3 min Read
October 1, 2009

Shouting to be heard: communicating in a noisy era

Big Duck

About a decade ago, a number of studies concluded that the average American receives somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 marketing messages every day. That number seems astounding at first — but when you start it break it down, it really isn’t surprising at all. Think, for a minute, about:

  • How many ads you are exposed to daily through television, newspapers, magazines and radio
  • How many marketing messages you receive online through email, banner ads, or social media
  • How many ads you see or hear in transit as you drive, walk, or use public transportation
  • How many ‘asks’ you get in the mail- from organizations, businesses, and retailers

In addition to all of this marketing exposure, we’re also processing what we receive through the various channels we use to communicate personally and professionally. A decade ago, you probably conducted the majority of your communications with others face-to-face or by phone. These days, we communicate through email, phone, PDA, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and more.

Unless you’re superhuman, chances are good you’re spending most of your time triaging, skimming and ignoring. You couldn’t possibly read every communication you get carefully and respond thoughtfully, right? (It’s frightening if you imagine what it might be like for major donors.)

In the midst of all of this noise, we still regularly hear these words uttered by nonprofit staffers:

  • “We can’t use this same piece over again!”
  • “If we ask our donors more than once a year, they’ll think we’re being too aggressive”
  • “Our board wants us to get a story written about us in (insert prestigious news source here), because that’ll bring in donations.”

It’s time to let go of these myths and change your thinking so you can cut through the clutter.

Repetition is a good thing

“Effective Frequency” is a term coined decades ago that describes how many times an individual needs to receive a marketing message before it actually registers. This rule explains why you see the same car commercial over and over and over again as you watch an hour-long episode of tv. As much as we’d like to think each donor actually read your last annual report cover-to-cover, chances are they didn’t- most skimmed it and threw it away quickly. Updating the financials and using the same piece again this year can be a great way to conserve resources in lean years.

Talk with me, don’t nag me

If all of the communicating you do with donors is focused on asking them to make gifts, it’s true they won’t want to hear from you very often. (Who wants to get a call from the relative who only calls to ask for money??)

On the other hand, if you’re sharing news and providing ways for them to participate in your community or take (non-giving) action regularly, they’ll be fine with more frequent asks. Social media and regular (digital) e-news can help donors stay connected all year long.

Major coverage is as good as what you do with it

Every day, nonprofits get front-page mention in major newspapers, long clips on CNN, stories in must-read blogs, and other to-die-for media coverage. This coverage typically results in a blip in web traffic and, if the organization is lucky, a handful of inquiries or donations. With so many ways to watch and read it seems fewer and fewer people do so carefully- or perhaps they’re (we’re!) just too busy to take action after we see something compelling.

The organizations that use media coverage well know that the true value of these stories is often in what you do with it afterwards– for instance, by sending reprints with a hand-written note to major donors and board members.

While there are exceptions, most organizations can no longer count on the story alone to raise visibility and bring in gifts- so invest cautiously in chasing media coverage and wisely in using it after the fact.

It all comes back to strategy

Rather than communicate sporadically and reactively, focus your limited staff and budget in the areas that are most likely to help you make an impact with the people you want to reach.