Are you serving up guilt or potential?

As a reader of this blog, you realize the importance (and value) of a well-crafted message. But do you realize the importance of the HOW you package up your message?

There are many angles at our disposal. Our visuals and content can be funny, quirky, upbeat or solemn. It can also be inspirational and even manipulative.

Yup, manipulative. Seen those commercials by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, aka, the ASPCA in the States? The ones with the abused animals looking at you like you’re the only who can save them? The ones that make you sob and reach for the tissues? That’s using guilt to make you reach for your wallet after you’re done with the tissues.

Based on the fact that some organizations continue to spread on the guilt, the guilt perspective must work for them.

Another messaging perspective focuses on potential, using imagery of hope and positive outcomes instead of gut-wrenching pictures and tear-jerking music to inspire audiences to donate. A local Washington animal shelter, PAWS, uses words and visuals that imply we can be part of a beautiful relationship. We’ll get something out of donating or adopting a pet—a warm fuzzy glow or a warm fuzzy friend. Contrast this with the ASPCA who makes it seem like the poor animals will continue a life of filth and abuse if you don’t donate, and it’s all you and your mocha habit’s fault.  (Yes, yes, you’re seeing my personal bias come through here.)

Both guilt and potential can drive engagement. Using either also reflects who you are as an organization. Your values and your personality. For better or for worse.

What ultimately inspires people to volunteer and donate can’t be pinned down to one factor–but having a well-defined message helps immensely. And HOW you deliver your message says a lot about what you believe.

Visit these organization’s sites and then rate their messaging below on the Guilt-Potential Continuum!

  1. ASPCA
  2. PAWS
  3. a child’s right
  4. Plan
  5. National Coalition for the Homeless
  6. National Alliance to End Homelessness

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The Consistently Compelling Seattle Aquarium: How Do They Do It?

Being consistently compelling is key when it comes to creating a lasting connection with your supporters. It’s what makes good brands great. It helps you stand out from the crowd and keep you at the forefront of people’s minds. It’s also really hard—especially when you have so many audiences and channels to juggle!

That’s why we wanted to interview Marsha Savery, Director of Marketing for the Seattle Aquarium. Whether it’s a billboard on the side of the road or an octopus in a glass tank, the Seattle Aquarium is consistently compelling no matter the setting. We were lucky enough to get Marsha’s tips on how they work their magic.

© Seattle Aquarium 2011
  1. Be able to clearly describe your brand: Marsha describes the Seattle Aquarium’s brand as clean, consistent, family friendly and professional. The graphics are very strong and vary according to the Aquariums’ three main audiences: families in the tri-county region with children under twelve, volunteers and donors.
  2. Have a common thread: The Director has the final say on visuals, which for families are tailored to be fun, vibrant artwork. Graphics for volunteers are photographs of the ocean and fish, and those geared towards donors are photos of the ocean, children and marine wildlife. The thread that keeps the visuals consistent is the Aquarium’s message of preserving marine wildlife, which is embedded in all they do.
  3. Have one conductor: Many people create content throughout the organization, but when it comes down to it, Marsha manages to make sure it all works in concert—social media, web content, billboard graphics, etc. The message never gets diluted because she keeps all the pieces working together. Even advertising done by an outside agency, as for the Aquarium’s summer outdoor ads, is managed solely by her.
Marsha’s biggest piece of advice–especially for smaller non-profits–is to have well-designed materials and messages!
She recommends reevaluating your organization’s messaging, including the graphics, as well as your logo. For the materials, preferably have them done by a marketing or graphics professional. While organizations are often pressed for money, having a pro craft your materials will go a long way to helping your image.
“I think non-profits should find someone they trust who can give them advice on how to present themselves in a polished manner. It’s so important to look like you’ve got your act together so somebody may help fund you. And graphics can do that.”
Marsha isn’t alone in being a fan of a strong logo. A Child’s Right felt so strongly about it that they have a full-time designer on staff, something the Chronicle of Philanthropy picked up on in their recent article on the organization.
Thanks to Marsha for telling us how we can all be consistently compelling!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?