By now, you’ve recognized strength-based messaging is about more than language and communication, it’s about a shift in mindset and philosophy. For many nonprofits, this shift is a very natural and easy one. For others, this is a new mental muscle that needs to be exercised, and it’s going to take some time. Today, I’m going to cover some steps your organization can take to transition to a strength-based messaging approach.
But before I do, I want to review a few frequently asked questions I often get asked during strength-based messaging trainings.
Frequently asked questions about strength-based messaging
How long does it take to evolve our nonprofit’s approach to strength-based messaging?
The work of strength-based messaging is never done, and it should constantly be evaluated. You should prioritize listening to the individuals and communities your nonprofit serves to understand how they want to be involved in and represented in your communications. Importantly, you can and should eliminate stereotype-based messaging right away.
Can you use strength-based messaging while still being succinct with your communication?
Yes, shifting your approach to strength-based messaging can often be as easy as switching around a few words.
What if people want to be described by what is considered stereotype-based language?
If a person has a particular preference about how they want to be referred to, their way is the strength-based way.
Our grant proposals require us to use stereotype-based language. What should we do?
While some organizations may be required to use stereotype-based language for a grant application, this is an opportunity to start a conversation with legislators, policymakers and government officials about why we need to move away from it.
My boss/board member/donor uses stereotype-based messaging, what should I do?
If you feel comfortable, you can use this as an opportunity to share what you know about strength-based messaging with this person and talk to them about why you’re taking this approach to your communication.
These are just a few of the many questions I hear most often. If you have one on your mind, I’d love to hear from you. Now, let’s talk about rolling out strength-based messaging practices at your nonprofit.
Getting started with strength-based messaging at your nonprofit
I recently worked with a leading youth services organization on their transition to strength-based messaging and someone said, the best way to get started is to just get started. I couldn’t agree more. Beginning to use strength-based messaging in your own personal communications is simple. It may spur questions from your board or your funders about why you’re positioning things a certain way, but it also opens the door to the conversation about why. As you think about applying this to your own work, my favorite rule of them with any communication is to ask:
Will this content make the individuals our nonprofit serves feel good about their association with our mission? If the answer is no, it’s not strength-based.Question for your nonprofit: Will this content make the individuals our nonprofit serves feel good about their association with our mission? If the answer is no, it's not strength-based. Click To Tweet
While implementing strength-based messaging across your own communications may feel easier, rolling strength-based messaging out organization-wide will take a more coordinated effort.
Involve your community in the development of strength-based messaging
Always start by having conversations with the individuals most directly impacted by your work to understand their preferences for how they like to be referred to and how they view the work of your nonprofit. Their inputs will be tremendously valuable as you start to develop your framework and guide for communicating in a strength-based way about your nonprofit’s work.
Review your existing content
Review your vision and mission statements, web copy, marketing and fundraising materials. Chances are, you’ll begin to notice some areas where your nonprofit commonly leans on stereotype-based or deficit-based language. For example, you might find that your nonprofit commonly frames needs as weaknesses in your appeals or tends to define individuals or communities by their circumstances when describing why your work is so important. Correct this language as you see it, and begin to compile a list of phrases you’d like to reframe moving forward.
Host internal discussions about strength-based messaging
Once you’ve had conversations with your community and compiled a list of existing problematic language, host a meeting of internal stakeholders to review and discuss together. Practice reframing stereotype-based messages to strength-based and ask folks if there are terms or phrases you may have missed in your review.
Look to expert resources on strength-based messaging
For many organizations, internal discussions are the foundation, but there are many expert resources that can help in facilitating these discussions and learning about best practices. For example, we often look to organizations like:
- Frameworks Institute
- The Sum of Us: A Progressive’s Style Guide
- Associated Press Stylebook
- The Racial Equity Institute
Develop a strength-based messaging guide
Following these discussions, begin to compile your nonprofit’s strength-based messaging guide. It can define exactly what strength-based communication means for your nonprofit and give examples of how to practice it when talking about the specific people or communities your nonprofit serves. It can also help your colleagues check their own communications to determine whether there are opportunities to pivot from stereotype-based approaches to strength-based ones.
Host strength-based messaging trainings
Many of your nonprofit’s internal stakeholders will need to transition from understanding to practice. This is typical of those on your marketing, communications and fundraising teams – we call these folks super communicators. Often this can include program staff and volunteers as well.
Your strength-based messaging guide can serve as a basis for understanding, but it is helpful to get these folks together in small group, workshop-style trainings where they can review and discuss language and practice strength-based reframing together. Vendors should also know about the transition to strength-based messaging and may also need training.
For groups that need to be made aware of the approach, but may not necessarily be your super communicators, you can host general learning sessions to review what strength-based messaging is, why it’s important to your mission and where these folks can expect to see it in communications moving forward.
A few final notes as you move toward strength-based messaging:
- Recognize this is an ongoing process
- Establish dos and don’ts
- Practice moving one “don’t”/adding just one “do” at a time
- Learn as you go
- Create key messages to guide future communications
- Make continual adjustments
There you have it! We hope you’ve enjoyed this series on strength-based messaging. Please reach out if you’d like to learn about how Prosper Strategies can help your organization with this work.
- The Latest Research and Trends in Strength-Based Communication
- The Equity Assessment: What Your Organization Needs to Do BEFORE Establishing Its Approach to Strength-Based Communication
- Strength-Based Communication Best Practice #1: Use Individual Preferences and Be Specific
- Strength-Based Communication Best Practice # 2: Use Person-First Language
- Strength-Based Communication Best Practice #3: Avoid Saviorism and Extreme Exceptionalism
- Strength-Based Communication Best Practice #4: Emphasize Strengths Over Needs
- Strength-Based Communication Best Practice #5: Avoid Coded Language
- This Post: Embedding Strength-Based Messaging Into Your Organization’s DNA