As Robert Matthews says in this month's Science Focus Magazine:
"...even the most rock-solid phenomena can turn to mush when you try to explain them."
Now, I am sure Professor Brian Cox would have a great go at explaining the concept of magnetism or what time is and I would have a possible chance of understanding it... to a point. But if I didn't understand what he was saying whose fault would it be?
What the article went on to explain though and what really did resonate with me as someone who for a living has sent out communications to people about international development; disability, and war & conflict - possibly subjects that they have never had personal or direct experience of, is the point that it isn't necessarily the fault of the person explaining it - not entirely - it could be that the person / people you are explaining it to just doesn't have the knowledge to relate to what is being said to them.
This is borne out quite well by the fact that children will constantly ask' Why?' when you have answered their question or rather think you have!
Why am I banging on about the effectiveness of explanation is that it's our role often to relay complex information to people in a way that they will relate to - so we have to be even more aware of this point. Obviously. Thus a timely reminder.
As fundraisers and marketeers - we should know the importance of understanding our audience. The old adage of 'keep it simple stupid' is actually not patronising but actually helpful. As Jeff Brooks points out, his approach is to write in a reading level of 4th to 6th Grade, he has this useful tool to help you - but essentially it is about helping your supporters to understand rather than building in barriers.
The other side of it is about us understanding our own causes in a way that it can be conveyed in a meaningful way to the people we are communicating to. As fundraisers we need to ensure we spend time with our programme staff to gain an understanding of the work and then work to translate that in a way the person reading or hearing it will understand it enough to make the decision to do what you have asked.
Obvious tips include:
1. Avoid jargon and acronyms
2. Don't worry too much about explaining the process - people tend to care about outcomes not necessarily how you got there
3. Read or share copy with family or friends to see if they understand it. As much as we try to remain neutral and focused on our role as fundraisers, after a while you are commenting on copy or creative from a position of knowing. Someone completely outside of your organisation will help be the objective voice
4. Get to know your donors and supporters - even if that is looking at the complaints, the white mail that comes back or call listening opportunities or taking supporter care calls - all are useful ways to get insight and certainly have value if you don't have budget for full research.
5. Try to build in something that could be familiar to the reader...even if it is the way you start the letter or leaflet or how you relay the story you are telling.
None of this is rocket science or quantum theory in this case - but the importance of communication and effective explanation and understanding relies on both parties. It would just be wise to not make too many assumptions.
Thanks as ever for stopping by.