The General Public? Write for the People Who Matter

In every workshop I teach on nonprofit communications, I always include an exercise on defining your audience, and that exercise always starts with this statement:

In nonprofit communications, there is no such thing as the general public!

The “general public” includes everyone from my three-year-old daughter to my eighty-year-old grandma. It includes Wall Street brokers, single moms, cowboys, transvestites, you name it. To be successful, your nonprofit needs to reach out to a specific subset of the general public, not to everyone. Only a small percentage of the general public is interested in what you are doing and can be motivated by you through your communications with them to help you achieve your mission.

So if you aren’t writing for the general public, who are you writing for?

Three imaginary friends who you should make up and describe in detail for every major communications piece your organization creates, whether it’s a newsletter, website, annual report or brochure.

Take your newsletter for example. Describe in vivid detail three people on your mailing list. How old are they? Pick a specific number, not a range. Male or female? Age? Ethnicity? Education? Jobs? Hobbies? What clothes do they wear? What cars do they drive? What do they do on weekends? What TV programs do they watch? Think of as many details as you can to bring these three people to life and then give them names. A woman in one of my workshops said she went to a stock photo website and found pictures that resembled her imaginary readers.

Write your newsletter for these three people. The good ol’ 80-20 rule applies here. If you write for these three people, you will do an good job at reaching 80% of the people who really matter to you. Don’t worry about the other 20%. After all, if you’ve been writing for the general public, you’ve been reaching 0%.



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