I often say that storytelling is the most underused and powerful communications tool. But a close second would be your organization's personality and values.
Competition for your supporters' attention, time, and money comes from all sides, including from other nonprofits. You can stand out by wearing your personality and values so the rest ofus can easily see who you are and what you believe.
Your supporters, including financial donors, have many questions about you and your good cause: What do they do, how do they do it, whom do they help? But all of these questions really boil down to something much more personal, a question that is always more about them than about you:
Do I fit in here?
Your supporters have an infinite number of choices, and if you want to be the one they select, you need to make them feel like supporting you is the most natural choice in the world.
You should describe the problems you are trying to solve and the needs you are trying to address in ways that make sense to them.
You should talk about your solutions and approaches so they see how your work is consistent with their own values. It needs to all feel right.
You gain their support by proving that you are for real.
Don't be afraid to take a stand. Point out what and who is right and what and who is wrong (or at least heading in the right or wrong direction, if you need to be more diplomatic about it).
Share some of the downs along with the ups. Sure, you should focus on successes more than failures, but it's those downs that often reveal the most about our character and values.
Speak as passionate leaders, not as a 501(c)(whatevers). "Communities" are about living organisms, not structures. We get "engaged" to other people, not institutions. As you build your community of supporters and focus on engagement with them, always be, sound, and look human.
This is one of three strategies that I share in the 2011 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report.
This article first appeared in our weekly Nonprofit Marketing Tips e-newsletter on January 11, 2011.