Writing for your reader: A lesson in nonprofit audience appreciation

By Tarah DeSousa

Recently, I attended the Fundraising and Philanthropy Communication Forum hosted by the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.  During a breakout session entitled, “Social Media in PhilanthropyDr. Richard Waters, an associate professor at the University of San Francisco, spoke on recent breakthroughs in communication theory.

Waters provided insights on what your Facebook audience really wants from you in terms of content, and what will engage them.  Read on to develop the most effective online communication strategy for your nonprofit, according to an expert in digital marketing and communications.

First, it is important to note that in the digital age, one-way communication is dead.  The Internet is a platform for engagement, thus the “megaphone” method of yesteryear, no longer applies to online messaging.  You must allow people to participate in the communication process in order to see your nonprofit succeed. It is one thing to have followers, it is another thing to keep them through engagement.

According to a study referenced by Waters, audiences had positive reactions (i.e. were more prone to like and comment) on organizational messages that focused on a “call to action.”  This information shouldn’t come as a surprise, as we have seen that Internet-users love to get involved and voice their opinions.  The person behind the computer, tablet, or Smartphone is ready to act.  So give them a chance in your messaging, by allowing them to participate in the conversation.

Perhaps an even more important finding than what audiences liked, is what they didn’t.  The basic “information-based” messages kept people scrolling.  A mention of “upcoming events” left them annoyed.  While it is important to state your overall mission and keep audiences updated on what you are doing, laying the message out in a standard “who, what, where” structure is boring.  Instead of talking at them, you want to open the door to a consistent two-way flow of information.  Ask them to get involved, tell them what they can do and how they can do it.  In every message you compose, ask yourself if it is answering the “why” and the “so what.”  If it isn’t, you are not engaging your audience to act.

Lastly, in the study referenced by Waters, messages that focused on “community-building” were the most successful in terms of donor and volunteer engagement.  At the atomic level, nonprofits exist to help people.  Thus, “community-building” should be at the center of your messaging strategy.  Promoting yourself is important, but referencing the community and the good you do within it, is a must.

By adhering to these data-driven tips, you will be well on your way to an effective online communication strategy to engage constituents, donors and volunteers, alike.

About the Author:  Tarah DeSousa is a junior studying Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa.  She is also pursuing a minor in English and a Certificate in Writing. When Tarah isn’t reading or writing for class, she is working at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center as a communications intern.  In her free time she enjoys rowing, running, shopping and spending time with friends.


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