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Messaging for the Moment

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Developing the Right Messages During Times of Crisis

Strong, thought-provoking messaging is always necessary in communications, but during times of crisis, it is imperative that your organization takes extra time to consider your messages’ fit for the situation and how your audiences will perceive them.

Use the following guide to develop messaging and communications in times of crisis. Your clients are in need of support more than ever, and it’s your job to tell them and your supporters that you’re capable of providing it.


Who is your audience?

To develop relevant, impactful messaging, you must first identify your audience. Ask the following:

  • Who do you need to reach out to during a crisis?
  • Who will yield a response to your message?
  • Who will be receptive to it?

Use these questions to develop basic audience personas. Highlight motivations and emotional and practical needs during this time in your personas, and visualize real members of your target audiences as you establish them.

Note: Through this exercise, you will determine what audiences should be excluded during the time as well.


What should your message be today and weeks from now?

There are two words for time in ancient Greek: chronos, which means sequential time, and kairos, which conveys a sense of timeliness. The kairos of a message is important because the events surrounding a message inevitably affect it.

By already understanding your audiences, your organization will be prepared to adequately address how the current realities of a situation will influence the kairos of your message. It will result in creating a strong position with your targets as an organization that can help.

Additionally, your organization must think about the kairos six weeks and three months from now because your audiences’ needs will undoubtedly change. Though we can never truly predict what will happen (a fact we’ve been reminded of by COVID-19), anticipating those needs will help you be proactive in your messaging.


How can you insert your brand’s voice into your message?

As you construct and refine your messages, don’t ignore your brand communications standards. Your audiences expect your familiar tone and voice while paying attention to the contents of your messaging.

If your organization does not use a voice guide, here’s a template to start one.


What are some communication opportunities?

Most likely you have the communications channels in mind you’ll use to distribute your messages. However, there are opportunities within your communications that can strengthen your messaging and further address the moment at hand.

Showcase unity with like-minded organizations. 
During a crisis, it’s natural for organizations to develop thoughts of resource scarcity. This mentality often leads to developing competitive tactics and misguided attempts to speak over one another. However, there’s a huge opportunity in times of crisis for organizations to lift each other up and become allies. By doing this, your voice will become stronger, louder and more impactful. There will be ample resources during crisis, but they will be reserved for organizations that think strategically about ways to affect better solutions. Organizations that come together can uncover better solutions faster.

Include other information and news in communications as needed. 
It’s important to pace your communications and attempt to communicate to constituents in a consolidated way during times of crisis. People are overwhelmed during uncertainty and have other worries beyond your mission. So, use your communications tactics to share other important information and news as long as it doesn’t distract from your crisis messaging.

For additional COVID-19 related resources, visit our COVID-19 page.

Inspiring Ambassadorship During Social Isolation

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As you read this, you’re probably dealing with a stay-at-home order initiated by your county or state. The order has most likely caused great disruption to your organization’s mission and operations. And, with staff, volunteers, clients and board members separated, it’s a challenge to effectively work together to overcome such disruption and find ways to move your mission forward.

In the details below, you will not find the solutions to overcome the programming and operational disruptions COVID-19 has caused your organization. Rather, you’ll find reassurance that your closest constituents are still with you, ready to keep your mission and work alive in any way they can. Staff, volunteers, clients, board members and partners will amplify their voices to strengthen yours in this great time of need, but they need direction to help.

Read below to learn a few simple ways you can inspire engagement and ambassadorship in your organization so that constituents can still unify while apart.


Update Internal Groups and Drive Communications

Internal communication is key. Giving information to your staff, volunteers and board directors is important during times of separation as they still need to be kept up-to-date regarding transitions, moments of success and plans for the weeks ahead. Not only that, but keeping them aware of where your organization is heading keeps them excited even amid a crisis. They want to stay connected to the organization’s larger mission, so make these important actions known.

As part of these updates, make sure they’re aware of what they can share publicly, and provide potential messaging and visual assets for social media. Providing parameters will always help them take action quicker.


Start a Story Share with Staff

Enabling team members to share moments of success or reflection with others in the organization is a great way to keep staff connected. This is as simple as facilitating a weekly Zoom call or an online forum. Stories that are shared can then be packaged on social media, in donor appeals or for annual reports and other missional messaging.


Keep Inspiring Volunteerism

Not only does your organization need internal forums to stay connected, but having a forum for volunteers to connect is important too. Make sure your organization provides volunteers with opportunities to show support remotely and remain engaged even while separated. Their support for your organization doesn’t end just because they’re isolated, but if they don’t have opportunities to be supportive, it is possible that their enthusiasm and feelings of connectedness may wane.

Make sure to keep them informed about volunteer opportunities in the months ahead. We don’t know when business will be back to normal, but it’s important to prepare now, take it one day at a time and realize it’s better to make an ask than to not.


Enable General Supporters to Offer Encouragement

Your supporters have not forgotten about your work and the impact it makes, and in times like these, people want to share their gratitude. Use your website as a way for supporters to leave words of thank you and encouragement for team members and clients. Words of encouragement can make a difference in morale, and your supporters will be happy to have a means of helping in any way they can.


Make Sure Your Ambassador Toolkit Is Up to Date

Providing your supporters with messaging and visuals to use on social media is a great way to encourage them to keep spreading your organization’s mission and impact even while distanced. Make sure that you have such assets available to them, but also make sure that whatever assets you have are up-to-date with the latest messaging, events and support opportunities, especially ones affected by COVID-19.

If you don’t already have an ambassador toolkit, now is the perfect time to construct one. Come up with messaging around your organization’s mission. Share statistics and outcomes related to your impact. Make sure all your posts have supporting visuals. Outline specific campaigns and awareness days that ambassadors can leverage to share your message. Now is the time to help people understand how they can help in your communications and amplify your mission.

Chances are that your organization has valuable insights that can impact the lives of many. Share your voice by generating talking points on key topic areas related to your mission and relevant to issues influenced by the global crisis. Your perspective can then be sent to media outlets in your area or connected industries looking for subject matter experts. Media pitches should come from an executive director or program leader.

Social Media Marketing for Supportive Services

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By Kyle Schnurbusch, OrgStory Partner & Director

Leveraging Social Media When Marketing Supportive Services to Caregivers


Boomers are currently the highest increasing generation of users on Facebook. In a recent study, individuals 55 and older were projected to add roughly one million new users, which is significant considering Facebook’s entire user base is only projected to increase by 1.6 million this year. According to eMarketer senior forecasting analyst Chris Bendtsen, “What this means is that Facebook is adding more new older users than it’s losing younger ones.”
This age group also happens to be the largest when it comes to caregivers in the United States, with 52% of caregivers age 50 or older, most likely to be Boomers. With the increased use of social media among this age group, it is more important than ever to use such channels to build awareness and relationships with existing and soon-to-be caregivers, ultimately converting them to customers in your organization.


Topics Compelling to Caregivers

We have to start by deciding what content is most compelling to this group. There are a few buckets this content can fall into, the first being content that helps relieve caregiver stress. Caregiving can feel like a full-time job, one that often has to be balanced with a professional job, not to mention other obligations such as family, social life and self-care. This stress isn’t only logistical but is also emotional and financial in many substantial ways.

Another important content area is caregiving advice. This can be advice as to the role of caregiving, things caregivers might have to think about or more specific task-oriented advice such as how to operate medical or assistive equipment, prepare meals, manage medicine or a whole host of other practical actions caregivers may need in their back pocket. This can also include advice on how to assess care-at-home or health care providers, and it is important that as a service for aging adults you do so in an objective and fair way.

Coping with grief is another important subject as grief is a very real component of not only many aging services but life itself. Caregivers have to make heavy decisions. People pass away. Helping caregivers cope with the emotions that rise alongside these instances helps them feel cared for in times of need.


What to Think About When Developing Content

The question isn’t always about what you can do with your owned social content but also has to do with how you can use social media itself as a tool to connect people. If you are an authority in your field, you have an expertise in your space and have the clout to use social media (primarily Facebook groups) as a forum for people to go to, get expert advice and connect with other people facing similar challenges as them (which can relate to the content topics of alleviating stress and coping with grief).

Content should also express your uniqueness. That uniqueness could be the locale you serve, your faith-orientation or the specific services you provide. Regardless, you need to position yourself in the market so that people who need your specific brand go to you.

Content should open up vehicles to establish trust and leadership. Yes, this will help you yield business, but the more important imperative is to exist as a resource for people in need of support and guidance, and the way you provide this credibly is by establishing yourself as credible through the relationships you build and resources you provide.

As a service for aging adults, you also have an obligation to reduce stigma and raise awareness around specific illnesses you help treat or manage as well as around aging services themselves. This relates to the more general imperative of advocacy. Services require dealing with lots of people that come from lots of different areas and backgrounds, and it is your job to be aware of that, convey a sense of connection and lift up those populations.


Reaching Caregivers with Your Content

So, how do you get this content in front of caregivers? This is where social media is most explicitly relevant because it is one of the primary vehicles by which your content is shared with the world.

Facebook Groups are an important resource for aging services not only because of the reasons regarding connection and support mentioned earlier but also because according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, people in general are more willing to trust company information when it comes from somebody like them (60%) as opposed to a company CEO (37%). Getting your content into Facebook groups related to the topics your content covers allows it to be shared organically among individuals who your content would be relevant to.

Retargeting ads are another helpful tool for marketing on social media. Through retargeting ads, you are able to leverage data regarding who visits your site, clicks on your links or reads your content and target new content toward them that may be relevant or helpful. This is effective because according to a study by SproutSocial, 60% of Boomers look for a brand on social and 70% of Gen Xers will purchase from a brand they follow. On top of that, web visitors who are retargeted with display ads are 70% more likely to convert on your website.
The last important tool to use when sharing content online is time. Timing is important. In a study by Facebook researchers, tests showed that people spent more time on Facebook at 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. when compared with 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. Researchers also noticed a “morning morality effect,” which suggests that people have higher moral awareness and self control in the morning, potentially making it an ideal time to advertise altruistic services and causes.

In this piece, we’ve gone over why it’s important to leverage social media when marketing aging services, what content is compelling to caregivers, what content should do and how to get it in front of caregivers. It’s important to keep in mind that the needs of caregivers are always changing, and it’s important to stay in front of caregivers as their needs evolve. Talk to existing caregivers in your organization about the things they’re thinking about, and make sure that you are working towards addressing those needs at all times.

The 11 “Ws” of Buyer Persona

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There may be no more talked about topic today in the Association world than “buyer persona.” This topic may be topping the charts of conversation as Associations continue to recruit and retain membership. Of course, understanding what your “buyers” want and understanding their behaviors as they relate to your Association and alternative resources are the keys to success.

As you contemplate your Association’s buyer personas, consider gaining insights about them using the follow 11 “Ws.” The first five are of the “duh” variety but important nonetheless. The others push you past the obvious to really gain a more intimate view of your members and prospective members’ attitudes, awareness, understanding, behaviors and needs from an Association like yours.

Who: Demographics, firmagraphics, titlegraphics, geographics and genegraphics will help your Association create a profile of your members and prospective members.

What: Beyond who they are, what do they do? What are their responsibilities? Who do they interface with most often? Another important “what” to answer: What products, services, resources of your Association do they find most important and use most often? What Association-provided resources are hardly being accessed? A deeper understanding of “what” will make your Association more effective and relevant and make your staff more efficient.

When: Knowing when your members and prospective members need the resources of your Association and access to their peers most helps create focus in your marketing efforts to recruit and retain them.

Where: A deeper relationship with members and prospects will reveal where they want and expect your Association to be present as a resource to them. You may think your bi-monthly member magazine is where your presence needs to be; members and prospects may tell you otherwise. Ask them where their Association should be present to best meet their needs.

Why: Do you know why your members are willing to share their professional journey with your Association? Why is your association being given the privilege of their time and maybe money?

Okay, those were the five “Ws” you were expecting, albeit defined a little differently than usual. The next six “Ws” will make the first five even more meaningful for your Association’s future growth and relevancy.

Wander: Be sure to ask members and prospects what other Associations, organizations and resources they “wander off” with to get insights and tools your Association can and/or should provide.

Will: Get a sense of the “will” of your members, professional and/or personal. But understand what their deeper purpose is with their membership or prospective membership with your Association.

Wonder: Don’t confuse with “Wander” – this one is about the speculative, imaginative and forward-thinking solutions and resources your members and prospective members need from your Association.

Wade: Wade in member and prospect members’ worlds by periodically shadowing some of your members or types of members or prospects, and learn what they really face rather than what you think they face. These insights will help make your Association far more important and relevant.

Walls: Knowing what “walls” or obstacles members and prospective members face that prevent them from achieving the kind of results they desire will be enlightening to your Association and help it prioritize what resources it offers and identify those that it doesn’t.

WOW!: Asking your members and prospects what your Association could do, offer or provide that would “wow” them helps assure your Association’s success at being the type of Association and resource they want.

What’s Your Proper Story Balance?

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This may be a strange question, but think about it in terms of your nonprofit and look at how your current stories represent what you really want to share in order to attract new donors, gain more awareness and become a greater provider of the services you offer to your core client constituents.

From our perspective, there are three types of stories: stories of your past, present and future. Too often, organizations continue to share stories of their past when they really don’t help achieve the objectives of the present or meet the goals of the future. Typically, a nonprofit’s stories are about three years behind their current stories. Look at the stories you’re sharing; are they current or three years old?

Current stories are critically important to the success of any nonprofit. They help set the path for future success. And future stories begin to help the nonprofit “visionize” into the future, for their own sake and for the sake of those from whom they need ongoing support. For whatever reason, it’s much more difficult to capture current stories and step back and craft future stories.

Every nonprofit should evaluate the balance of its past, present and future stories. Start with a pie chart and begin to allocate a percent of the pie that you feel best represents the needs of your organization from each story piece. Would 30% of your past stories be important and meaningful to help your organization accomplish key goals in its strategic plan? If so, then what’s the best allocation of the remaining 60%? 40% on current stories with 20% devoted to future stories? Organizations must be realistic about these allocations—too often stories of the past seem to dominate but aren’t always the stories that facilitate the type of change, growth and impact your organization needs now and in the future.

So, what’s your proper story balance? Nonprofits that get their balance right will certainly get their future on the right path.

Recruiting for Your Board

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Let’s start with this given: your board is critically important to your organization’s impact and future sustainability.  Nothing new here, nor should there be. But how many of you have public or private conversations around comments such as, “I wish I had a different mix of board members,” “I wish we had some bigger thinkers,” “I wish the new board members could get on track faster” or  “I’m not sure how we can leverage past board members.” The comments could continue.

I want to address ways to innovate in recruiting that will result in an exceptional board.

Of course, you start with the “required” board matrix that identifies the skill sets of your board and the voids that exist in your board. What skills have you included that need to be represented? My guess would be they are the “standards” such as accounting, communications, operations and legal, to name just a few. I am not suggesting these aren’t important skills to have represented, but I want to suggest seven new skills to include as you recruit new board members:

New Media/Emerging Technology/Social Media Specialist: A board member that “lives” the changing nature of how information is shared can help your organization develop a stronger story that gets to your constituent groups most effectively.

Researcher: A board member that is a research professional will help your organization continue to get the right kinds of insights from your core constituents, which provides focus and presents new opportunities.

Software Engineer or IT Manager: Reliance on technology will only become more critical to nonprofit organization; have a board member that can lead this conversation.

Product Manager: As earned revenue becomes more important to nonprofits, having a board member that is experienced at developing, distributing and marketing a product or service will be very valuable. Note: This role is very different than the communications skill your board probably already has represented;

Sales Specialist: This is the person that can be of great help in the development area as they will be skilled at prospecting, relationship dynamics, motivations and “closing” business.

M & A specialist: Someone that knows the nuances of successful mergers and acquisitions.

Visionary: Granted, this is not a title you’ll typically find, but I add it as a skill that would be highly desirable on your board. This person is someone that is not afraid to dream, explore and change. This is someone that will keep the idea of innovation alive and well on your board.

Adding board members with these skills will help bring innovation to your organization in no time.

Nonprofits Need a Brand More Than Ever

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The playing field for most nonprofits is going through transformational change. Organizations thinking they can survive the future by being inattentive to basic brand and communications principles should think again.

Let’s list just some of the ways your nonprofit may be getting sideswiped:

Let’s start with funding. If your organization relies on government support or reimbursement, do you really know what the future holds? For many organizations, they know change is coming, or may be here already, but they just don’t know what it means since there seems to be fuzziness coming from policy makers.

Another funding pothole nonprofits must navigate may be individual donor gifts. According to some, with the new tax law, some individual donors who no longer itemize returns may simply forego giving to organizations they’ve supported in the past.

The aging of nonprofit donors (the ones who typically, and have the financial ability, to support nonprofits at meaningful levels) is a real concern for some organizations. While this donor group is dwindling in numbers, the importance of reaching a new donor is more important than ever. That new donor will represent a generation that has an entirely different idea about interacting, and supporting, organizations. Is your organization ready to cultivate relationships with Millennials and Gen Xers the way they want to be cultivated?

Finally, have you ever considered, with the above three “sea changes” underway, how your funding base differentiates your organization from other organizations that provide the same services and resources to the same audiences as your organization does? Today’s nonprofits are no different than a fast food restaurant competing with other fast food restaurants; a beer brand competing with other beer brands.

So, how does your organization begin to position itself for sustainability in the future? Begin thinking about your organization as a brand and leverage the disciplines a brand uses to create a compelling point-of-difference and story that attracts key stakeholders to your organization. 

In today’s technology-forward world, your nonprofit has the same possibilities as a major brand for getting in front of key audiences with a compelling message. Don’t miss this opportunity to understand what your stakeholders need from your brand and how to craft a story around it.

Is Your Association at Risk of Being De-Positioned by Like Associations?

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Before your Association can be de-positioned, let’s start by discussing how it is positioned? Have you ever thought about how the positioning of your Association is relative to its members? Among like Associations? Positioning is the place your Association “owns” in the minds of its key stakeholders. Positioning can be based on a superiority or niche offering; it can be comparative. For those Boomers reading this, think about the old Avis Rent-A-Car advertising campaign that appropriately positioned Avis against the big brand in the category at the time, Hertz. The Avis positioning? “Avis is #2 but we try harder.” 

So, has your Association carved out a unique, differentiated positioning? Or, has it been “de-positioned” by similar organizations that your Association is working harder to be alike than different?

Too often, similarity is the positioning that too many organizations pursue. But when similarity rules the direction, it dictates a direction that will make it challenging for your Association to be known for what it does differently, uniquely – the specific member value it offers. When de-positioning happens, organizations work harder at being similar rather than being different. This creates a “fuzziness” among members and every other stakeholder connected to your brand.

So how does an Association get to a differentiated position? Start with asking how your members and other stakeholders think about your organization. What assets of your organization do they believe are unlike those that may be available from others? Find out what they think makes your Association special, different and meaningful. Based on this feedback, make sure your Association’s programs and services are aligned with these stakeholder insights. At this point, you’ll begin to understand the position you can earn in the minds of those that count on you most.

Industry’s strongest advocate. Most robust data. Innovators in the industry. Largest Association for ____________.  You get the idea. When you have the insights from your stakeholders, they’ll help you determine your position relative to their needs and relative to what they know and think of other like Associations.

Once you have your positioning defined, make sure it begins to show up in your brand story and all communications.

Is Your Brand Facing Downward and Outward?

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Ever think about which way your organization’s brand faces?  For many, it’s too often outward – facing those outside your organization because that’s where impressions are to be made, donors are to be cultivated and members and clients seeking support to connect with your organization. 

While an outward focus for your organization is important, so too is a downward focus. A downward focus keeps your brand experience meaningful because a downward focus puts your board and staff in the middle of your brand’s success. Organizations with brands that resonate downward will almost always have brands that resonate better outward.

What can organizations like yours do to make your brand have an impact downward? Here are a few ideas:

First and foremost, have regular conversations with your board and staff about “where” your brand lives. Too many will think your brand lives only through its logo. Make sure they understand your brand lives through the experience your organization creates at every touch point with all its stakeholders. How the phone gets answered, your web site, a community presentation – these are some of the ways stakeholders experience your brand.

Also have regular conversations about why your brand matters. Too often those doing meaningful work are the first to take that work for granted. Make sure your board and staff connect to your organization’s “why.” Consider starting board and staff meetings by asking people to share “why your organization’s work matters.” A better appreciation for your “why” will ultimately make your organization’s “what” and “how” be easier to articulate.

Be sure to provide board and staff with key talking points about your brand story to share so there’s consistency downward that assures consistency outward. Most organizations spend far more time thinking about how to message and communicate effectively with “outward” audiences at the expense of downward stakeholders. Create the story that your best advocates can effectively share.

Making certain your brand is facing downward and outward will create a stronger, more compelling brand.

Facilitation Blog

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Being an artful facilitator is a continual learning process. It starts early for most of us – with the kids we grew up with in our neighborhood when we facilitated which game we would all play (kick the can, over the hill, hide-n-seek) and then continued as we grew older and facilitated groups of friends toward a decision about where to go, fellow hockey players about which league to join, college classmates about where to head together on Spring break.

And the art of facilitation continues with your significant other and your children (but these two examples warrant an entirely different blog). Finally, facilitation, whether formal and professional or casual and spontaneous, continues with great vibrancy in the work place. 

Having facilitated thousands of “events” during my lifetime, including a recent leadership retreat with some 70 members participating, I think there are at least three foundational truths that aid in the process of facilitating groups.

The first foundational truth? Isolation.

As ironic as it may be when taking about groups, getting members of a group isolated to understand individual dynamics before group dynamics leads to a more rewarding, more successful facilitation experience. Having the opportunity to dialogue with individuals before engaging with groups of whatever type or size, gives the facilitation process direction as it now is based on new found insights that move the facilitated session to greater content and meaning faster.

The second foundational truth is speed.

I’ve found that the facilitator, and the process, have to have a velocity of sorts to keep people engaged and interested. And it has to be “just right” – not too fast to not provide time to absorb and contribute, but not too slow to enable people “checking out,” or checking their emails.

The third foundational truth from my perspective is flexibility.

Those of us that facilitate often know that being quick on our feet and ready to adapt and change on a moment’s notice helps get more out of the group and brings more participants into the group. A participant’s lone voice on a particular topic could be just the dynamic needed to provide the direction the facilitator needs to make the group effort as meaningful and fulfilling, as possible.

Isolation. Speed. Flexibility. They’ll make the facilitation process better for everyone.

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