Rhea Wong Consulting



Avoiding these 8 pitfalls in nonprofit communication

Have you ever been to a cocktail party or social event where you are stuck talking with someone who can't stop talking about their favorite subject: themselves? Ever been on the other end of someone's social media blasts who are all about ME, ME, ME?  I'm so great, so brilliant, so amazing and successful?  Enough about me, what do YOU think about me? This is the equivalent of what so many nonprofits do in their communications. When we outreach, when we are sharing our work, when we seek to communicate, we need to get out of the old paradigm of talking at people and ask instead how can I be of service?  How can we connect with each other?  How can we begin a meaningful dialogue? Here  are some of the most common traps I've seen nonprofits make in their communication and outreach efforts:


Death by numbersCall it the corporatization of philanthropy.  We want to prove our impact and show ROI so badly that we m

ake it about the numbers and not about the human experience.  I'm all for measuring performance, but a bunch of numbers, charts and infographics won't necessarily touch my heart or move me to action. 

All of the things, right now

I've made this mistake.  You have so much to say, so many details to communicate that you download your audience about the minutiae of your work.  I'm going to be blunt with you: nobody cares about the nuts and bolts as much as you do.  Nor should they.  What is the ONE thing that you want to get across?  Everything else is just noise. 

Who are my people?

I can remember conversations with my board when one of them inevitably said, "If everyone in New York just gave a dollar, we wouldn't have any funding problems."  Yes, well.  Unless you have everyone in New York on speed-dial and personally know them, that is not a viable strategy.  Not EVERYONE is going to support your cause.  Instead, double down on your super-fans.  Who are your advocates?  Your biggest donors?  Create avatars based on them, their preferences, their passions and communicate to THEM.  That will attract more of them.  Not every fish in the sea is your fish. 

Who is the hero?

Everyone wants to be the hero of their own story, the star of their own movie.  When you communicate, get clear about who the hero is.  Is it the people you are serving?  Is it your donors?  What story are you telling (remember, stories have a beginning, middle and end and resolve some sort of conflict)?  Humans crave story.  We need to create beautiful jewels of stories that people will share and will make them FEEL something.  For example, your telling me about your gala raising X, Y, Z dollars isn't necessarily going to move me.  You telling me about the kid whose life was fundamentally changed will.  

Done versus intentional

Good communication, fundraising appeals, newsletters and so forth take time and thought.  So often, I get nonprofit communications that feels like it was a slapdash affair.  I can hear the conversation behind the scenes: Oh no!  Our monthly newsletter is due tomorrow!  Let's hurry up and get something together!  Ok, send!Sometimes, it's better to say nothing at all than to add to email landfill. 

My personality is beige.  How about you?

Every nonprofit, every business, every person has a unique personality.  In nonprofit communication, we aspire to sound "professional" and non-offensive at the expense of sounding interesting.  The best communication I ever receive is when there's a voice and personality behind it.  When you follow the crowd, you...end up in the crowd.  Instead, how can you stand apart and be different?  Whether it's cultivating a unique voice, look, personality, what's uniquely YOU and how can you make that a unique value proposition?  People don't respond to beige--they respond to exciting, new and remarkable.  Be remarkable.  Say something meaningful, even if it might piss somebody off. 

Selling vs. Serving

We need to shift our mindsets from getting out of "sales" and into "service."  Stop blasting people with what you're doing.  Instead, involve them in being part of something bigger than themselves.  Help them to feel significant, to feel important, to join us in our great cause.  We can serve by not just supporting our clients, but also by serving our donors to reach their own goals of legacy, significance and purpose.  What would your communication look like using that lens? 

Stop blabbing, start connecting

So many communication pieces are design as one-way platforms.  The future of communication is conversation.  How can you design for engagement, for conversation, for an exchange of dialogue and perspectives?  Whether it's through your social media, traditional media, or newsletters, think about what might move people to enter a conversation with you.  It's the difference between being in a lecture versus a lively cocktail party.  How do you bring the party?

 To simplify:

Communication = roadsigns


Organization = car

Mission = final destination

Clients and donors = passengers

Make sure that your passengers are informed with clear, simple and evocative signs.  Let them know how to hitch a ride, how to chip in for gas, where you're going, and where you've been.  Make signs that get them excited for the destination ahead

.Everybody is a marketer now. 

Leave a comment to let me know if you found this helpful.  If you need help with thinking through your communications and marketing, drop me a line at rheawong@gmail.com