Rethink Communications

Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 11:25AM


Communicating successfully is critical to nonprofits. There are donors to reach, volunteers to recruit, causes to publicize, and program participants to sign up.

Basic to ensuring that outreach efforts are executed with maximum effectiveness is making certain that messages and audiences are clearly identified and, more important, matched.

A generational shift is now underway, and dealing successfully with it greatly influences how effective an organization will be in reaching its communication objectives. The impact of this demographic change will be even more dramatic in future years.

The transformation means a one-size-fits-all approach that may have worked in the past will no longer produce the same results.

Likewise, methods previously used for message delivery can no longer be depended upon as single or even primary sources of information. Case in point: newspapers and other print media, once main sources of information, are facing declining circulation and are now working to establish a presence on the internet. Similarly, as viewership drops, television is using social media to build viewer connection.

To help nonprofits gain a better understanding of this change and how to cope with it, I turned to Anne Loehr who has been called the “Generational Guru” by The Washington Post.

According to Anne we are now a population made of four generations, each with distinctly different personality characteristics that affect their preferences for receiving and responding to information.

The four groups are Traditionalists (born 1922-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980, and Generation Y, the Millennials, (born 1981-2001).

Their values are different. The methods they choose for engaging socially are different. Their means of communications are different. The ways they process information are different.

Anne warns, “Successfully communicating a message using a single method of delivery for all four groups is nearly impossible.”

To overcome the challenge this generational distinctiveness presents, Anne offers these four suggestions.

  • “Nonprofits will be well advised to spend more time crafting their message,” she suggests. “Go deep to understand your various audience targets. The more you know about who you are trying to reach, the better focused you can be.”
  • “If an organization’s target is one that is large and diverse, successful outreach may require development of multiple forms of the same message for delivery through multiple communication channels. This approach obviously takes more effort but will pay off with greater results.
  • “Even though your focus presently may be on Traditionalists and Baby Boomers,” Anne shares, “It is important not to discount the younger groups.” She adds: “The personality traits of those in the engagement pipeline for replacing today’s volunteers and donors indicate building relationships with these individuals takes time, even years. Since connecting with them takes much longer than with previous generations, unless you reach them at an early age, they are likely to be committed elsewhere and your chances for engaging them will be lost.”
  • Anne also counsels, “It is a mistake to assume that younger generations will change their social engagement-related behavior with age. Research shows they will carry their generational characteristics with them.”

Reaching different generational groups is more than just separating your contact lists. Message content makes a difference, including choice and number of words. In addition, graphics, video, colors, numbers, and photos also influence how effective a message is to each particular age group.

When preparing annual appeals, annual reports, event invitations, newsletters, and advertisements, think about your intended audiences and identify the best vehicle for reaching each of them.

Take these suggestions from Generational Guru Anne Loehr as thought starters for planning strategically about making your communications activity more effective.

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