Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make in Communications

Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make in Communications

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.” – Rollo May

Being able to communicate who we are, what we do, and what impact we are making is a great challenge that many nonprofits face. What do we say? What voice do we use? Where do we send our message? How do we know people not only hear us but also listen deeply to what we have to say? The truth is that we can’t guarantee anything, but we can do our best to ensure that our core message is getting to the right people.

Here are the biggest mistakes that many nonprofits make when communicating their work:

You only communicate when you need help.

This is the biggest communications mistake out there that nonprofits make. It is crucial that you proactively communicate with your supporters. It is not fair to only turn to them when you need help. Your donors deserve to know what their past donations have contributed towards. Have they made an impact? Have new initiatives been possible thanks to them? Are the programs still active three, six, twelve months down the road? That’s awesome, tell them! If not, you still need to find a way to tell them!

You only share the shining stories.

It is also okay to share the fact that not everything is sunshine and rainbows. Social work is hard, and our goals and realities don’t always meet. It is okay to communicate to your supporters that you tried to implement an initiative and not everything turned out perfect. It is imperative, however, to express how you learned from the situation and how you will modify strategies moving forward.

You don’t show your heart.

This one is a little tougher to resolve. How do you find your voice? Will that voice resonate with all donors? Here we want to be sure that we aren’t being too technical, too academic, or too cold in our messages. There is certainly a limit when it comes to storytelling because you don’t want to share too much about your beneficiaries’ personal lives (you can learn more about storytelling practices here), but it is very important to show your soft side. Expose your passion for the work you are doing. Explain what kind of impact you are having – not just the numbers, but the real changes that are at the heart of a person, animal, environment, or whatever you support!

You talk too much about yourself.

There is a simple test to see if you are talking too much about yourself. Take a look at your last donor letter. In red, circle all of the times you say “I,” “we,” or the name of your organization. In blue, circle all of the times you say any form of “you.” We really don’t want to see the red outnumber the blue. Instead of saying “we were able to send five kids to school,” try “thanks to your support, five children are now receiving an education.” You always want to remind your supporters that they make the work possible, whether that is through funding, volunteering, or in-kind donations.

You go on for too long.

We want supporters to read and digest our messages. Make them short and sweet and get straight to the point. Fluffing up the content is often a waste of time. If you feel like you have more to say, send out a short summary and offer a click through to a blog post that explains the topic at length for supporters who are interested in learning more.

We all make mistakes. As a nonprofit, it is important to reflect on the message you’re sending, how you’re sending it, and how it is being perceived. In doing so, you can create a better connection with your supporters and increase the likelihood that they will stick with your cause in the long-term.

Have you made mistakes that you think are worth sharing with other nonprofits? Let us know in the comments!