Editor’s Note: In 2023 we’re going to introduce several guest bloggers. This blog post on empathy and communications was written by Marissa Latshaw, creator of the Empathetic Positioning Process. If you’re interested in being a guest blogger, let us know.
When you look around your organization, you likely see people who are remarkably empathetic. After all, they chose to devote their time and talents to your mission, not a potentially higher paying, profit-driven enterprise. The question for today’s nonprofit leaders:
Are you harnessing your team’s empathy to deepen connections and inspire actions that lead to better results? We’re all born with a capacity for empathy — an ability to feel, understand, and respond to the feelings of others — and like a muscle, it gets stronger with use. Whether you’re serving donors, program participants, partners, or employees (or all of the above), this question of harnessing empathy is essential if you’re looking to broaden your organization’s reach, strengthen connections, and inspire the actions that lead to growth and results.
However, most leaders aren’t fully harnessing all of the empathy that lives in their organization. The reason is simple: they don’t have the systems in place. Instead, empathy tends to live as a one-to-one exchange between individuals who show strong listening, understanding, and compassion. Empathy rarely makes its way to the level of the organization’s internal and external communications.
Instead, communications across marketing channels can become redundant, uninspired, and tired — they can completely miss the mark of sparking a connection that makes people want to engage more deeply with your work and mission. Further, as communicators and marketing professionals increasingly rely on AI tools like ChatGPT, the need for true human empathy will become even more essential for organizations that are doing important, mission-driven work.
Getting systematic about empathy in marketing & communications
Meaningful change happens when the right systems are in place to do things at a greater scale. This is as true for infusing empathy in your marketing as it is for deploying a new CRM or accounting software. Below are the steps you can take to bring more empathy into your marketing and communications.
Set the intention with your entire team
Regardless of how your organization is structured, organizational communications are usually not contained within a silo. Everyone, regardless of their role, directly or indirectly influences the way marketing and communications connect with the people you serve. Opening the conversation about empathy with your entire team helps to orient the work that comes next.
Identify the people you serve
Who do you serve? Asking this question always prompts a variety of responses — board members, employees, volunteers, donors, program participants, etc. This exercise not only illuminates your many audiences, it demonstrates how different people in your organization have different perspectives on who your organization serves, based on their role and experience. Asking this question cracks open the opportunity for deeper conversation about who you’re looking to inspire to take action in the months and years ahead — and how communications and marketing can support the outcomes you desire.
Bring more voices to the table
For better or worse, communication planning often involves setting strategies and trying different tactics to see what works. These planning decisions are typically influenced by a combination of past experience, anecdotal conversations, survey responses, and data. For a variety of reasons, including limited resource capacity, organizations don’t prioritize systematically bringing more voices to the table. Through a series of intentional conversations, one-on-one or in groups, your team can learn what is on people’s minds right now — their goals, needs, and values and how your organization can best serve them. Bringing the outcomes of these conversations back to the group in a systematic, unbiased way raises the entire organization’s understanding of and empathy for the people that you serve.
An empathy deficit
America, and arguably the world, faces an empathy deficit. Evidence of this can be found without much effort: strained race relations, threats to women’s healthcare, minimization of LGBTQ rights, climate change denial, increased gun violence, corporate and political greed that benefit few, and the list goes on. Nonprofit organizations are unique in their ability to bring more empathy to the world. The people drawn to nonprofit work are among the most empathetic of all of us. When leaders systematically harness this empathy in their organizations, they can have an even more powerful impact on the lives of the people they serve and the greater world around us.
About our guest author
Marissa Latshaw is a marketing leader, organizational empathy consultant, creator of the Empathetic Positioning Process and founder at Latshaw Marketing. She works with mission-driven organizations to activate empathy to create brands, products, and messages that inspire action. Her specialties include qualitative audience research, brand positioning, content strategy, and marketing planning.