What’s In A Message?
I believe 90% of the funding challenges organizations have are a function of
1. Not asking
2. Not being with the right prospects
3. Not having the right message (which usually makes number 1 much easier and makes number 2 much more apparent).
Message should be simple, fit on a napkin, clear, concise, compelling. That being said, I’m not sure I (Nick) have my own crystal clear napkin definition of MESSAGE is. In fact, when someone says they need help with their message I first ask them to define what they mean.
For the past year I’ve been referring to message as:
That, and only that, which a prospect needs to UNDERSTAND in order to say, “I totally get it!”
*And, if a qualified prospect, to also say, “I’m IN!”
Think about it. UNDERSTAND. Not:
• What you SAY
• What you PRINT
• What you put in a 10 page case statement.
If you can work with that definition then 99.9999% of those reading this can resolve their message (ultimately) to one of the following:
If I, as your potential investor, could understand that I can SAVE LIVES then it’s game over. No longer about ‘fundraising’, no longer about ‘cultivation’, no longer about ‘asking for money’.
Common response from those too close to the issue: “It can’t be that simple.”
Yes it can.
Sometimes the ‘message derivative’ could be:
– ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
– TRANSFORMING EDUCATION
– ENDING CANCER
Again… all SIMPLE. These are all applications of SAVE LIVES. CHANGE LIVES. IMPACTING LIVES.
I don’t want to lose a very important word in the definition – UNDERSTAND.
So how do you make me UNDERSTAND?
1. Be simple and don’t make me work to UNDERSTAND why your program is awesome.
Don’t use big, complex words. Don’t be an academician. Concept everything up to its highest purpose. “Ultimately the reason we’re doing this is because it SAVES LIVES.”
How many times do we read someone’s case statement only to SEARCH for the WHY.
We’re not a fan of case statements – largely for this reason. However, if you HAVE to do one, don’t fall for pretty prose. Bold your message, then put a lot of white space around it to make it stand out from all the other stuff.
Just because the idea that you’re CHANGING THE WORLD didn’t sink in the first time you said it does not mean you should change your message.
a. Listen to any GOOD politician. She will repeat her message over and over.
b. Listen to any Zig Ziglar audio (random reference). Zig often says, “I’m going to repeat this three times to emphasize that it’s really important.”
Key is that you don’t move OFF message just because you hit on it once.
I think repetition must be coupled with conviction.
4. Show – don’t tell.
Sometimes it’s not about finding the WORDS to help me understand. Sometimes you just need to SHOW – either because there are no words or because you/I/we can’t find words to do any justice.
This could be visual. Better than 50% of us are VISUAL. Use PRESENTATION TOOLS or VISUAL concepts to communicate concepts.
For some, pictures and visuals may be just a start but an EXPERIENCE could be even better.
Last year was working with a start-up school taking a very novel approach to learning. I probably visit 15 schools each year and I’ve never seen anything like this – kids in 7th and 8th grade would’ve outperformed most of my peers at Notre Dame. Everyone that walked the halls of the school felt/saw/understood the magic… We made it our strategy to get people to the school. We used words AFTER the visit to have a dialogue about the impact.
5. Start with ME – not you.
This is about ME understanding. Not you. You know everything about the project and the org and I know nothing. Of the 632 things you could say TO me, I probably only need the right THREE to help ME understand. This is why LISTENING is so important.
At our trainings we do an exercise where we pair up two people that have never met. They have five minutes in which person A is to communicate everything she needs to communicate to get the other person to say, “I get it. I understand what you do. I could share that with others.”
In some groups person A will talk – fast, nonstop for five minutes. In those cases person B looks worn out and lost after five mins.
In other groups person A will introduce a talking point then ask a question – allowing person B to give feedback… Person A listens and uses that feedback to share even more targeted and relevant message points… and on and on. After three minutes person B usually says, “Got it! Really cool!”
The point? Helping someone understand is not about talking at them.
After the SIMPLE definition I think there is room for deeper conversation/definition. A great message (APPLIED to FUNDING) must answer the three questions of EVERY investor:
2. WHERE is the MONEY GOING
3. HOW WILL YOU GET THERE
a. What is the plan? AND/OR
b. What do you need from me? AND/OR
c. Why are you asking me for XYZ? (Rationale)
Google Steve Jobs keynote. The dude puts up slides with one word and or one visual – very good at making SIMPLE message points. While most of my thoughts come from the vantage point of the 1:1 or small group setting this shows how it applies to a large group.