“Welcome to our webinar. We’re so glad you could join us!”

This quarter, Helen Hope Kimbrough and I are leading a series of free webinars on the topic of community voice. Specifically, we are outlining how the process of listening to the constituents closest to where impact is created can be applied to different aspects of the social good business model including programming, marketing, human resources and advocacy. It is a part of a new rollout of themed webinars we host quarterly.

Don’t miss tomorrow’s session Marketing Matters: How Community Voice Leads to More Effective Marketing from 11 am-noon. It is the most popular of the series to date, with more than 100 people scheduled to attend. Be sure to sign-up, as the sessions are available on-demand only to the people who register.

Tomorrow’s webinar is designed to provide an overview of the type of content we can deliver for organizations as a part of our new offering: training services. Going forward, we can be engaged to build custom workshops and learning management experiences for the staff of nonprofits and philanthropic organizations. Information about our training services on community voice can be found here.

A New Priority Audience: The People You Want to Serve

I have written previously about diminished referral pipelines (more than a year ago), and our learnings on the subject have only deepened. We have heard from organizations of all missions and budget sizes, and it is clear that some continue to struggle with their programming census.

Safety net organizations have appeared to feel the least impact, as inflation and market forces have caused many people just above poverty to seek emergency support. For example, Crisis Assistance Ministry served 44,734 individuals in FY23, up from 40,268 in FY22, an increase of more than 10%.

More challenging have been the social good institutions that have traditionally benefited from a reliable referral pipeline from service providers like Crisis Assistance Ministry. Many of the public and nonprofit institutions counted on to ensure people won’t need emergency services in the future — organizations focused on prevention and economic mobility — have turned to their marketing teams to rethink communication efforts to recruit clients.

It is an area of nonprofit communication that has often been less examined, where signage and flyers with clarified incentives have traditionally won the day. As you likely know if you’ve been following our blog, we believe a lack of trust in institutions is a big challenge to overcome.

Our focus on marketing and community voice is designed to help marketing professionals navigate this new reality with the goal of growing demand for services.

Marketing & Community Voice

We define community voice as “a two-way directional approach geared toward listening to community and institutions alike toward building trust as an asset, embracing transparent communication, and moving change-worthy initiatives forward together.”

So what does that mean when it comes to your communication efforts?

“It’s Not Always About You” – Too many nonprofits make the mistake of centering themselves in the narrative – their mission, their goals, their services – which does little to engage the person they seek to serve. Our approach to movement-building brand marketing suggests people look for themselves in the story your organization communicates, and that means creating human-centered communication that makes the constituent the hero of their own story. This is a substantial shift for an industry of social good that typically places the helpful nonprofit as the protagonist of the story.

Community Voice is Market Research – Will your messaging land with the people you hope to attract? This isn’t a space to use guesswork – just ask! Test marketing to get messaging right is commonplace when focusing on volunteers and donors, and the same is true for the people your organization wants to serve. The learnings here are likely to be powerful – the behavioral health impacts of poverty, the damage done by deficit framing, the roles of proximity and interconnectedness – and will provide a far more nuanced understanding of how best to build more trusting relationships (and the communication efforts that will make that possible).

Authenticity in Storytelling – Our work with clients has often focused on how to harness storytelling to advance organizational goals. It is an activity where authenticity and intentionality are so important, but also so often not employed to create positive experiences for everyone involved. In our session, we review the the concept of asset framing vs. deficit framing and unpack why people may be reluctant to have their story told in the first place.

Helen and I look forward to seeing you for the webinar tomorrow, or for any of our upcoming sessions on the practical uses of community voice to advance social good outcomes. We will discuss these themes and more with an eye toward ensuring that the communities we aim to serve are centered in all aspects of our work.

Interested in having our team introduce the principles of community voice for your staff team, board, volunteers or grantees? Please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.