I’m reading “Message Matters: Succeeding at the Crossroads of Mission and Market” by Rebecca K. Leet. I’m about halfway through it, and here are some of the tips that I found most interesting.

When creating a message that works, you need to start with the action that you want others to take. Unfortunately, lots of nonprofits take the easy (lazy) way out and say that they want people to “be informed” or “be aware” of their issues. But that’s not really a good goal for your communications. What is it that you want people TO DO after they are aware and informed?

In the book, Rebecca says that Mothers Against Drunk Driving could have had educating people about the dangers of drunk driving as a goal, but that would not have been nearly as effective as asking people not to drink and drive and to pick a designated driver instead. Clear actions make all the difference and add an incredible amount of clarity to the process of creating your messaging.

After you create your core message, you should create a few subset messages that more directly address the specific desires of particular segments of your target audience. For example, if you have one core message about early child education, you might have one subset message for parents, one for pediatricians, and yet another for day care providers.

I know the idea of creating multiple messages has created some heartburn for nonprofits I’ve worked with before (and for me too) — Won’t it be confusing? What if one target audience sees the message intended for a different target audience? How can we figure out who gets what message?

Rebecca says not to worry, because the reality is that people only tune into messages that appeal to them personally and pretty much ignore everything else. So as long as your subset messages don’t contradict each other and support the core message, it’s OK if the day care providers also get the parents’ message. In reality, a day care provider may also be a parent, and may be interested in both perspectives, reinforcing your core message.

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