Have you ever counted the number of messages – call now, do this, buy, give – you encounter each day? You might lose count fairly quickly because, on average, we encounter 20,000 messages each day, according to Ben Long of Resource Media. Most of the 20,000 messages are backed by an advertising budget, a budget unlikely to be matched by the limited resources of a nonprofit.
Long presented at the recent Brown Bag, The Write Stuff: Words to Win Donors and Supporters. He discussed the importance of having a message, sharing the message and incorporating the message into public campaigns and fundraising letters. This summary will focus on the message portion of his Brown Bag presentation.
So, how do we get our message through the noise of all of the other messages? Successful social movements involve a consistent message, a common public value and an appetite for change. Expanding on those elements, Long discussed a formula that every message must contain:
Core Value + Threat = Solution + Call to Action
What happens when we forget one of these elements?
Core Value = Solution will be ignored because there is no need to change – no threat to the status quo. Threat = Solution will be considered whining because there is no emotional hook to draw in those not directly affected by the threat – no common public value like family, freedom, personal responsibility…. Finally, Core Value + Threat = Solution will be ineffective because there is no concrete next step to be involved – no call to action tied to a clear, concise, measurable outcome.
To illustrate this, Long gave a story:
Someone knocked on his door, saying, “I can see you have children because of the toys in your yard. You know how children have to cross Highway 93 to go to school. It is a dangerous crossing for children. We want to hire a crossing guard. Will you sign this petition to hire a crossing guard?”
Family + Dangerous Crossing = Crossing Guard + Sign a Petition
As you are working through this formula in creating your message, keep in mind your audience. Long emphasized how large the general public is and the impossibility of reaching and influencing every person. Instead, he said to focus only on the core decision-makers to the issue and those people who influence the decision-makers. Then, within that group, only focus on those already on your side and undecideds who are listening and may be engaged. Those opposed to your mission are unlikely to be influenced.
Long also discussed how to give this message. Our brains process heart-oriented messages first (emotions), and then move on to head-oriented messages (data, stats…). We instinctively lean towards stories, stories that contain a character, a conflict and a setting or the victim, the villain and the hero. Moreover, we are increasingly a visual society. Add a photo that evokes emotion and contain a person/people. With all of these pieces, Long gave another formula:
Message + Credibility x Repetition
To break through those 20,000 messages, repeat, repeat, repeat your consistent message in creative ways to continue to engage those on your side and the undecideds who are listening. Win – through your message – donors and supporters to your mission.