How To Communicate Impact

This week's blog is written by a dear friend who I respect so much, Tracy Scott.  She is a great communicator and a fundraiser.  For more information on Tracy please check out her Linkedin Profile and her blog at The Cobwebby Hours.

I asked her to share some of her thoughts on "How to Communicate Impact".

by Tracy Scott

Last month, my husband and I closed the books on the fundraising season.  We attended our last chicken-dinner event and reviewed our charitable giving, discussing the organizations we feel privileged to support.

Since I’m also a retired fundraising consultant, part of this process means I will pick apart each event and give my husband an assessment of what was well done, and what was not.  Fundraising dinners can be tough to execute well, so my husband nods (God love him) and listens to me lament mistakes and applaud the places where each organization shined.

One event, in particular, was disappointing to us both.  We love this organization and they are in a season of expansion, which means they needed more people to give this year.  While the food was great and the speakers were articulate, the event fell flat. As my husband and I discussed the evening in detail, we kept circling back to the fact that this organization failed at the most important aspect of any fundraising communication: COMMUNICATING IMPACT.

Communicating impact is essential for any non-profit because it’s the way you tell your donors that you’re doing the good work they’ve chosen to support.  You’re doing the work and making a difference. Impact tells the donors what their gifts actually accomplished. It’s like putting your money with a bank and getting the bank statement that tells you what your money did (and hopefully, how it’s growing.)  When I know that my money is being put to good work, and it’s changing the world, it’s a no-brainer that I’ll want to keep giving, and I’ll try to give more.

As I’ve thought about this particular event, I’ve been ruminating on how I’ve seen organizations communicate impact successfully.  Regardless of the organization (domestic or overseas, big or small, faith-based or not), in my experience, impact only has—AHEM—IMPACT, if these three things are included:

1. An infrastructure in place to allow reporting.

One place where non-profits hinder themselves is actually having a reporting process in place so that impact is communicated.  Are the people on the ground communicating with the communications and fundraising departments so that all of the good stories and life change are known?  Too often, these two groups are kept at a distance, without regular communication channels in place. The people out doing the good work are busy with that work.  The folks back in the office communicating to the donors are busy writing and analyzing giving and needs. It sounds crazy, but you’d be surprised how many organizations haven’t built an infrastructure for these two groups to be talking regularly.  This means that great things are happening—they’re just not making it to the people who are responsible for the fundraising and communications. Not good.

(Side note: Sometimes this problem is even more dramatic because the folks doing the work feel like it’s a waste of time to meet with the communications team.  Sadly, these men and women sometimes feel like “they’re too busy” doing their good work and fulfilling the mission of the organization. Yikes, right? The people who are responsible for communicating impact need to be hearing from the people DOING THE WORK.  I realize this sounds basic, but the bigger the organization, the harder it can be to connect these two groups and make sure that the real stories of impact are making their way to the folks in charge of communication and fundraising.)

2. Communicating impact with HEAD knowledge and HEART knowledge

Next comes the actual sharing of all of this good work.  Organizations that do this well remember to communicate in two ways:

  1. Share the head knowledge: The growth numbers, statistics and information that show you’re doing good business.  
  2. Share the heart knowledge: These are the real life stories that move people emotionally and bring them into the story of what you’re doing.  
    Many people reading this will side with one part of this equation over another.  Some people want the statistics and growth numbers and that motivates them to give.  Others want to enter into the lives of the people they’re helping and this is what moves them to open their checkbooks.  (And then there’s the third group, which I fall into. I’m sorry to tell you that I am high maintenance and I need both. Statistics don’t motivate me.  Sad stories seem emotionally manipulative. I want the full picture with both head and heart knowledge to help me see how my gift would really translate into life change for someone.)
  3. Be Committed to Tell Your Story Over and Over Again
    This is a place where so many organizations start to waver at around year three.  If you work for a non-profit, you know the mission and vision and you have opportunities to say it weekly (maybe daily.)  Here’s the thing: after a while, this gets old. You want to put a new spin on why you exist. You get tired of telling the same old story.  

    Let me tell you something: your donors never tire of your story.  They love your mission. They love to hear you tell the story of how you started and how you’re changing the world.  They actually don’t want you to “spice it up.” They don’t feel that you need to refresh the mission.

    As my husband and I dissected this recent event, that fell flat, THIS is where they failed.  All of the speakers were wonderful, but if I’d been new to the spring fundraising dinner, I would have left not knowing exactly what this organization did.  They didn’t share their history this year. They didn’t clearly and simply state the mission and vision. They assumed we all knew and that we didn’t want to “be bored with that story…again.”  

W R O N G.  So wrong.

The next week my husband and I visited a church that is pastored by dear friends of ours.  This isn’t our community church, but we attend a few times a year because it’s faith-building to see what’s going on in a different city and how God is moving through our friends’ leadership.  Every single week in this church, for more than seven years, the pastors welcome the people and state the mission. “We exist…” one of them will begin, and they’ll share their unique passion and calling. 

Why do they say this every week?  Because every week they have about 20 new people.  Some people have attended nearly every week for seven years.  I’ve attended three times a year for the past five. Let me tell you: I never get tired of hearing the leaders of this church tell me why they started it and how they want to transform my life with the radical love of Jesus Christ.  It gives me chills every time.

Now, I mentioned I know the Pastors.  Do they get chills every time they say the mission?  Nope. Every so often, they’re tempted to reframe it, gloss over it, or pull it from their opening remarks.  However, my friends are smarter than that. They realize this would be myopic. By retelling their mission, they remind themselves of why they’re up front on a Sunday morning…and they tell the old and new congregants their unique passion and calling—their mission.

If you work in the non-profit world, your supporters never tire of hearing you communicate impact.  Ever. Make sure you have the real-life stories to tell. Be sure to communicate them with both head and heart knowledge.  Then, BUCKLE UP and talk about your impact over and over again.

Really. When you communicate impact well, it never gets old.