As a nonprofit communicator, you face constant content and messaging choices. What should you say in this digital or print ad? How should you describe your organization in an interview? What should be the theme of next month’s newsletter? Use your key messages to inform all of these decisions.
In a previous post, I described the relationship between your key messages and brand positioning. If you developed your brand messaging platform the right way, it was a consultative process conducted in alignment with your organization’s mission, vision and strategic priorities. This means that your brand is rooted in consensus and strategic alignment, so you can feel confident about using the messaging platform you have at your fingertips.
How you can use your nonprofit’s key messages to shape your content
Creativity within parameters is much easier than creating in a vacuum, so lean on your key messages as a central set of ideas and a source of inspiration. Draw from these ideas to help you decide what to say or how to shape your messaging in different applications. I’ve done my best to pull together a comprehensive list of examples below.
Core marketing or promotional properties: Use your full suite of key messages
Time frame: long-term
Sometimes you’ll need to communicate your nonprofit’s entire brand narrative in one place, such as in specific marketing properties or materials that need to remain relevant or useful over the longer term. Structure the content of these materials using your full suite of key messages:
- Website: Your About page is an obvious place to capture your brand narrative, but it should also be conveyed across the entire site. A visitor should be able to pick up all of the elements of your narrative as they move around your website.
- Corporate brochure or other promotional print materials: Are you producing a brochure, a one-pager or other print material that provides an overview and introduction to your organization? Tell your brand story by building your copy on the framework of your key messages (rather than describing your organization based on departments, functional areas, or other internal structures).
- Displays, backdrops and signage: Is it time to refresh your nonprofit’s displays, backdrops and other signage? Along with your brand positioning and personality, use your key messages to inform your visual approach and perhaps some concise text in specific and tangible ways.
- Presentations: Your corporate presentation template should include a consistent “about the organization” section that delivers your brand narrative. One way to do this is to create one or two slides per key message, with details and practical examples in your speakers’ notes to bring the message to life.
Editorial planning: Use your full suite of key messages
Time frame: medium- to long-term
Plan editorial calendars that deliver your full suite of key messages over the medium- to long-term. Move through all of the aspects of your organization’s story in your publications and channels such as:
- Video channel
- Social media
One way to do this is to focus on one key message per month as a primary theme that influences your stories, interviews, educational content, etc. You might cycle through all of your key messages or repeat some of them more often than others, depending on your audience, the purpose of your publication, and factoring in timely updates, events, and asks that you know you’ll need to share. Plan your editorial calendars well in advance so you can keep a bird’s eye view of your narrative delivery while leaving room for flexibility and necessary last-minute adjustments.
Campaigns: Use one or two key messages
Time frame: medium-term
If you are planning a campaign, its purpose and audience will already inform your creative approach. However, for further inspiration, use one or two of your key messages as the starting point for your campaign messaging. Because campaigns should be highly targeted to reach one of your priority audiences, think about which key messages you need to deliver and then get creative about how you’ll deliver them. This can help to ensure the strategic alignment of your campaigns for the following:
- Digital advertising
- Print and outdoor advertising
- Issue/awareness campaigns
- Direct mail
- Email marketing
- Public relations
- Peer-to-peer or referral
Individual tactics or elements: Use a single key message
Time frame: short-term/immediate
You don’t have to create your message from scratch when creating content for individual tactics or elements. Instead, you can draw from your messaging suite, focusing on one key message at a time to keep your content meaningful and clear.
When writing copy, shaping a pitch or story, generating ideas, forming a theme, or developing questions or discussion points, leverage a single key message as the primary point that needs to come across. This approach can help you shape the following individual tactics or elements:
- Individual ads
- PR pitches
- Blog posts
- Newsletters editions
- Podcast episodes
- Social media posts
- Guest writing, speaking or other appearances
- Annual reports and other reports
Note: Some of these individual elements will be part of broader campaigns or properties I mentioned above (e.g., writing a single ad within a digital campaign or a page of web copy during a redesign of the site).
Should you use your key messages verbatim? If you’ve read this far, you probably understand that I am not suggesting you copy and paste your key messages into every communication you deliver. While there may be a few circumstances where it’s appropriate to use your key messages verbatim, think of each key message as a primary point that needs to be conveyed. From there, you can adapt and paraphrase the message and play with copy and creative approaches tailored to your audience and channel.
Where and how should you start using your key messages?
If your nonprofit organization has a brand messaging platform, you should draw inspiration from your key messages whenever you have the opportunity. If this is a new practice for you, simply start the next time you need to create content! However, if you’re planning a deliberate roll-out of your brand, a good place to start is with your organization’s owned media, particularly your:
- Publications such as your blog, email newsletter, podcast or video channels
- Social media content (not “owned” but it’s messaging that you craft and publish)
Once your brand narrative is reflected in the media you publish, you can expand it to other channels — and feel confident about driving audiences back to these properties.
If your organization does not have a brand messaging platform, then your obvious first step is to develop one! This is one of my areas of specialty, so if you’d like my help, check out my Branding through messaging package and get in touch with me.