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Giving New Life to the "Same Old"

by Nancy Schwartz

The human instinct to respond to the new and unusual is something that we as communicators have to work around. How do we best engage our audiences on a subject that's not new - a fundraising appeal for an existing program; an overview brochure on a service organization that's been around for fifty years, with pretty much the same focus; or marketing services that we've offered for over a decade?

I've been doing a lot of thinking on this issue and was amazed when my rabbi sermonized on the same topic last Saturday. We had just witnessed a wonderful adult bat mitzvah (a Jewish coming of age ceremony, usually undertaken at age 13 but one that can be studied for at any point later in life if it was missed at 13). As a follow-up, the rabbi talked about the power of opportunities (like a bat mitzvah) that enable us to look at things in a new way. He ran through the list of occasions bar or bat mitzvah, new year or month, birthday, anniversary, religious new year as well as changes in job, family, location - that enable us to see things differently, to re-orient ourselves.

Since such occasions do not always occur naturally, we have to motivate ourselves to look at our organizations or clients in a new way so that we are able to communicate in a fresher (and more relevant) way. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Put yourself in your listeners' shoes. Think about the background they have and the information they need to understand what you're doing and why it's important to them. Talk to your audiences to get the real story. Convene a focus group and/or interview some of your constituents to ensure that you are aware of their current perspectives on your organization, the work you do, and the field in which you work.

  • Look around at your world - be it clean water or women's health - and see what's changed and how your organization has responded to those changes.

  • Talk about results, rather than simply describing what you do. Not only can this be a refreshing change, it's also much more meaningful. Review your accomplishments and translate them into crisp, clear copy. Update your communications regularly with current accomplishments.

Copyright © 2002-2009 Nancy E. Schwartz. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author:

Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing and communications. As President of Nancy Schwartz & Company (, Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to organizations as varied as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Asian American Media, and Wake County (NC) Health Services.

Subscribe to her free e-newsletter "Getting Attention", ( and read her blog at for more insights, ideas and great tips on attracting the attention your organization deserves.

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