The last few years, I've noticed that there seem to be more and more commercials that I just don't get. It's not that I'm naive or unusual in any way, it's just that those commercials weren't developed with me in mind.

The makers of these commercials have realized that if they try to speak to everyone, they'll end up with a message that doesn't resonate with anyone (= no return on investment).

Nonprofits have been realizing that too as they continue to refine and focus their message. It's not about reaching everyone. It's about reaching the right people.

So how do you know who the right people are? LIA is a great place to start (hint: that stands for Linkage Ability and Interest). Here's a little more:

  • Linkage. Most gifts to organizations do not come from strangers. They come from people who are connected to, or linked to, your organization in some way. An exercise I will often do with clients is to draw a target – then fill in the groups of people who are connected to the organization. Board members and volunteers are typically the closest. The clients themselves, family members, vendors, companies that might benefit indirectly from what you do and the community around your physical location are some categories that might apply to your organization. Spend some time on this exercise. If your organization is in a start-up phase, you'll probably want to focus on specific people, foundations and companies rather than try and look at groups of people.
  • Ability. The next question is, does this individual (or company or other group) have the ability to make a gift to your organization at the level you will be asking for. This can be accomplished with a focus group – maybe some members of your board with some additional community leaders – or through paid research. There are ‘prospect researchers’ who can compile a portfolio of information about each of your potential donors (I'll be hosting a free webinar on March 20th that will provide more information about this). In addition, there are companies that will complete a ‘wealth screening’ to help you identify people in your current donor pool who have the ability to give larger gifts.
  • Interest. Do they have any interest in your cause? Just because they are connected and have the ability doesn’t mean that they’re interested. If you're seeking major gifts, you’ll likely be meeting with people individually to help determine whether your organization is the right one to fulfill the donor’s philanthropic goals. If it’s not a good fit, they might know others who would be (don’t forget to ask that question). With overall giving programs, social media has given us new ways to let potential givers express interest in our cause. Facebook pages, Twitter, LinkedIn pages, Causes, etc. If you’re looking at purchasing a list, be sure that you’re narrowing it beyond wealth indicators (i.e. a ministry might want to focus in on people who have contributed to other religious causes or an environmental group might want to focus in on people who have subscribed to environmental-related publications.

Easy, right? Well, simple at least. Linkage. Ability. Interest.

Who comes to mind? What do they have in common? Is there a person who, in your mind, best represents that group? If so, as you're writing and developing materials, keep that person in mind. In fact, pretend like you're writing specifically to that person. It will help you sound more conversational and personal - and it will help you communicate more effectively with your target audience.

Will this change how you're communicating? Please let me know what adjustments you're planning on making in the comments below.