6 Simple Rules Every Nonprofit Leader Should Know About Communication


by Marc Brownstein

Great communication is crucial for any organization, and nonprofits are no exception. You need to know how to reach your audience. Actually, let’s make that audiences. Donors. Influencers. Outside institutions. Internal staff. You’re not just communicating with one group. You’re communicating with many.

As the CEO of a branding firm, I’ve had plenty of experience understanding what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to connecting with audiences. Here are my six simple strategies for how nonprofit leaders should communicate with donors. Adopt them, and I guarantee you’ll increase your donations.

1. Maintain a dialogue with current, past and future donors. If your donors don’t hear from you, you can be sure they’re hearing from competing nonprofits. Maintaining a relationship with an audience is like watering a plant. If you stop nurturing it, those relationships dry up. So stay in touch through the multiple channels that are available to you.

2. Be candid. Candor is king these days. Don’t try to spin something—people today are too smart. Be transparent. Express your need. People understand that nonprofits run into trouble from time-to-time. Use that to create empathy, and empathy will turn into more donations.

3. Keep your message on brand. If you send different messages, what are you going to do? You’re going to confuse your audiences about who you are and what you stand for. Stay on brand through the main communication channels that you have. Every email, post, letter, press release, and text message is an opportunity to make a brand impression—and differentiate your nonprofit from a competing nonprofit.

4. Put your giving request into context. I’ve always thought that UNICEF does such a great job with this—back when I was a kid and still today. They say, “If you donate X, this is the impact your donation is going to make on this child.” They put a human face on it, and that’s really powerful. Rather than just asking for donations, put a human face on your request. Contextualize it. I guarantee that the giving will increase.

5. Encourage outside-the-box donations. If there are creative ways that people can give to your organization, make sure you merchandise all of those ways. Estate gifts. Stock donations. In-kind donations. You know best what they are. Particularly as the economy goes through a bumpy patch, it’s crucial to offer your donors imaginative ways to support you.

6. Measure. Measure your communication. There’s so much data out there that’s available these days. Use it to your benefit. Know your open rates on email. Analyze your social media engagement, including share rates. And make sure you test subject lines in emails. The right subject line will get your email opened; the wrong one will get it deleted. Know which of your communication tools are the most effective and why.

These rules are simple, but that’s why they’re effective. Put them into practice, and I’m certain you’ll see the results in your bottom line.

Marc Brownstein is CEO of Brownstein, an award-winning branding agency based in Philadelphia.

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