I stared blankly at my screen, unable to really comprehend or believe what I was seeing.
Poll after poll had ranked Donald Trump...Donald Trump!...as the front-runner for the Republican nomination for President.
Like many, I assumed this was a flash-in-the-pan lead. As soon as he had another dumb gaff, people would see him for what he is and move on.
But the gaffs came and went, yet his lead remained. It’s...mind-blowing.
What is it about this guy that makes him so impenetrable? He says horrifying things, insults his own party members, and constantly gloats about how rich he is. His fellow candidates do everything they can to tear him down. First they ignored him, then they engaged him, now they’re trying to ignore him again.
Yet he still enjoys a comfortable lead.
Then I figured it out.
While watching him on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, I realized that it wasn’t really his message that has garnered support. His supporters don’t really, truly agree with the horribly offensive comments he’s made.
It’s his authenticity.
In a world where money has flooded into politics and presidential campaigns have turned into multiple billion dollar industries, candidates have turned into sterilized, corporate entities. Everything they say is highly scripted, their looks sculpted, and appearances heavily controlled.
And just like billion dollar companies, efforts to connect with the “common man” often feel forced.
Whether we outwardly admit it or not, this inauthenticity registers in our minds and makes us feel like something is...off.
Trump has taken all the campaign conventional wisdom and thrown it out the window. It’s a big risk that would either pay-off big or fail spectacularly. So far, it’s the former.
It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
The lesson to be learned here is that your message, to be quite frank, is often far less important than the delivery. And delivery need not be polished and follow all the rules. It just needs to be authentic.
The cynic would take this as a sign of the end-times. It doesn’t matter what you say? We can say horrendous, awful things, but as long as it’s authentic people will still like us?
What has this world come to?
But I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.
Rather, we should view it as an opportunity to garner support, even with supposedly “dull” messages.
During our last webinar on growing nonprofit audiences, we fielded multiple questions from attendees who felt like their missions were not relatable enough to the general public for them to build a large online audience.
First, I gotta say: give the general public more credit! If your mission is worth solving, you will find your tribe online.
Second, the Donald Trump School of Publicity tells us that a “boring” mission doesn’t really matter. Your delivery, passion, and authenticity are a far bigger indicator of success (for messaging) than what you think the public will be interested in.
The most relatable causes in the world have trouble attracting supporters if they sterilize their messaging and offer only stiff, polished delivery.
So how can you bring the a little Trump-style authenticity to your nonprofit communications? Albeit, in a slightly less...grating manner?
Speak Like a Human, Not a Robot
Many times, our communication messages go through so many levels of approval, editing, and perfecting that what comes out doesn’t sounds anything remotely like what real humans talk like. It’s polished, corporatized, fluff, and people will sense that from a mile away and tune out immediately.
Next time you want to send out a message to your supporters, think of it less as a letter and more like a simple conversation you’d have over coffee. One organization that does this extraordinarily well is Aspire Chicago, who often has their President and CEO, Jim Kales, give video tours of their various facilities. The videos are simple, no fancy editing required. Just Jim having a conversation with you about the work they’re doing. Simple and effective!
Share The Spotlight
Messaging and communications don’t need to be limited to leadership only. Give your volunteers, donors, program workers, interns, and most importantly your beneficiaries do some talking!
Give them a chance to communicate to your audience goes a long way in being authentic. If every public message comes from the filter of top-level leadership, it’s going to be hard for the public to feel like they’re really connecting with your cause.
If nothing you’re doing makes you pause and say “...You think this will work?” then you’re doing something wrong. Trying things that no one else has tried before, or that may be a bit on the edgy side, or that might not work. Playing it safe is a surefire way to be ignored by the public.
Take this quote from one of my favorite writers, Seth Godin: “If failure is not an option, then neither is success.” If all you’re doing is taking on tasks that guarantee yourself success, you’re cheating yourself out of a chance to be truly great.
Like him or not, Donald Trump has shown that the public craves authenticity from its leaders. Being an authentic voice goes a long way, even if the personality that comes along with it may be tough to swallow.