Even simple stories, provided they are compelling, releases in us neurochemicals like cortisol (focuses our attention) and oxytocin (makes us more empathetic). Getting an audience’s attention and empathy is, unsurprisingly, essential for most nonprofits seeking to rally supporters and gain donors.
The Nature Conservancy, perhaps the world’s largest conservation nonprofit, had a problem. Its groundbreaking Development by Design initiative was finding success engaging government and business leaders in countries at the beginning of economic development, taking a more holistic view over a longer period of time and over a broader set of projects. The result, more often than not, was development done in the right way in the right places.
The challenge was to introduce this relatively nuanced approach to donors, peers and the public in a clear, brief and – gasp! – entertaining way. The Nature Conservancy teamed with Hairpin Communications to script, design and animate a two-minute video as the centerpiece.
The result was a 90-second animation that combined illustration with photos to tell Development by Design story. And like all good stories (the interesting ones anyway), it takes viewers briskly a narrative arc of problem-catalyst-resolution. It sneaks in a little humor and ends with a call to action, driving people to the website.
Today, the video is posted on the group’s website and YouTube Channel, and used during in-person presentation with donors and foundations.
“If we only can message this better,” more than one client has said to me, “we can be more effective.”
It’s sure tempting to believe that the reason no one is buying is that we’re using the wrong the words to sell it.
Of course that is often true. The words you use to get a target audience to take a desired action — my definition of messages — are keenly important for causes to succeed. But when they fail, the fix might not simply be new words.
The Republican Party is facing such a failure. As parodied so well by John Stewart this week (see above), party leaders loath to adjust their policies. They don’t want to reflect on their organization’s core identity, either. So they hunt for new words to describe the old stuff.
What they forget is that messages, like brand identities, must be rooted in authenticity. Audiences catch on pretty fast, especially in our information-rich, deeply cynical age. Truth and clarity are so powerful because, sadly, they can be so rare.