Six Ways to Spark Action Through Communications

Change. The goal at the heart of your work in philanthropy, and one that can’t be accomplished alone.

Connecting people to a broader movement is paramount to moving the needle on the issue you seek to impact. Embracing strategic communications can ignite your efforts to forge these connections and inspire people to act. However, attempting to fit a more intentional communications effort into the list of essential tasks your work constantly requires — all while avoiding a slew of potential pitfalls — can feel daunting.

Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand meet this challenge head-on through their work at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications and its frank resource for advancing effective public interest communications. During a session at the Southeastern Council of Foundations’ 48th Annual Meeting, they shared six helpful tips to enhance the efficacy of philanthropic communications based on their experiences and research in the field.

Step Into the World of Your Community
In order for your message to resonate with a particular audience, it must reflect the people you’re trying to reach and be sympathetic to their daily realities, wants and needs, and challenges. It’s not enough to craft messages that accomplish this in theory — you must solicit input from members of your target audience early and often. Doing so will infuse your messages with a layer of authenticity that will encourage people to listen.

Communicate With Images
“Show, don’t tell” is an old adage in communications for a reason. Visceral language — words that convey images and feelings — helps people draw a mental picture of the message you’re trying to get across. Creating these strong visualizations in the minds of those you reach makes them far more likely to remember, internalize, and ultimately act on your messages.

Use the Full Pallet of Emotion
Different emotions can drive people to react in different ways. Be intentional about the particular emotion you’re trying to evoke based on the action you want your audience to take. At the same time, consider the emotional intensity of your messages. Messages that evoke too strong of a particular emotion — such as fear, anger, sadness — can make people uncomfortable and compel them to block-out your communications altogether.

Make Your Calls to Action Actionable
It’s helpful to refer back to the overall goal of your work to guide what and how you communicate. However, the action you want people to take must be clearly defined in your messaging and materials. It’s not enough to merely raise awareness of a particular issue or cause. Including a tangible response — like calling a number, visiting a web page or downloading an app — gives your audience a specific way to take immediate action on your message.

Tell Stories
Stories, like visceral language, aid in memorization of your key messages and can motivate people to act upon them. Keep these basic elements in mind while you’re writing to further enhance the story’s ability to move your audience toward a desired action:

  • Structure your story with a defined beginning, middle and end.
  • Feature characters your audience can readily identify with.
  • Including details can help illustrate your story’s setting, but remember to leave room for your audience to insert themselves in the narrative.
  • Include surprises that break your audience’s expectation of what will happen next.

Internalize Strategic Thinking
Adopting an intentional, strategic approach to communications can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to get started. Simplify this process by answering some key questions at the outset of your communications effort:

  • What difference do we want to make?
  • Who needs to act in order to make this happen?
  • What would these people believe? (This can help inform the content of your messages)
  • How do they communicate and access information? (This will help define the most effective ways of reaching them — whether it’s through a specific social media platform, email, traditional media or another source)

By harnessing these practices, your communications will burn brighter and reach deeper into the hearts of your desired audiences — helping them become agents of the change you strive for daily.

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