October 13, 2012

What does it mean to be inspiring?

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What does it mean to be inspiring? It's a question that I've been reflecting on, because "be inspiring" is a phrase we've been discussing with several nonprofits lately.

be-inspiringThis article was also published in Designer magazine from UCDA.More than any other element of communications, words (and how they are delivered) inspire us. The right words, shared at the right time, give meaning to individuals and groups that have an affinity for your cause. Words create an expectation of reality; anticipation for what is promised, hope for what is to come.

To be inspiring is to cast a vision for what the future will be, and that is what will be realized through the mission of your organization.

Words are powerful elements of alignment: key themes and messaging must be carefully selected and crafted to project the perception of your organization and the cause it represents. The words and phrases that are chosen (from the positioning statement, the tagline, and the words that represent the purpose, values, character and culture of the cause) are the phrases that you want your followers, ambassadors and advocates to share and to use in conversation about the cause.

Words, combined with powerful typography and memorable imagery, combine to evoke meaning, motivate people to action, and become a transformative catalyst that lead to changed thinking in the minds (and hearts) of those you're seeking to engage. We've said it before: changed thinking leads to changed behavior.

Consider the example of Team Lorain County, an independent economic development organization. Our research revealed (and was validated by the post-visit surveys), that site selectors characterized Lorain County as lazy, backwards, and a rust-belt region of the country. To project a positive perception of the county (and after research into what site selectors are looking for in a locale), we chose the phrases "welcoming, hard working, forward thinking, progressive and vibrant."

Herein lies the power of words: it may not seem like much, but as Team Lorain County integrated these phrases into their marketing and presentations, perceptions began to change. This was most evident when the post-visit surveys show that site selectors were now beginning to use those same words in their descriptions of the county and their visit.

Every interaction, from the words that are read, spoken or heard, must be positive and make an individual want to be a participant in the future that is promised, and the change that is aspired to. To inspire is to evoke meaning in the lives of a follower. When an individual understands that their values align with your organization's values, and the cause it represents, their participation gives them more than an opportunity to be involved – it gives them a story to share, it gives them a point of connection, and ultimately personal meaning.

Your organization must be inspiring, because people want a cause to believe in. Choose your words well, and they will motivate people to follow, to donate to, advocate for – and to believe in – your cause. Inspire them, and they will be motivated and they will be engaged. Inspire them and they will become more than advocates and donors – they will become believers. The first place to instill the sense of inspiration is in the board of directors – those individuals who have committed first and foremost to the success of the organization – and who must be the ambassadors that come to mind when your organization is mentioned.

Why are believers important? Volunteers and donors will give of their time and their money, advocates will be engaged in promoting the cause – but believers will do all of these sacrificially. Believers become ambassadors, who will represent your organization wherever they are, because their values align with those of the cause. Believers will follow wherever the organization leads, and will support your cause when you've inspired them to action, and gives them meaning by being a participant.

The world is watching, and it is asking: "Do you want me engaged? Inspire me!"

This article was republished in Designer magazine, a publication of UCDA (University and College Designer's Association).

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