What Did You Mean By That? The Importance of Clarity

clarityHow we say it and what we say will determine the scope of our reach, the strength and connectivity of the messages that we craft and communicate, and ultimately the measure of our success on the ground.

By Avrum Lapin

Years ago I had a colleague who, after an explanation of a concept or a plan would invariably ask “what do you mean by that?” always asking for clarification and repetition. While that was often the source of a chuckle back then, it brings to mind today the importance of clarity in the work that we do every day.

As consultants to leading edge organizations, and innovators in the nonprofit sector, our team deals daily with and focuses our attention, and that of others, on the importance of clarity.

In our daily work with philanthropists, campaign leaders and decision makers, there is an imperative to always be clear regarding expectations, tasks, deliverables, messaging and communication, complications and difficulties being dealt with and to be avoided, and of course, working the plan and always charting the next steps in a major fundraising activity.

Our capability to clearly articulate guidance, the sequencing of activity, and general and particular direction of a multi-faceted campaign, is key to meeting and exceeding targets. Further, and equally important, it minimizes pitfalls, keeps facts as the effective currency, and ultimately determines the measure of fundraising success.

Our credibility and effectiveness as leaders and guides is centered on speaking truth to power – often boldly. While in some circumstances it comes with inherent risk it is the best strategy when encountering with the inevitable “peaks and valleys” of an extended and multi-faceted initiative.

We must never assume, as Jack Nicholson did in “A Few Good Men” that others “can’t handle the truth,” and that information must be “spun” or sanitized in some way in order for it to be digested. Quite the contrary. Philanthropists and decision makers can and must hear the truth, of course presented in an appropriate, courteous and professional manner. Our believability as ethical and successful leaders, facilitators, guides, motivators, inspirers, and cheerleaders is contingent on always being taken at our word. Lost credibility equals losses all around.

Clarity is also key when guiding all levels of lay and professional leaders and campaign teams, not just interacting with top echelons. Individuals who hold important positions should feel that their time and efforts are valued and that they receive the necessary guidance, information and support to get the job done.

And then comes the dreaded distraction, the thing that haunts every campaign and which inserts itself into a campaign dynamic or activity and often, if left unchecked, blossoms into an obstacle or a road block. This can take the form of a tool used by naysayers wanting to slow down the momentum of a campaign or to end it, or to external factors that enter sideways into organizational business or a campaign activity and with the potential to bring things to a halt.

This could be a factor in building or renovation campaigns where the timing of building plans or architectural renderings can be out of sync or on a parallel track with the fundraising initiative. Care must be taken to ensure that planning remains coordinated and that the various “trains” advancing on those parallel tracks proceed together, or at least as close as is possible.

Clarity is fundamental when framing and presenting the “Case” and campaign message to a donor community across all levels of giving, outside of the circle of leadership. This is perhaps the task, built upon the prior two points, that is most critical. Getting “out of the bubble” and into the real world is where good planning, coupled with transparency, almost always pays off.

And success in clearly communicating to donors and eliciting the expected and necessary funding response is predicated on listening. We must be expert at putting information out into the public square, gathering response and then working, based on data, intelligence, anecdotal information, previous experience, etc. to guide the understanding of the information and translating that into a connective message that will make a successful fundraising campaign possible.

Successful fundraising professionals know that every leading organization is always investing today in what will happen tomorrow and yes, in the success of the next campaign. Therefore, the critical and sustained effort must be made to build the organization’s brand, to find the right pathways to connect and vest the community to the message, and to put emphasis on not just raising the money, but on expanding and engaging an organization’s essential “community of interest.”

So to reiterate what I meant by all this, let me once again stress that clarity, accountability, and transparency are key to fundraising success. That holds true when we see and inspire “movers and shakers,” top echelon leaders, philanthropists and benefactors; when we work with and guide professional and lay leadership at all levels; and especially when stepping “out of the bubble” into the realm of donors and friends.

So in response to my former colleague, whom I worked with early in my career and with whom I have since lost contact, what we mean by our words is quite important. How we say it and what we say will determine the scope of our reach, the strength and connectivity of the messages that we craft and communicate, and ultimately the measure of our success on the ground.

My current colleagues and I welcome your comments and insights. Let us know what you think.

Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, a full service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading edge approaches and strategies. Avrum is a frequent contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

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