Let Them Hear You (At The Right Time)by Carl Sylvestre

From the moment we wake up, it often seems that everyone wants our attention and to influence our next action. Every organization expects people to know that they are providing an invaluable service and know that the competition is fierce. How do you get ahead of these competitors?

A starting place is to apply the fine art of strategic communication. This is the process by which an organization develops, presents and reevaluates the message that is being sent out to an identifiable shareholder group. Effective communication is achieved through careful planning. The subject itself has been and will continue to be the source of endless conversations. This commentary is to remind us that sending a great message at the wrong time is equivalent to not having sent it at all. In communication, efficiency is key, and it is all in the timing.

Fundraisers know that an important time to solicit donations is the end of the year. It is the time of holiday cheer, the “feel good” feeling of giving, year-end bonuses and the important tax incentive. Thanks to the calendar, it is a perfect match. But many organizations are not giving much thought to maximizing the return from that moment and get ahead of the competition. The film industry is now working on its game plan for the 2012 summer blockbusters, yet for many organizations the discussion for year-end giving appeals takes place sometime between Labor Day and Halloween due the thinking that the world changes too fast for them to plan. Imagine the difference it would make if you start thinking today about the message that you want people to retain a year from now. Why are previews on movie screens months before the release date and why are songs accidently leaked months before an album is released? It is our nature to crave a developing story and be among the first to know.

An appeal should be the end of a long process. It is a culmination of everything that we have been working on. As you are sending out appeals the big question to consider is, have you earned the right to make “the ask”? How much time have you spent in educating your shareholders, increasing their appetite, helping them understand what you do to make them your partners? A letter throughout the year and the occasional newsletter is only a start. The tools that we have at our disposal are multiplying fast – Facebook is of the moment, there are others in the pipeline. The courtesy of making a “thank you” call is still as effective as ever. Think about using these tools in a sequence to get the maximum return on your desired goals.

Do you know the message that you would like your supporters to retain at any given time? Are you communicating with them on your timeline or theirs? Is the year-end appeal the most optimal time to ask for support? Why do we think that everyone behaves and make the decisions in a unified framework? The answers are sometimes not so simple and there is always something more to do in nurturing relationships.

As you will soon start a New Year filled with uncertainty, now is the time to consider what message you want to convey, when to roll out that message and to whom. It happens one step at a time and the timing is key. What are your big ideas for 2010? Write them down, plot them, and share them. Let them hear you.

I wish all of you the best in your endeavors for the New Year.