Have you ever tried to explain why the mirror fogs up in the bathroom when the shower is on to an inquisitive five-year-old? If so, you’ll quickly realize it’s not as easy as you’d think.
It’s one of those processes where you understand exactly how it happens and why, but explaining it in simple enough words to a child who has absolutely no idea or reference point is much harder than you would first think.
I’m often faced with this conundrum in two completely separate roles in my life—as a mother of a five-year-old daughter and as a donor marketing officer for the Arts & Science Council (ASC) in Charlotte, NC.
As odd as it may sound, those two jobs often require some of the same skill sets.
I won’t go into too much detail about my motherhood responsibilities (another day, another blog), but in my position at ASC, I’m often tasked with taking our jargon-filled massive amounts of facts and supporting statements and translating it to donors and potential donors.
It’s not exactly what it says in my job description but in a nutshell, it’s what I do.
And, it’s a skill set that is often lacking in the nonprofit community in general and especially in the nonprofit arts community. Because, unfortunately, the asset that makes us all really good at our jobs is also at the core of what often makes us really poor communicators—our knowledge.
The Heath Brothers call it the “curse of knowledge” in their best-selling book, Made to Stick (a must read for anyone in fundraising, marketing, or communications).
I strongly believe overcoming that curse and being able to communicate more effectively (and persuasively) is key to achieving growth in our sector because the way we “sell” our organization to a group of potential donors is a key in keeping the doors open.
And, as evidenced by the downturn in the economy and people being much more persnickety about their disposable income, we have to work harder to prove our worth in this environment.
The first step is to stop assuming that everyone knows everything we know and (to be honest) cares about every single thing we know. In short, we need to get over ourselves and cast aside our egos to get to what really matters—the impact.
What is the impact our organization has on the community? Why does it matter? Why should a donor invest in that?
We need to look for the lowest common denominator—the crux of what we do that is good for the community…and communicate that message.
To broaden our base of support and reach new and different audiences, we have to start talking to people on their level and not on the level we expect them to be on.
It’s the biggest hurdle I’ve worked to overcome…and one of the most important assets I think that we as a sector need to keep in mind if we’re going to reverse the trend and see growth in our sector.
Because there’s plenty to support…it’s just about communicating that message more effectively.