Don’t forget why you’re communicating

During my time in philanthropy, it was common to see communication plans from grantees where the goal was “to raise awareness among the general public” – or some variation on that idea. But there’s two fundamental problems with this aim: (1) there’s no such thing as “the general public” (everyone is different and it’s important to specify and segment your audiences); and (2) the goal is never to raise awareness.

When grantees tell me that they want to raise awareness, my response is always to ask, Why? To what end? What is the point of raising awareness? In other words, what do you hope people will do differently as a result of their awareness?

There is a common perception that if people only knew about the problem, there wouldn’t be a problem. But awareness isn’t enough, because while knowledge can be motivating, in the end we want people to behave differently, and behavior is action. So raising awareness may be important, but it is a means to an end, and that end is some desired action.

Communications is about transmitting messages to targeted audiences, but in service of a programmatic outcome. What change do you want to see, and what action do you want people to take in order to make it happen?

This is why all communications should have a call to action. What specific thing do you want people to do? When grantees tell me they want public support for a cause, I ask them how the grantee wants them to express that support? Do you want them to vote? Do you want them to tell their representatives? Do you want them to write to the local paper? Do you want a donation? Once you succeed in getting people to care, what can they do to help?

Good communications efforts are in service of programmatic goals and that means creating change through targeted actions. Don’t lose sight of the real objectives, or you risk wasting effort. Be thoughtful, be strategic, and stay focused on impact.

Are your communications efforts designed to achieve program goals? Do you make sure to always include a call to action in your communications? How can you plan your communications to achieve your organization’s mission?



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