By Jeff Falcusan
When you hear the expression “tooting your own horn,” does it carry a negative connotation? When individuals engage in over-the-top self-promotion, it can of course come off as tone-deaf or obnoxious. At the same time, if are worried about what others will think of us if we make a point of articulating our value, how can we ever expect to be recognized for our contributions? The same goes for organizations. Effective nonprofit leaders are skilled at convincingly and unabashedly communicating the objectives and promoting the accomplishments of their organizations to decision makers.
During my years as a policy analyst in Washington, DC, I had the good fortune of working closely with a congressional relations professional with decades of experience representing membership associations on Capitol Hill. My colleague was fond of reminding audiences that a simple mantra (apparently derived from ancient advice handed down by Aristotle) guided his efforts to describe our organization, its members’ contributions, and our legislative objectives: “Tell them, tell them again, and then tell hem what you told them.”
This philosophy was not about mindless, empty repetition of boilerplate soundbites. Hammering the same audience with the same message using the same words over and over again is a recipe for being tuned out. Instead, my colleague understood that cultivating awareness of and buy-in for our organization and its policy agenda required a practiced persistence.
Take advantage of every opportunity to get in front of decision makers who can provide support for your organization or its goals, always have something positive to say about your organization that is rooted in data and real-world accomplishments, and stay on the look-out for chances to repeat the process as many times as possible (including with the same audience) to refine and adapt your message and improve your effectiveness at delivering it.
Decision makers, whether they are legislators, funders, or even dues-paying members, have finite time and resources. By creating awareness, building up your organization’s reputation for effectiveness, and staying top of mind, you will contribute toward positioning your organization for success.