How to Write a Message that Resonates

I’m going to be honest: 90% of what I read irritates me. Here’s why.

My early career was spent writing press releases and building community support for a battered women’s shelter. The three years I spent learning about domestic violence, public relations, and messaging were some of the best years of my life so far.

I spent time working within the walls of our shelter, coaching women and children as they rebuilt lives free of violence, but most of my work was spent outside the shelter, talking with high-profile figures in our community who had an agenda that could align with ours, or alternately writing profiles about dozens of unique individuals who had chosen to support our cause in their own ways – the grandmother who donated a game of Chutes and Ladders or the second grader who chose to tithe her weekly allowance as a donation.

And it got results. I built an ongoing relationship with another non-profit who sends volunteers with a donated box truck to pick up donations when individuals weren’t able to bring them in (that means we stopped tens of thousands of dollars of donations from going to other non-profits).

I met with state representatives and senators to talk about legislation that would have an impact on our survivors and our work. I got several thousand dollars worth of grant funding.

Because our message was solid. I will eternally be indebted to my boss because she taught me how to write a message that sells. She taught me how to tell our story – sell our story – and the stories of others in an effective and meaningful way – the way that tugs at heartstrings and gets an entire community to mobilize.

So when I see people building their platforms on ineffective messages, I get irritated. You’re not doing your cause justice. You’re not building a community. You’re not moving anything forward. You’re not making progress. 

Rough and tough start-up organizations

I was in a board meeting for a community service organization that, at the time, mostly focused on hosting fundraisers and cutting checks. Our annual budget was approximately $30,000, and our overhead was tiny. We sent a lot of money back out into the community.

During this particular board meeting, we had a guest speaker who ran an anti-human trafficking organization. Just two weeks prior, our small town had been the focus of some federal agencies because of a human trafficking situation, so it was appropriate timing.

We gave her the floor for nearly 10 minutes. She spent about three of them talking about her qualifications to run her organization. She had earned two graduate degrees and had some experience running previous non-profits and working with victims of human trafficking. This portion of her speech felt more like she was defending her ‘right’ to her position than telling us about what she actually did.

The next 7 minutes involved her talking about her day-to-day operations and the struggles she was facing. Essentially, she had a small, nearly invisible office in the main shopping district of our town, outfitted with fliers and pamphlets that provided a lot of information on what human trafficking is and how prevalent it is, even in our country, especially in our state.

Her organization was hemorrhaging money because fliers were expensive to print and she had no real way of raising funds. She ran her office for 8 hours a day, and then went home to work on everything she did to pay bills. She was exhausted. She was broke. She wasn’t getting anywhere.

None of these things are good. None of this paints a good picture. She didn’t tell us what any of our money could do to end human trafficking. We were left with the impression that we could either keep her overly-expensive and relatively useless office open for another couple months or enable her to print more fliers that didn’t really seem to offer much value. Sign me up.

We ended up cutting a check for $250 and wished her the best of luck. We never talked about her, her cause, or her organization again.

Internet vegans get aggressive

One of the major bits of YouTube drama going on right now is Cassey Ho of Blogilates going up against Freelee the Banana Girl and her following (who are notorious for pulling the same stunt with at least a dozen other people at this point). There are thousands of people who are already talking about this if you’re interested. 

Here’s my issue: attacking people doesn’t get results. I can only guess that they are attempting to publicly humiliate people into submission, which isn’t effective – especially not with high-profile people. 

I also see a lot of truly disturbing rhetoric surrounding the vegan movement. They use words like torture, abuse, and rape. 

I realize why. These are powerful words that conjure up emotions. But the emotions are disgust, anger, and fear. Those feelings don’t inspire people. They don’t empower people. They make people shut down, stop listening, and run away. 

(And I’m going to ignore how insanely problematic and disturbing it is to use the word “rape” to describe anything other than literal rape, because if I don’t, I might blow a gasket.)

Here’s the bottom line

If you’re going to get people to support your cause or your organization, you have to show them what that support is going to provide. If you’re asking for $250, illustrate exactly how that $250 is going to stop someone from being sold into human trafficking. 

If you’re going to get people to care about the environment, show them what the world could look like if everybody started to recycle. 

If you’re going to get people to stop eating meat and drinking milk, stop talking about rape and start showing them how your life has improved since you made that choice for yourself. 

Empower people. Paint a good picture. Inspire them. Encourage them. Tell them how easy it is – and how much you’ve benefited. Ask them to save the world with you. Don’t show them how gross the world is or talk about how you’ve failed so far. 

Do it justice. Make it resonate. 

Our message

If you’re wondering what story we told – what story we sold – at the shelter, it was all about hope. 

We didn’t use images of black eyes and broken bones. We tried to avoid the 1 in 4 statistic. We didn’t talk about the economic cost of abuse or what happens to children who grow up in broken homes. Because people aren’t stupid. They know that already. They know abuse is bad. They know a woman might be getting dragged within inches of death by her husband just a few doors down. 

But they don’t know what to do about it. Know who does? A shelter. 

We asked for people to support the victims and survivors of domestic violence. We asked for people to invest in our community and help women and their children rebuild lives free of violence. We talked about empowerment, freedom, happiness, hope, and love. 

Because people want to love other people. People will give $20 if it means putting a roof over a single mom’s head for a few nights. People will give $10 to feed a family of four for a day. They’ll volunteer to paint the entire shelter or pick up donations or build shelves if they know that there’s a beautiful life for someone right around the corner – literally and figuratively. 

Sell your story. 

2 comments on “How to Write a Message that Resonates”

  1. Michelle Reply

    I love this post, Michael! So well said. That sounds like both a worthy cause and great experience working for the shelter. I started my career working in non-profit too, for hospice care, and did a bit of grant application writing too. Not to the extent of really networking in the community though. Anyway I love the message you are selling with this post. Storytelling is an integral part of content marketing nowadays, especially as the internet is saturated with content. You’ve really got to stand out by selling your message, like you describe here. Show, not tell. 🙂

    Very insightful!

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Thanks! That means a lot, especially coming from someone who focuses on this for a living! I really, really miss working for a non-profit and waking up with a mission every morning.

      But we’ve all gotta pay the bills somehow.

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