The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

What to do – and avoid – when people ignore your message

Imagine this. You’ve had a bad day at work. For months, you’ve been trying to persuade everyone to recycle. No one is complying. In frustration, you send out a mass email. “Only 5% of staff is putting paper in the recycling bins. We need to do better,” you say.

Bad move.

Why? When we are deciding whether to do something, we typically look to see what others are doing (“social proof”). As Robert Cialdini has thoroughly documented, we’re compliant creatures. If we see everyone else is ignoring the recycling bins, we’ll ignore them too.

If you lament that no one is listening, no one will listen. By emphasizing inaction, you discourage the very behaviors you’re seeking.

If you want action, make people feel they are are part of something positive: “We’re aiming for 100% of paper recycled by Friday – and we’re on our way there.”

If you’re at a nonprofit that’s attracted hundreds of donations when you wanted thousands, don’t say, “Fewer people have supported our cause this year. So many kids are going without lunch. We really need your help.”

Say: “Your donation will provide a school lunch to Jason every day this year. Join the hundreds of donors supporting kids like him.”

Here are three tips for turning your frustration over what isn’t working into a message that compels action – instead of more inaction.

1. The number one thing you can do to overcome resistance is to celebrate and publicize the people who are taking action. It will help inspire the ones who aren’t.

2. If you don’t have enough people to highlight, try getting just one – preferably a person who people respect (or who has authority). Ask that person to explain why he or she is taking action. Maybe you’re not the best messenger and that person would be better.

3. Last, if you can’t succeed on those fronts, try to convert just regular one person. Then ask that person to explain why they changed their mind. Converted skeptics are the most motivating of any messenger for the people who have failed to act. The people who aren’t on your side are more likely to relate to someone who once felt like them.

Bottom line? Accentuate the positive if you want a positive reaction.

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About This Blog

Connie Poulos
Senior Associate, Copywriter

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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