Much of the battle in helping nonprofits communicate more effectively is in convincing them to put a different spin on what they are currently saying in person, in print, and online.
When talking to donors, that spin might be changing the language from the first person (“We, the nonprofit”) to the second person (“You, our supporter”). When marketing an event, that spin might be emphasizing the social and networking aspects to generate “I gotta be there” buzz, rather than the technical details that will come from behind the podium (which that excited person will probably use to justify the purchase order to attend).
To experienced communicators, this kind of spin is obvious and second nature. But to nonprofit staff new to the communications world, the whole concept of spinning can feel manipulative and slimy. And, of course, spin really can be a bad thing when done with selfish or ill intent or to mislead your audience. Some people prefer to call it “messaging” because that sounds better than “spinning.” But to me, it’s the same thing: Getting the information we want to distribute out there in a way that will appeal to our intended audience.
How can you get comfortable with spin, but remain authentic? Here are a few tips:
Be personable. When communications come from a real person, rather than a faceless organization, they feel more genuine. If your name and face are attached to the communication, you are more likely be sincere, even if you are spinning a story.
Don’t exaggerate. Don’t say you are hosting the best or the most important conference of the year unless you have a whole bunch of people who are willing to give you testimonials that say your conference is the best or most important conference they attend each year. Back up all of your enthusiastic claims with facts or testimonials.
Pay attention to your stomach. There is sometimes a fine line between being a little queasy about a bold new approach and feeling sick to your stomach because you know if you get called out, you’ll crumble. Never say anything you don’t actually believe to be true and always feel confident that you can defend what you said if challenged. Even if the packaging of your message flops, as long as you were completely honest and sincere in delivering it, you’ll be OK.
Be specific. Use specific, descriptive language. The more vague you are, the more wiggle room you leave for being misunderstood – or being accused of the bad kind of spin.
Concede unfavorable facts. If certain facts don’t support your position, don’t pretend they don’t exist or, even worse, make up lies to dispute them. Concede them, and then clearly present why your case trumps the other side’s facts. (Certain politicians regularly fail on this point, which is one reason why the American public no longer trusts them.)
Keep these tips in mind, and spin away!