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Four Steps to Training Your Colleagues, Board and Supporters as Powerful Messengers

Resource Center - Foundation

By Nancy Schwartz

In this article from her blog, nonprofit marketing expert Nancy Schwartz offers advice on how to encourage staff and volunteers to spread the word about your organization.

(July 20, 2010) I recently delivered a new message platform (positioning statement, tagline and talking points) to the passionate team at the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC).

The passionate EHC team builds grassroots campaigns to combat the unjust consequences of toxic pollution, discriminatory land use, and unsustainable energy policies. Through leader development, organizing and advocacy, EHC improves the health of children, families, neighborhoods and the natural environment in the San Diego/Tijuana region.  (That's the positioning statement).

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. So when communications director Jason Baker asked me how to make the most of the messaging, I recommended that his first step be to train his colleagues, board members and large volunteer base as effective messengers.

Training your staff and supporters is a highly-effective, low- investment nonprofit marketing tactic, but one simply overlooked by most organizations. Here's how to do it:

  1. Make sure you have a clear, relevant message platform that's been approved and is in use (or about to be).
  2. Craft an email to each group (colleagues, leadership, volunteers/donors if relevant) emphasizing their potential impact as organizational messengers and what it'll take to make that work - training, practice and feedback. Include the message platform and context such as why these new (if new) messages were developed and what colleague organizations are doing. Also, share a summary of your marketing strategy.  It's hard to be an effective messenger without an understanding of the larger framework. Post everything on your website.
  3. Invite colleagues and leadership to join you for an in-person messenger training. At that meeting, review the message platform, inspire your messengers with examples of how this can work (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 train them. Role playing demos and break-outs are effective techniques for increasing comfort level and effectiveness.
  4. Make it easy for them to succeed by providing takeaways (email to their smartphones - or 3×5 cards  for non-smartphone-users - with the message platform. Also, have a messenger hotline (or email address) for ongoing questions and guidance. Monthly email outreach sharing success stories is a great way to keep your corps of messengers focused and confident.

Another boost to nonprofit messaging impact is a style guide, a blueprint to ensure staff, leadership and consultants talk about and visually portray the organization in a consistent way - to ensure a recognizable, rather than confusing, identity. And here are a few other ways to build your colleagues' support and understanding of your communications work.

Nancy Schwartz is the primary author of the Getting Attention blog (gettingattention.org). This article is reprinted with permission.

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Enter the 2010 Tagline Awards today! Your nonprofit could be one of this year's Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards (a.k.a. The Taggies) winners!  And this year, for the first time, you can submit your organization's fundraising campaign, special event and program taglines, in addition to your organizational tagline.

All entrants will receive a free copy of the fully-updated 2010 Nonprofit Tagline Report in late 2010. It's the only complete guide to building your organizational, program, fundraising or special event brand in 8 words or less-filled with how-tos, don't-dos and models. The deadline for entering is July 28.



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