Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
3 min Read
April 15, 2021

Challenging urgency in your communications

The pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways, but one important thing has happened: many of us have slowed down. Without lengthy commutes or the pressure to bounce from work to the gym to a networking event, some have slowed their pace. While we look toward a future beyond the pandemic, there are lessons to be learned about slowing down—one in particular around challenging urgency.

Urgency is identified as a common trait of white supremacy culture by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. Doing things with a sense of urgency places emphasis on getting to an end result quickly, shifting the priority from critical thinking to doing things fast. As Jones and Okun note, prioritizing the urgent “makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences.”

Urgency appears in a number of places in our work as communicators. Internally, launching a campaign, drafting a funding proposal, or publishing a response to a current event can often be rushed and create feelings of urgency. Externally, creating a sense of urgency is a common tactic primarily in fundraising, and also often used when driving people to take any sort of action.

An internal culture of urgency can have a number of repercussions. When we work too quickly, we often leave out important perspectives, we strain staff’s health by putting pressure on getting things done quickly, and we burn ourselves out—leaving less time for other important work and critical thinking. As you build a project plan or work toward a deadline internally, challenge yourself to ask these questions:

  • Have all the right people been involved in this process? Did we leave out any important perspectives? Consider this especially if everyone involved in the process is white. As Jones and Okun note, urgency can sacrifice the interests and perspectives of people of color, instead prioritizing white people who are often seen as the “default or norm community.”
  • Does this really need to be “live” or done when we think it does? How real are these deadlines?
  • How are we balancing our need to get things done with the health of our staff?
  • What are we sacrificing by working toward this strict deadline?

Externally, urgency in communications can have negative consequences as well. A quick Google search of “urgency in fundraising” leads to many examples along the lines of “Donate today—millions are on the brink of starvation, so you must hurry.” This perpetuates a number of negative narratives. It centers the donor as the savior—without their immediate gift, something terrible will happen. And especially around year-end fundraising, it contributes to the Nonprofit Hunger Games, pitting organizations against each other as everyone rushes toward the deadline of 12/31.

As my colleague, Lila Tublin wrote in a recent blog post by Farra Trompeter about managing communications as we emerge from the pandemic, “We’ve all been through a lot. We’ve been worried about our health and the health of loved ones. We’ve been fighting to protect Black lives. We’ve been grieving and bombarded with news about death, unemployment, and so much more. As you craft your nonprofit’s communications, question how and why you’re using urgent language. If your ask truly requires immediate action, be clear about what’s needed and why so that your audiences can easily determine if they’re able to help.”

Just as your staff may be feeling burn out, remember your community likely is, too. We’re all fatigued and challenging the urgency in your communications may help to reduce some of that. As you craft communications, ask yourself:

  • Does this action need a strict, public deadline?
  • Are there messages beyond a rush to act that might excite our community more? Consider the values that connect your community. These may ultimately motivate folks more than a sense of urgency.
  • Is now the right time to send this message? What is going on in the world of our audiences?
  • If we do need to apply urgency, is the rest of our communications inclusive and equitable? Are we doing our best to ensure we don’t perpetuate harmful narratives?

Jones and Okun offer even more antidotes to a sense of urgency. Ideally, when a sense of urgency is challenged, you can support the health of your staff and community, make time for inclusivity and critical thought, and ultimately, make your communications better.