Tailoring the Message and the Ask
For each audience you have decided to target, adapt your core message to speak to the characteristics you identified and to what you hope they will do. The ideas behind your core message (your mission/vision) will not change, but the way you communicate it will. Demonstrating shared goals with the stakeholders you want to reach is essential for fortifying the other three components of the Action Guide – Building an Action Team, Mapping Assets, and Linking to the Policy Environment. This does not detract from your desire to help those who benefit from the programs; rather, it frames the discussion in a more effective, impactful way.
These questions will help guide what should be in your message:
- What are the key insights you learned about your audience?
- How does your initiative relate to their priorities?
- What type of information would be most effective? Data? Charts? Stories? Personal interview?
- What stories about your initiative would resonate with the audience? Focus on stories that demonstrate success and do not rely solely on developing sympathy for the recipients of the program.
- What proof can you provide them that they should agree with you? Can you back up your statements?
- What tone will work best? Are there terms and images that would be useful to include? Make sure you avoid jargon that they may not be familiar with.
- Which elements of your initiative will be most relevant?
- What general messages do you want your audiences to understand? You will not be able to tell everything, so pick what is most relevant to the interests and priorities of your audience.
When you chose your target audiences, you selected them for a reason. You thought that if they did something, it would help advance your goal. This could be changing their attitude, showing support at a meeting, or joining your coalition: What is it you want them to do? This is your “ask.” Whenever you communicate with your target audiences, you should have an “ask” in mind.
Be strategic and think carefully about your “asks” and how you phrase them. Be realistic and know your audience’s constraints. Your ask should be doable—such as considering a new idea, reading a fact sheet, keeping you informed, sharing information, or making an introduction. You may want to offer two options. For example, would you be willing to have me speak at the next board meeting or provide an article for your newsletter?
It is possible that you will have more than one ask; do not include them all into your initial message. Start with the easiest first and build on it, especially when you are reaching out to individuals.
Tips for writing asks and messages tailored for your target audience(s)
- As part of your strategy and plans, create specific messages and “asks” for each target audience so everyone knows them ahead of time and is using the same information for the same groups.
- Be prepared to alter your messages and asks to make them more effective or to recognize any changes in the environment.
- If you have the opportunity, test your message with your audience to see if it is framed in a manner that resonates with them and energizes them to do what you ask. Focus groups work well for this.
- With an individual, do not talk too much or give a lecture. State your purpose and ask what the other person thinks. The process of the “ask” is an opportunity to build a relationship if you let the other person talk and respond, so take into consideration both time and political constraints.
- With a group audience, identify possible doable actions that help people relate to initiatives happening in their community.
Possible asks include:
- Signing onto a statement of support or committing to write a letter
- Considering a new way of understanding an issue
- Reading some materials
- Speaking to friends and neighbors
- Attending an information session or meeting
- Changing regulations or a procedure
- Writing a feature or guest column in a newsletter
- Coordinating programs or services with your program
- Speaking out at a local or state legislative hearing
- Providing access to potential funders
- Introductions to key decision makers
- Invitations to key meetings
- Getting an item into the state or local budget
- Sponsoring legislation
If you have a number of targeted audiences, it might be useful to create a chart that lists your targeted audiences and the key insights, messages and asks you want to include for each audience so that everyone on the team is using the same information. A template is available in the resources section.
See the Tools and Resources section for worksheets/guidance on messages and asks.