Case Study: A Winning Communication Recipe

Over the past several years, I have been preoccupied with monitoring what I call "cause campaigns" among non-profits.  As the growth in cause campaigns ensued, and they have, and the corresponding competition for limited donors increased, I watched how great non-profits build a strong case for support.  As a result of these observations, I started to notice a very simple, but winning, communication recipe.  It goes something like this: 

  1. Here is the problem:  the social issue, the challenge we face
  2. Here are several solutions:  different proposed ways to conquer this problem
  3. Here is our unique solution:  we have the best, most relevant solution
  4. Here is how you can get involved:  write the check, join the campaign

This very simple, but straightforward recipe does many things.  First, it allows an organization to focus on the problem first, rather than their mission.  Placing the problem as the centerpiece of communication makes the organization relevant.  It also demonstrates that the organization is committed to solving the problem, not simply sustaining their issue.  And, finally, it provides that needed segue-way into the purpose of their communication:  a call for action.

In our work with Children's Relief Nursery here in Portland, we were faced with the challenge of communicating about a very difficult issue to stomach:  child abuse and neglect from birth to four years old.  As you might expect, there are some real emotional challenges to communicating about child abuse.  But, we used our formula above, and it worked flawlessly.  Here is how we framed it: 

  1. Here is the problem:  We proposed a black and white (literally) advertising campaign called "Five Fast Facts You Wish You Didn't Know About Child Abuse".  This was our attention-getting campaign that featured facts and figures about the most marginalized young people in Portland.
  2. Here are some solutions:  There are many ways to combat child abuse, but research shows that few, if any, have the long-lasting impact we seek, including foster parents and adoption.
  3. Here is our unique solution:  The Relief Nursery concept is based upon the research that kids thrive when families stay together.  The entire research philosophy was used to build our "50 Ways a Family" campaign that helps identify unique ways in which building and empowering families in fact reduces child abuse and neglect.
  4. Here is how you can get involved:  We built some excellent messaging pillars, starting with new pithy, concise, and easy to remember mission and vision statements, which became the ultimate calls to action for campaigns.

An important lesson?  I have learned that most organizations jump to step three above all too quickly.  The challenge with this is that they have not created relevance and credence to the problem in their communication.  It is critical to address the overall social issue and give some street credibility to other efforts which have attempted to address the issue prior to launching a messaging campaign focused on your distinctive efforts.

Check out our work with Children's Relief Nursery at their website.  And, keep a watch for other great non-profits and see for yourself.  This is a winning communication recipe.