Monday, January 16, 2012

To the ends of the earth

I had a chat a while back with a non-profit leader who ran a charity that was an organization of organizations. Each of their members represented smaller organizations which in turn had their own local "members". This person couldn't seem to understand why I was suggesting they create a communictaions program that not only reached their members, but also their members's members. "That's not who we communicate with," they said.

Big mistake. The key to non-profit communications is to pursue every potential stakleholder to the ends of the earth and back again.

Their way of thinking is common. It literally is "short-sighted". They see as far as their immediate internal audiences. Everything else is so blurry to them that they lump it all together in one big "external" category.

This particular non-profit had a very common communications challenge. No one knew who they were or what they did, except of course their members. "We can't seem to reach people," they lamented. This was no surprise to me. They were spending time and money trying to communicate to their immediate members and no one else. And yet here was a very large group of allied stakeholders sitting almost at their fingertips. Their member's members were all connected to their organization indirectly. Even better, the non-profit knew who these people were and where to find them. They could double or even triple the reach of their communications program without much more effort by connecting to their member's members. It would make their overall program much more cost effective.

Technically, this non-profit's internal audeince is only their member organizations. That's what their rules and regulations say. That works for mission and vision statements, but not a modern, efficient communications program. The neat categories that this non-profit had made up in their heads didn't reflect the reality of the world they lived in. The local members were as close to being an internal audience as they could possibly be. All that kept them from being part of the internal stakeholder group was an artficial barrier.

Like many organizations, this non-profit relied on their member organizations to deliver the non-profit's message. The non-profit talked to the members and those organizations talked to their members. The member organizations had varying levels of communications infrastructure and the result was an uneven distribution of the message. Some people got it, some didn't. The non-profit didn't realize that they had a stake in how their members did their communicating, and so, much of the message was lost and much of the communications wasted.

To this non-profit, the cure to their problem was advertising. That's how they would reach the public. Imagine how much more money they had to spend because their existing communications couldn't even reach their member's members. And, at the end of the day, when the ads were finished they still had the same problem -- they were ignoring some of the people who were very close to them.

The whole point of communicating is to capture as many people as possible to communicate with and keep on communicating with them. The ultimate goal is to convert as many strangers into friends, which makes the lines between internal and external audiences moot. Every potential stakeholder is a target. None can be ignored. And if you want your communications program to be effficient and powerful you will pursue every person, every group and every organization to convert them. To the ends of the earth if necessary. And back again.













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