Are you turning off supporters with a negative message?

March 4, 2009

tv-controlI’ve made the decision to stop watching my local evening news.  Examining the stories covered in the first fifteen minutes, I find that they mostly focus on crime and despair. I live in Winnipeg, which is a very safe, pretty positive community by North American standards. I forget this sometimes because of the news coverage. It’s mostly negative and perpetuates a culture of fear. I’ve decided to tune out. Something similar can happen for  cause-based nonprofits as well. If  you’re constantly telling the negative stories about why people need to care about your issue, you might be turning supporters off.

There is a general feeling of being overwhelmed and over burdened right now. People are feeling pinched economically and the global problems we face appear insurmountable. I need to hear positive stories. I need to hear about how organizations are making a difference. I need to see positive results. Something that doesn’t make me feel like giving up.

If your non-profit is gearing its communication too heavily on the needs of those you serve or benefit, perhaps it’s time to change the focus. Instead of endless statistics and examples of child poverty, obesity, homelessness, climate change, animal cruelty, addiction, sickness etc., focus on the ways you are successfully addressing the issue. Point to examples. Use financial or statistical forecasts to communicate the impact someone’s contribution can make.

A focus on outlining solutions has always been a part of good caused-based marketing but I think it’s even more important right now. People are going to be very careful with their money moving forward and they want to see solid results for their donation dollar. They want to feel that they have some control over a positive outcome.

I’ve used the micro loan organization Kiva as an example in other posts and I’m mentioning it again because its communications approach is overwhelmingly positive. The profiles of the entrepreneurs from developing countries emphasize their strengths, their small successes and how a loan will propel them further away from a life of poverty. It’s completely solution focused and it works.

The next time you’re faced with writing the annual appeal letter, or making a speech at the next donor appreciation event, try focussing more on what your organization is doing successfully to address your cause. The message about the need will come through in the telling.

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2 Responses to “Are you turning off supporters with a negative message?”


  1. I agree Deborah. Success stories that enthauastically tell past donors and potential new donors how their support is being used to improve lives is a much better approach.

    If we focus on the unmet needs, we may just be reminding donors of ‘how bad things are’.

    People are naturally drawn to success. That is where they want to invest.

  2. sikantis Says:

    You’re right, the power of words is often underestimated. It’s so important to use friendly and positive words.


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