Do you ever sit in front of a blank screen just wondering where to begin? You know you’ve got something to announce about your organization, but you just don’t know how to say it?

Perhaps we want to start interacting more on social media on behalf of our organizations, but we don’t know how to start. Or maybe we have started but looking back, we see that our communications seem a little lop-sided.

Or maybe we’re launching a newsletter – what do we talk about? How can we get people to stay connected with the great work we’re doing?

We’ve all been there. Figuring out what to say is one challenge, but the next challenge is figuring out how to say it in a way that is interesting, thoughtful and grabs people’s attention. How do we say it in a way that reflects our organization? This becomes particularly tricky when there is more than one person creating communications for the organization. How do we all get and stay on the same page?

What if we thought about our organization as a person? Yes, an actual person.

Probably most of us have a friend or two that we know so well that we can pretty much predict how they’ll react in a given situation. We know what they’ll say about the latest news story, their opinion on a movie or how they’ll respond to interpersonal dramas. What if we knew our organization’s ‘personality’ that well, too?

In creating a personality for our organization, we begin to use language that describes the organization in a way that helps us all understand ‘who’ the organization is. And when we know who they are, we can create communications that represent that personality.

The first thing we need to do is take a look at our organization and write down the answers to the following questions. This can be done individually but it is also an excellent group/staff exercise. Then you can debate, discuss and decide together. (Try to answer these questions without looking at the website. Even if we don’t know the Mission verbatim, we’ll write it in our own words but make sure it’s close to the mark.)

  • What do we do?
  • What is our mission?
  • What is our vision?
  • What are our strategic goals?
  • Who do we serve?
  • What kind of organization are we?
  • What do our programs and services do for our clients/service users?
  • What is the change we’re trying to make?
  • What kind of world are we trying to create?

Once this is written down, study it for awhile. Start thinking about what kind of person would be involved in these activities. Why are they drawn to these issues? What other things might they be involved with? Who are their friends? Write it all down.

The next thing we need to think about is who we’re talking to. Is it donors (present or future)? Service users? Volunteers? Funders? Potential clients? Other organizations?

Create personas for each one of the folks the organization may be talking to. And be specific. If we’re speaking to the public, for example, who exactly in the public are we speaking to? Is it a 56-year-old French teacher who loves the outdoors? Is it a teenager looking for something to do after school? Drill down the details. It doesn’t have to be ‘right’, we just have to imagine the person that we’re targeting with our communications.

Depending on our message, our method (emails, newsletters, paper mail, etc.), and our needs, the person we’re speaking to may change frequently. And that’s ok. But we should capture each one in the exercise above. As nonprofits we have a lot of stakeholders that we need to communicate with. Try to keep it under 5, otherwise it can get a little unmanageable, and our messaging can get watered down. Many organizations will only have 2 or 3.

Next, we want to think about our tone. We want to consider the kind of person the organization is and the people we’ll be speaking to. How would those two people communicate in the real world? How do we want to be perceived? If the organization were a person, how would our donors, clients, service users describe us? Are we compassionate? Wise? Playful? Activist? Trustworthy? Reliable? Academic? Thought leader? Create a list of 10-12 words that describe the personality of the organization.

Ultimately there should be one document at the end that everyone can agree on. The document will include the exercises, above:

  1. A discussion of what our organization does and wants to do
  2. If our organization were a person, what else can we learn about them
  3. Personas of the different folks we’re speaking to in our communications
  4. Our communications tone distilled into 10-12 words

The thought process and discussions had during this exercise, plus the resulting document gives us a picture of our organization as a person. We can use this document to inform our communications. We can look back on it for months and years to help us craft messaging. Every few months or every year we can review it to ensure that it’s still accurate because programs change, organizational needs change and many other changes can occur that may alter who we are as an organization.

As we use this document, we will get to know our organizations as if they were a person. And eventually, we’ll know them so well that it’ll feel easy and natural to write on their behalf.

Until next time,

The PLC Team

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