Communicating More by Saying Less

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In the past week, I have been asked by two different United Ways for advice about communicating – questions along the lines of what to say and how to say it. My advice to both United Ways was nearly identical, although the two United Ways are as different as apples and oranges. I told both United Ways to stop communicating some things they have probably been communicating forever.

United Ways have a lot of things they could communicate about – from campaign goals to funded programs and everything else in between. The fact that there is so much to say is the root of the communication challenge facing United Ways and all too many United Ways readily accept this challenge and attempt to communicate absolutely everything.

When we conduct research with United Way donors, we find that donors do not want to know everything. In fact, donors are pretty specific about what they want to know. Donors what to know how their contribution changes their community for the better. They want to know if their contribution reduces the number of families living in poverty or increases the number of high school graduates. They want to know if their contribution provides books to young children to encourage reading, or provides transitional housing for the homeless. Finally, donors want to know results – they want to read a story about how a family has new hope for the future.

What donors don’t want to know is the behind-the-scenes process of making the magic happen. They don’t want to know how many volunteers are on the impact council or the number of workplace campaigns with 50% or greater participation. Although everyone who works at United Way finds processes to be fascinating, donors have no interest in your processes.

Your United Way can communicate more effectively by saying less. Start by taking a moment to determine what you really need to say when you are communicating, and then stop trying to communicate all of the things you don’t need to say. If you are not sure you are saying things effectively, we can help you with our Marketing & Communication Assessment. If you are not sure what to say, we can help you understand what your donors want to know with our donor research

Communicating effectively does not require your United Way to communicate everything; in fact, it only requires your United Way to communicate a few things well. Choose your message carefully and your communication will be effective.