by Ann-Laura Parks
I once had an executive director who was very clear about what she wanted. That was great when it came to knowing her expectations. The downside was that she was convinced that if she didn't want it, neither did our constituents. She didn't "get" blogs so we didn't have one. It took almost a year to get the OK to start an e-newsletter which eventually became the primary communications channel for the organization.
I've worked with other "powers that be" who thought professional writing had to be academic, dry, and full of jargon. Or who wanted to have nothing but naval-gazing, organization-focused content of interest only to insiders. Anyone, really, can fall victim to the projection bias, or the tendency to assume that other people think and feel the same way we do.
This is why doing some objective market research is so important to your communications strategy. The value of defining your target audience and their preferences for engagement will prove itself time and again. You can hire firms to do this for you but if you're in a small shop with limited resources, you can still accomplish a lot on your own.
- Survey your current audience: Where do they get their news? Are they active in social media? If so, which channels? Do they use their smartphone or tablet more than a desktop computer?
- Do some online research: There's lots of freely available information about the communications preferences and media consumption of various demographic groups. You might start with research from NTEN or industry reports from Blackbaud.
- Notice what performs well: If your most popular posts are informal, human-interest stories, that's an area you can develop. Don't be afraid to test different content types and styles - trying out new ideas is the best way to learn what your audience responds to.
Your strategy, informed by research, should include what kinds of content you develop as well as how you deliver it. If your audience is surfing the web on a tablet or phone, then you know that you need to make sure your website, email, etc. is mobile friendly. The most important thing to remember is that intuition and instinct are great but don't rely on them entirely. When you get actual data, you may find out some things about your audience that might surprise you.
Ann-Laura Parks, CFRE, has worked in nonprofit development and communications for 20 years. A member of the Association for Fundraising Professionals, Ann-Laura has been a certified fundraising executive through CFRE International since 2006. You can read more on her blog at www.BeMonsterful.com and follow her on Twitter at @BeMonsterful.