Helping Nonprofits Communicate

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Know Your Audience: A Message for All

I teach writing and literature to high school students at a nontraditional educational co-op one day each week. In class I reiterate many of the same points I tell our nonprofit clients: be concise, vary your sentence structure, proofread your work and use proper grammar. One of the most important lessons I teach my students and encourage my clients to do is to know their audience and write in a way that resonates with them.

This came up last semester more naturally than I could have ever hoped. The class was to write a how-to essay on any topic they chose. Before class was dismissed we thought through what each student would write about and the steps they’d include.

One student wanted to write instructions on how to use an iPod. As he read out his steps he was soon interrupted by another student who piped up from the back of the room, “Well, how do I know which end of the cord to plug in to the computer and which end into the iPod? What if I don’t know what a USB port is? What if I haven’t downloaded iTunes yet? What if I’m my grandmother and I’ve never owned an iPod before?”

I let the two of them talk it out before I pointed out that knowing who your audience is and writing in a way that addresses them directly is always important. I encouraged each of them to think about for whom they were writing (besides me, the one who was grading their papers). We talked about the differences of writing iPod instructions for a 15 year-old and an 80 year-old.

Do you ever share your expertise in a how-to format with your customers and/or potential clients? Do you ever stop to think about all the information they will need to be successful? What did your organization wish it knew when it was just starting out to make it more of a success faster?

When you’re writing for your served population or donors, figure out exactly for whom you’re writing and then meet them where they are. That’s good advice from my high school students when I couldn’t have said it better myself.

–Betsy

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