Step-by-step strategy to assess your communications material

Now, continuing on with our process of trying to assess our communications material to encourage people to actually read what we send them, I want to highlight some other ways to take a critical view of your existing material so you can have a full picture of where you might make improvements.

1.      First, gather up as much of your organization’s material as you can. You may be in Planned Giving and so don’t ordinarily read everything in the newsletter if there is no legacy feature – but in this first step we are going to get as broad a picture as we can, to fully understand all the messaging your supporters are seeing. Look not only at printed material, but e-communications, website content and even your signage.

2.      Then, read it all. Really read all of it. Granted, your supporters will see this spaced out over a period of time, and so it is not quite as daunting as you sitting down to read everything all in one go – but consider these questions as you read: Is every piece meaningful? Is every piece interesting? Does each communication have a clear purpose that you feel it achieves? Were there any pieces you had to struggle to finish or had to fight the urge to skim through? Do you wish you hadn’t had to spend time reading any of them?

3.      Next, sort your material into piles and/or lists. One pile for Great, another for Good, then Needs Improvement, and lastly those that were a Negative Impact/Didn’t Achieve Goal. What are the commonalities you see in the ones you feel are Great or Good? What are the issues you identify among the “Negative Impact/Didn’t Achieve Goal” set?

4.      Now time to broaden the picture again by finding a third party to review a sample of the material for you. Either a colleague at another organization, or a relative who doesn’t know your organization well. You don’t need to give them everything – as you’ll probably find it hard to have anyone agree to go through it all – but be sure to provide an assortment. You’ll want them to see pieces that are print, web, email and from a variety of areas of your organization. Be sure to have some you have personally ranked as each category: Great, Good, Needs Improvement and Negative Impact/Didn’t Achieve Goal. Have them sort them themselves into the same four categories but without them knowing how you had sorted them.

5.      Find a time to talk to this magnificent volunteer that you are now indebted to (perhaps over a coffee or lunch on you?), and really listen to their thoughts. They are valuable because they have an outsider’s perspective and can give you feedback that is hard to get internally. Often people within an organization can get tunnel vision as they know the background behind a story, or they are proud of a particular accomplishment or understand all the things that weren’t clearly expressed in writing; you may find your neutral reader has different perspectives.

6.      Take your learnings and share them with your team. You may not have a dedicated Communications person overseeing all messaging and so need to work with people across your organization who have different writing styles, etc. Be sure to highlight both the successes and the areas you have to work on. You can invite them to go through the above steps as well if they wish and see if they come to similar conclusions as you.

This exercise, while a bit of a time investment, accomplishes a number of really important things: 1) You get a full picture of the type of communications your supporters are seeing, 2) You have to cast a critical eye on each piece and potentially make some tough decisions on whether they are effective or not (though you also may be pleasantly surprised!), 3) You get an outsider’s viewpoint to either counter or validate your own, making for a more well-rounded evaluation. 4) And finally, you have a good idea of where to go from here, having identified some pieces that can be improved or revamped. So I invite you to get to it, and I look forward to hearing how it goes for you. If you have any questions, I’m happy to talk more about this anytime – so feel free to comment here or send me a message.

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