You talking to me?

Do you ever notice yourself changing the way you say something based on who you are talking to? I know my communication style is vastly different when I am talking to my kids (or my cat, Stella) versus communicating with a colleague. The same holds true when talking to the various groups of people that you interact with for your organization.

Let’s take a look at an example faced by a nonprofit looking to communicate with several different audiences in regards to the same topic. Their audiences include clients, individual donors, grantors/foundations, elected officials, volunteers, employees and community members. The organization is facing a shortage in funds to sustain funding for mental health services due to a change in regulations requiring employees to be directly overseen by a psychiatrist who will also have direct interaction with the clients. How does the organization effectively communicate to all populations to reach the intended goal in reaching fundraising targets to overcome the shortfall, meanwhile maintaining trust of all parties?

Lots of questions swirl… Will people think we didn’t do things the “right way” before the regulations? What if we can’t serve everyone we need to? How do we pivot fast enough so that what is happening doesn’t hurt our mission? What if…? With effective communication to each audience, all of these fears can be relieved while actually making the organization stronger. It is important to remember that each audience and audience member sees the world through their own unique lens. Here is how we might communicate with two of the audiences mentioned above:


Jenny, we have recently made some changes to our services to better serve you. In addition to your trusted provider, you will also now have a larger team to help you thrive that will include a licensed psychiatrist. Rest assured, your appointments will remain the same with the addition of occasional visits with your psychiatrist. You will not be charged for these extra visits, it is our way of making sure you receive the best care always. If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.


At ABC Organization we are always striving to fulfill our mission of caring for those in need of mental health care regardless of background or financial status. Because of you, individuals like Jenny have gone from not being able to care for her family, both emotionally and financially, to holding a full-time job and cheering on her daughter at her soccer games. But, we want to take our care to the next level to ensure that Jenny and her family are able to continue to thrive. We are excited to announce that we are adding three psychiatrists to our team to assist our licensed social workers in providing the best possible care. With the addition of the new providers, we will able to be more holistic in our care. We will also be able to prescribe medications directly to those we serve with the full input of their mental healthcare team. But, to make this important change, we need your help. Please consider a donation to help us ensure that we can continue to be there for Jenny and her family.

To communicate with each audience, we first try to put ourselves inside the audience member’s brain. How are they feeling? How will they react to the information? How will they receive the information? What will they hear in the message we send?

With the patient,the goal is to keep her calm and relieve any fears that her care will change. At the same time it is important to let Jenny know what is happening.

With the donor, we want them to feel confident in how their dollars are being used, while at the same time conveying to them the increased need for additional support. When we communicate with the donor, we choose to tell a story (more on that in my previous post There is #Crying in Good Marketing). We then use that story to exemplify why the need for funding is so very important.

For the other audiences, including grantors, elected officials and community members, we may opt to tell a story too, but also include the nuts and bolts numbers of the impact and change. How does it affect the bottom line? How will it affect the long-term stability rates for clients?

This example was for the nonprofit world, but the concept applies equally in the for profit world as well. What is most important at the end of the day is making sure your message is heard. While you can’t control how they process what you have told them, you can thoughtfully try to tell each audience the same message, paying close attention to what is most important to the receiver. Working hard to ensure that your message is heard in a way that meets your goals and mission. The old adage of “put yourself in the other person’s shoes” is critical. If you can do that, the messages will flow easily and have a better chance of being well received.

Do you need help communicating complex topics to different audiences? I would be happy to come alongside you and assist in developing an effective communication strategy to help you reach your goals.

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Anna Patty

Anna is a Fundraising Consultant, Graphic/Web Designer, Marketing Strategist, Media Relations Professional and Event Planner. Anna holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Iowa with degrees in Journalism and Spanish and has spent over a decade creating strategic and cost-effective strategies for organizations looking to grow their missions. She and her husband, Sean, have four very energetic kids, two boys and two girls.

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