This is the first in a four-part series of posts on the challenges of 'marketing your impact' as a social enterprise, charity or purpose-driven organisation. In this piece: why communicating impact can feel hard to make time for, and how to start breaking down the process.
A vision's an intoxicating thing. It can bring together people, campaigns, movements. A good vision can have a purity and a neatness to it. Especially if you've somehow managed to capture it in a sentence or two.
The experience of pursuing a vision is, as found by anyone who has ever tried to pursue anything, a bit different. That's not about the world always being messier than we think (though it usually is). It's about the perspective you have before you begin something, and the one you have once you're in it.
The effort that goes into finding a name, creating a logo, telling your story or making a website can be all-consuming - and then, once it's all up and running, the attention turns elsewhere.
For a while, the energy of that initial work can carry the communications along quite happily. You see it in new social enterprises and visionary startups, where the founder's story or the newness of the idea generates excitement and visibility and goodwill.
But at some point the question bubbles up - how's it going? What difference are you actually making?
Mind the gap
Not only does it become messier once you're doing the thing you said you'd do - you're usually much busier too.
It's a kind of double blow. The reality is complicated AND you've less room to focus on how to communicate it. For many organisations, big and small, that's a perfect recipe for communications standstill.
Those expressing the loftiest ambitions may feel it most acutely. The gap between your goal - "a world without [insert injustice]" - and the reality of what you've been able to achieve so far might feel overwhelming.
Even when your goals are less epic, the needs of those now involved in your work - staff, customers, beneficiaries, partners - may start to weigh against one another.
Take, for instance, retail social enterprises, where staff are drawn from a particular background - ex-offenders, refugees, people experiencing a mental health issue. The customer may or may not care about who's producing the thing they're buying. It might be a positive selling point, or none at all. Meanwhile the individual staff member might be quite happy for their background to be known, to their customers and to anyone else. Or not.
It can be tricky. And yet, assuming you've helped someone somewhere, there will be impact stories begging to be told. Stories that might be the thing that allows you to deepen relationships, reach new audiences and grow towards the bigger ambition.
What to do?
Break it down & reconnect
There are no prizes for reinventing the wheel.
Breaking it down to its simplest components, the challenge of marketing your impact can be met with the same cyclical process that we would apply elsewhere.
Understand - check in on what matters to the people impacted by your work
Plan - with new insight, guided by your purpose
Do - put stories of your impact into the world
Review - be curious about how they're received
Amid the clutter of business-as-usual, the way forward is less about piling on more work, and more about remembering and making space for the process.
Coming next, part 2: Who cares? Reconnecting with the people who matter to you.
lonely blue boat by Flickr user Kyle Post, reproduced under CC-BY-2.0.