant information and feedback with the right colleagues across the organization—on programs, audiences preferences and values, and more
    • Gain: Stronger programs and processes via acquisition of broader and deeper audience insights and cross-department collaboration.
  • Benefit:A more highly-skilled, group of staff and board members
    • Gain: Greater employee and board satisfaction.


3. Introduce the concept to your colleagues: It’s always best to start dripping an idea like this out in casual hallway or drop-by conversations (or the virtual equivalent). You’ll learn what resonates with your colleagues and what doesn’t, so you can fine tune before rolling the program out more broadly.


4. Recruit your message team—Email your colleagues to:

  • Request their help (attention, time and effort) in strengthening conversations and communications
  • Outline their potential impact as organizational messengers
  • Calm their qualms by sharing your realistic expectations about how much extra time and effort this will take. Note: In most cases, your colleagues already having the conversations, and becoming a skilled messenger will help them do so more confidently, quickly and effectively.
  • Build confidence and interest with a brief overview of how you’ll help them prepare via training, practice and feedback.

Include the message platform and some context on why and when the messages were developed, how they connect with each target audience, and how they differentiate your nonprofit from organizations competing for attention and action.

Also share an accessible one-page summary of your overall marketing strategy that shows at a glance how messaging fits in.  It’s hard to be an effective messenger without an understanding of the larger framework.

Post these docs in your organization’s online workspace for ongoing reference.


Phase Two: Skill Building

5. Executive briefing and skill building for message team: Invite your message team to join you for an in-person messenger training focused on training, practice and feedback.

Begin with a review of the message platform—its purpose and value, and when and how you developed it. Next, inspire your messengers with specific examples of how their new skills will help them (e.g., next time you’re at a conference and are asked what you do, here’s what you’ll say and how it’ll make a difference), and provide concrete models of how this approach is working in colleague organizations (tap your peers in colleague organizations here).

Then train them in speaking (when and how to deliver each type of message), from the unchanging tagline to the elevator pitch that is customized to the interests of the conversational partner.

Ask your messengers to listen hard, as that’s the first step to being an effective messenger, and to share what they hear with the right colleagues throughout your organization.

Role playing in pairs is a proven technique for increasing comfort level and effectiveness. Practice makes almost perfect here.

Note: If your team is geographically dispersed, hold a video training session. This approach works best when facilitation responsibilities are distributed among participants at the various locations, vs. coming from a single location.


6. Create a turnkey message toolkit for your team to refer to, including

  • Message platform
  • One-page organizational marketing strategy
  • Message cheat sheet—email to their smartphones or 3×5 cards for non-smartphone-users— with the message platform, and when, how and why to use each element.
  • Messenger hotline and online FAQs for ongoing questions and guidance
  • Monthly email outreach sharing success stories and tips to keep your message team focused and confident
  • Style guide featuring standards of how to present your organization’s messages and graphics.


Phase Three: Ongoing Improvement

7. Nourish ongoing message focus within your organization, including thanking your messengers for their focus, effort and achievements, and showing how their work has made a difference for the organization.  This tri-fold recognition approach works well:

  • Trumpet successes with specifics, in one-to-one and all-team communications.
  • Recognize star messengers.
  • Recognize the entire team in an annual celebration.


8. Keep the message team going and growing with ongoing communications, and training on at least an annual basis. There’s turnover to consider, plus the fact that a regular refresher course powers focus and skills.

I urge you to get your all-org message team off the ground now to gain the immediate benefits and longer-term gains outlined above. They far exceed the time and effort you’ll invest—great ROI guaranteed.

Let me know how it goes!

How do you guide your colleagues to be more effective messengers? Please share your strategies here.