Communication Nonprofits Social Media

On Organizational Communication to the Previously Disenfranchised

We're being deluged with announcements from organizations about their new programs to benefit people they have previously underserved, ignored, or outright disenfranchised. Many of these announcements are problematic. Here's why.

You can’t open your email this month without seeing a dozen announcements from organizations about their new programs to benefit people they have previously underserved, ignored, or outright disenfranchised.

And you can’t get onto social media without seeing comments about how tone-deaf, clueless, rote, and even offensive some of those announcements are.

This is sad. Why is it happening? Because, in their rush to look like good, enlightened organizations, very few of these groups have thought hard about what they were “giving” and even less about what the recipients might think of it. Often it looks as though the privileged organizational leadership threw together a program to make their (mostly privileged) members read the email and think “Thank God, they’re saying something and doing something. Whew, that’s over.”

This so does not work.

First of all, few of these organizations are consulting their historically underserved, ignored, and disenfranchised members to find out what, exactly, they would like from the organization. Which is, of course, once again ignoring these folks. And it’s resulting in “do good” programs that are poorly conceived and even some that are described using language that offends the proposed recipients. (If you’ve been ignoring people for years, how on earth would you know how to speak their language or how to craft a statement on a hugely complex and sensitive topic?)

Second, these announcements often turn out to be all about the beneficent organization and how much it has learned. Which may be true and worth saying, but the effect is that the leaders look like they are wildly patting themselves on the back. A synopsis of the email would read “Organization X is thrilled that they are going to do something enlightened!” O…K…

If your organization is absolutely intent on forging ahead with an announcement of a program that has been crafted quickly, with no involvement of the recipients (and this has you worried), there is a great way to find out how it will be received. Ask one of your members who is also a member of a recipient community to review the program and your announcement. (If you don’t feel comfortable asking for that feedback, that is a very serious sign you need to back up and start over.)

Obtaining some feedback may well send you back to the drawing board, but your next version of the program, and any announcements about it, will be far less likely to result in embarrassment.

The ideal announcement of a genuinely appropriate program will be one that a respected member of a recipient community would be comfortable making themselves. Which brings me to my final point: Why not ask a member of one of your recipient communities be the one to make your announcement? If that works out, instead of showing your organization’s leaders smugly patting themselves on the back, you’ll have a stakeholder publicly thanking your organization for taking a first step in the right direction.

Which do you think looks better?

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