012 – Website Messaging with Pam Lowney of Fistula Foundation

Writing website messaging that captures the attention of visitors doesn’t happen automatically. In this episode, Pam Lowney of Fistula Foundation comes on the show to discuss what nonprofits get wrong about their messaging, the difference between head and heart messaging, and the messaging framework she used during their web redesign.

Full Transcript

Spencer Brooks 00:05

Welcome to Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing, we’re a podcast for nonprofit marketing and communications leaders using the internet to reach and engage people with health issues. I’m your host Spencer Brooks of Brooks digital, a digital agency for health nonprofits. Today I’m joined by Pam Maloney. Pam is the Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Fistula Foundation. They’re a nonprofit that provides treatment for obstetric fistula, which is a childbirth injury that requires surgery to cure. So, Pam, I’m really excited to have you on the show today. I just have enjoyed our discussions leading up to this point. Could you just start by giving listeners a brief overview of who you are and what you do?

Pam Lowney 00:50

Yes, good morning, Spencer. I’m excited to be here. So, I, as you mentioned, I’m the Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Fistula Foundation. And we are focused on a very specific childbirth injury, called obstetric fistula, which occurs when a woman has an obstructed labor, and cannot access medical help like a C section. And it’s a pretty devastating injury. It impacts at least a million women in Africa and Asia. And it leaves women incontinent and often stigmatized and outcasts in their communities. And so, our organization is the largest provider of fistula repair surgery. We work with medical teams in 22 countries in Africa and Asia. And so, in my role in at the foundation, I broadly oversee communication strategy, and technology innovation.

Spencer Brooks 01:48

I was really impressed. Pam, when I first visited your website, actually, because I visit quite a lot of different websites in the health nonprofit space, you know, especially when I’m examining potential podcast guests and things like that. And I was actually struck number one by how well it was done, it looks great. And also, that the messaging of it was very, very clear. I think it’s always, for me a good indicator of when I hit a website, if I can really quickly understand and connect with Oh, yeah, this is, I see why this is a big issue. And so, it’s just a testament to your work. So, I said, well, of course, I’ve got to figure out who’s responsible for this and bring them on the show. So today, we’re actually want to dig into some of the stuff about your messaging, some of the stuff about your website redesign, which I understand you were responsible for. And so, could you just give me a sense of just take me back to the beginning and listeners back to the beginning? How did that redesign process start? And what are the some of the challenges that you’re facing and trying to solve with that redesign?

Pam Lowney 02:57

Yeah, so we launched the site in February 2020. And the last time the site had been redesigned was back in 2013. So, it had been seven years, which in the world of web communication is, is an eternity. And so, there are a lot of things we wanted to update. And we really saw this as an opportunity to shake the Etch a sketch on our web presence and start over and reimagine our user experience to inspire new donors to support our work and strengthen our relationship with our existing donors. And as kind of you pointed out, messaging is really important to doing that. And so, we wanted to get our messaging, right. And so, on the old site, there were a number of challenges we had with our messaging. First, there were some messaging themes that over the years had been expressed offline through print and hadn’t made it onto the website. And secondly, over the years, there are a number of web authors who had maintained the site and as a result, the messaging across the site had become a bit fragmented. So different topics had been unpacked in different areas of the site. And this happened, this is common for websites, for many websites that over time, and what that does is it puts the burden on your site visitor to have to work to put together their understanding of who you are and what you do, rather than pouring your understanding about your work into their mind. And so, we really wanted to create a cohesive messaging experience for our donors as they move through the site.

Spencer Brooks 04:52

That’s a very good explanation, thank you for that Pam. And I am struck by that common challenge of well, I mean, first of all, the seven-year-old website, it’s, it’s not great. But unfortunately, that is kind of the, it’s a very common story. And also, you mentioned fragmented messaging. And I might be skipping ahead a little bit here. But I just I think I have to know; how would you recommend that a nonprofit keep their messaging unified? Like what are what were some of the reasons that you saw in the past why the messaging got scattered all over the place? And are there anything specific things that you’re doing now, to prevent that scattering from happening again?

Pam Lowney 05:41

That’s a good question. So, I think it’s in part, it has to do with your content, sort of standard content, maintenance processes, kind of, much as possible one person designated to maintain the site. And as much as possible, where, you know, I have a list now of where certain topics are discussed on the site that I know have to be updated, sort of uncertain cadence. And that becomes a kind of a guide for the site author to then go in and know where to update certain topics. So, I think it’s, it’s a matter of once you get that foundational kind of structure and clarity to your overall messaging, then generally that that helps you with the maintenance going forward. because you know, there’s just this topic is unpacked in this one specific area of the site, and sort of that supports the maintenance going forward, but having this kind of standard processes, and that kind of guide to help people update data, to help guide people in their updates is also helpful.

Spencer Brooks 06:58

And I do actually want to talk about what you mentioned, which is the consistent clear messaging, which sounds like the route, certainly makes it easier for the website and other communications and marketing materials to keep consistent messaging. But okay, so you shook the Etch a sketch, as you mentioned, and you say, okay, we got to start over here. I’ll dive in on to the messaging piece. I think that’s certainly something that you’ve done really well, how did you go about this, the process of reimagining the messaging, could you just give me an idea of where you began?

Pam Lowney 07:37

Yeah. So, in some ways, I would say, like, we think of our communications really as being in conversation with our donors, sort of, we never want to be in a space of talking at our audience and our donors, but being kind of always been intentional about how we center our communications around our donor’s point of view. And so, when we started the redesign, kind of our point of departure was to think about what are the kinds of conversations we want to be having with our donors as they move through their giving journey. And so that can be that journey consists of going from awareness of the issue, to considering supporting our work, to actually taking action to make a donation or something else, and then hopefully becoming a long-term supporter. And so, we really wanted to identify what messaging and content would be most helpful to our donors, given what we know about their needs and their motivations at each step of that process.

Spencer Brooks 08:44

Yeah, could you give me an example of maybe what one of those stages and sort of the messaging that came out of that?

Pam Lowney 08:50

Yeah. So, we ended up breaking down our messaging sort of into two categories, heart messaging, and head messaging. And so, at heart messaging is the kind of content that helps people feel connected to our mission. It moves people, it tends to fall in the storytelling camp. And it’s the kind of content that helps people understand what it’s like for women to live with fistula and what it means to her when she can access care that restores her health. And so that content is really important to donors in the awareness phase, and actually sort of our gateway message that particular one woman’s story, no matter our donor audience, if it’s a major or modest or mid-level donor. That’s how people first and foremost get connected to, they start to care about the issue, just considering what it’s like to live with this condition.

Spencer Brooks 09:49

That makes sense and the idea of I was literally taking some furious notes while you’re talking. This is great stuff. So, you what you’re saying is that the heart messaging is sort of coming at this awareness stage. And then it does that lead into later head messaging or kind of how does that evolve as you go through the donor journey?

Pam Lowney 10:13

Yeah. So, you’re right spot on Spencer. So yes, heart messaging tends to attract to the awareness, because that’s when you first make that connection with your audience, and head messaging for us, it’s more focused on strategy. So that’s where we can we unpack what we do and how we approach our work, to help people understand, to better understand the organization and to get a sense of confidence in us as a steward of their donation. So that’s, and so we value accountability and transparency. And so we want to make sure our donors feel competent that we’re using their support wisely. And that type of head messaging definitely comes more into play after the awareness stage. And so, it’s in the space of considering supporting our work.

Spencer Brooks 11:10

Yeah, I do see a lot of examples of nonprofit websites in the health space that maybe in your words would focus a lot on head messaging, and tend to center the organization first, where it’s okay, this is just like, this is about us. Let me tell you about us and our work, and some very head logical details about it. But I think that’s, I’m actually really glad that you explained that because that was one thing that struck me about the fistula Foundation’s website and how you unfolded the messaging is that it starts with one woman’s story. And for anyone listening, please, I’ll give the website URL in the show notes. And, as well, so you can go check this out yourself, it’s a great example. There’s a story of a single woman, right on the homepage, if you go there. And what struck me about that is it’s not about your organization, initially, Pam, it’s capturing the attention. And through heart messaging, as you said, but I think it’s a maybe a mistake, or just a different, it’s something that I don’t see a lot of organizations doing. But I’m curious to get your perspective, Pam on. Is that a mistake that other organizations make with their messaging? Are there other mistakes that you see nonprofits making when it comes to that communications?

Pam Lowney 12:39

Well, I think, to answer the question on the calibration of head and heart, it kind of depends on what the purpose of your organization is. And so, I mean, I have a background where I’ve worked in academic medicine. And so, in that context, there may be a bit more head up front, because but there’s still an underlying heart where you want to be attended to like, basically, to the underlying needs and motivations of your audience coming to your site looking for care. But they’re still looking for specific information about the condition relevant to them, which is by definition has to be there’s a head component to it. But how you do communicate to your that audience in that moment can be done in a way that if it’s a, like I said, attended to their needs and motivation, there’s an emotional intelligence to it. You mentioned sort of are the things that nonprofits generally get wrong with their communications. And I think it’s not a matter of people getting it wrong. I think it’s a matter of people getting this right to varying degrees, because it’s hard to do. And getting back to what I said at the beginning, it’s a difference between talking out your audience and being in conversation and the degree to which you can center your communications around your audience’s point of view. And so it’s not so much about your messaging, but the how your audience experiences your messaging. And Maya Angelou has a great quote, I’ll paraphrase it. Its people will forget what you said. And people will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel. And so, when you’re, and all of us know what’s that like, when you go to a site and there’s just a sense of ease and it’s responding to your needs. It’s sort of there’s an effortless ness to it. And you’re already been in service to your audience when your communications are helpful in that way.

Spencer Brooks 14:53

There’s a lot of good nuggets in there to unpack and I really love how you mentioned the idea of first of all, centering the communications and messaging, not just thinking about it as messaging but how the person receiving that is experiencing it. And I’m understanding that and you can correct me if I’m wrong, as thinking about your messaging in your communications as less about the things that you want to say as an organization and more about the how the person hearing that is going to receive it and what their needs are and how they would best receive that information and engage in a conversation with you. Is that a fair understanding?

Pam Lowney 15:37

Absolutely. And that’s why sort of, before you get to putting together your messaging, there’s a whole bunch of foundational work that has to happen upstream. And that’s sort of, and one area is really understanding your audience’s needs, sort of segmenting your audience, and for any every given segment, what are their motivations, their top questions, maybe their misperceptions at every stage of their journey. And so for us, you know, the journeys is awareness, consideration, action, but for other healthcare, it could be the patient care journey, and really clearly understanding that. And so because that’s where you get the that nuance, that’s what makes the messaging, the experience of the messaging really land, because it’s bringing together what you want your audience to know, combined with what they would find helpful to know. And then figuring out how you convey that information and content in a way that’s engaging and feels authentic and helpful. But it’s really clarifying the what upfront,

Spencer Brooks 16:46

I would actually love to talk a little bit about that upstream work that you mentioned, because it sounds like it is very foundational to be able to pair the things that, as you said that as an organization you want to say, with the needs of your audience and the things that they might need to hear and the lens through which they might need to hear them. So, could you talk to me a little bit about the upstream work and how you approached that, like, understanding your audience and how you distill that into something that you could actually execute on in terms of a messaging and website strategy?

Pam Lowney 17:21

Yeah, so I was thinking, why, who, what and how? And so, the why is like, why this communication and why now, like, what organizational goal does this communication need to enable? And then from there, it’s the who, and that’s the who’s involved in this conversation. And on one side, it’s understanding you as an organization, being clear about your mission, and being clear about how you want to show up in that conversation. So that’s brand personality, visual identity, voice and tone. And then on the other side of the conversation, is understanding the who of your audience. And so that sort of discovery involves, for us like a survey of, you know, our donor community interviews with team members in house who have a lot of contact with donors, just looking at our website, sort of what the content was the highest traffic, and kind of bringing that all together, and packaging it in a way that sort of provides what I would call actionable clarity, and so build out the personas, you can build out the journey maps. And then that, like I said, gives you the insight to figure out what additional piece of information you want to include into your messaging that meets your audience’s underlying needs, help build out the what. So then, so then once you know the who, move into the what, which is bringing together what you want people to know, more of your positioning messaging, versus what they would find helpful to know. And building out the messaging architecture. And for us, for our website was, we found that it fell, we kind of the framework that we found helpful was to break it up into heart message and head messaging. And then for any given messaging scene, then it’s unpacking for that scene. It’s an unpacking, you know, what are the main ideas, the sequence of the ideas and kind of making sure there’s an organic flow to it, and that I would call the kind of content requirements for that message. And that then kind of wraps up the what needs to be said and then you start moving into the how. And so then how do you communicate that information in a way that’s relevant to the medium that you’re using? So when designing a website, then you get into the space of creating wireframes, which helps create a visual view of how your messaging framework is expressed on a webpage. But then you also get into the how of how you want to language, the messaging, what is the copywriting? How do you want to pair it together with images and infographics and videos? Which then is what creates the experience of your communications?

Spencer Brooks 20:25

Yeah, that’s a great framework. And again, it was it was why who, what, how? As it’s how I’m remembering? Yeah. Okay, good. I want to make sure I had it right. So, there’s a ton to unpack there. I would love to get some, some specific examples from you. I don’t know if in any one of those categories. And unfortunately, I probably, you know, it could be a great episode to even do by itself. I probably can’t ask you to do every single one of these, unfortunately. But in one of those categories, the why, who, what or how, could you maybe provide a specific example of how you have and maybe actual messaging or something about the why or the who that you uncovered, or just from your from your actual project to kind of to illustrate those principles in action.

Pam Lowney 21:23

Let me give two examples that like that are kind of more the extreme, extreme heart and extreme head, because I think that will clarify it. So, I already mentioned in one example, extreme heart is the one woman’s story and that sort of our, we know that that’s sort of how people connect to us, and so on, and that actually is our homepage or our gateway moment with our audience. And that user experience is very immersive, it’s to use video banners to really create a sense of place. And so it’s, and it relies on storytelling. The head messaging and an example of that is like under our what we do section on our site, which is really where we unpack all of our head messaging, and it’s for people more in the consideration phase. We have a page that talks about our strategy. And so in this section, it’s sort of the content is laid out in a way that’s probably more like traditional for a website, like it’s there are thematic sections on the page that subheads are scannable, because that’s how people way find your site, just scanning headlines, and then they’ll drill down to areas of interest. Versus the homepage, like I said, it’s much more of this immersive, kind of dreamy, image focused experience, storytelling experience. So, in the headspace, it’s much more structured. And that’s where sort of youi know, understanding kind of our, our audience’s needs, and particularly audiences who have an affinity with like Effective Altruism, they really want to know that, you know, we’re going to be wise stewards of their support. And so, making sure we have the kind of data points like since 2009, we’ve, you know, with just five times five, like a fivefold increase in revenue, we’ve delivered a 15 fold increase in surgeries, instead of unpacking that, that kind of messaging in a very clear, scannable, organized way.

Spencer Brooks 23:29

And was that something that you found in the user research in this audience research process? Is that like taking it back to some of the earlier phases? Was that something that actually you pulled out as you’re examining the who?

Pam Lowney 23:43

Yes, and so, yes, so and it’s all like, again, all audiences need to start off with that heart connection to the mission. And then sort of, depending on usually sort of the larger, the donors who are giving the larger gifts, there’s kind of a higher investment in wanting to understand, like, you know, just how we work and to make sure that, you know, we are, we’re the best solution for the problem they now care about. And, and if you can’t really take the example of effective altruists donors like, and that actually is a section on the site as a mean, the website is always an evolving process. So that’s probably a page you want to unpack, you know, as another page expressly for that audience. Because for effective altruists, that first and foremost, they’re interested in finding organizations that are highly effective and provide the greatest kind of benefit to humanity for every dollar spent. And so, and then underneath that, kind of that guiding interest, then they look for the organization that is working on causes they care about. So that you really want to reshape how you speak to that audience, given the hierarchy of their concerns.

Spencer Brooks 23:44

Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And that’s also great advice for listeners as well, who might be in that same camp. So, I really appreciate that Pam. I did want to ask you some of the questions. I love asking everyone here who’s on the show. My first one here is just what’s one thing you’re working on right now that’s taking a lot of your brain space? And what takeaways can you share with listeners who might encounter that same challenge in marketing?

Pam Lowney 25:40

Yeah, so right now, I’m really focused on improving our content development process. So, we have a really small team. And so the challenge is how can we create a more artful communications more of them within our limited resource constraints? And so, I take a service design approach to what we do. So that kind of on the front end sort of, you know, as we talked about sort of these conversations that we want to be having with our donors through newsletters, and campaign mailers, and website kind of clarifying that, but on the back end, what are the roles, processes, and resources that need to be in place to deliver that front end experience? And for me, the key is to make sure we stay in the ready, aim, fire mode, and stay out of the ready, fire, aim mode and avoid downstream churn. Right. And so, there’s a lot we’ve been unpacking in terms of our content development process.

Spencer Brooks 26:42

Yeah, that’s a very, it’s a very relevant challenge, I’m sure for anyone. Is anyone else listening up a small team and have to do a lot of work? Yeah. So, I appreciate you sharing that. It’s very relevant to everyone listening, I’m sure. And I also wanted to ask you, just what two or three resources would you recommend to listeners who are trying to keep up on trends and news and nonprofit marketing?

Pam Lowney 27:06

Yeah, so, one resource if you’re interested in service design? Actually, there’s no I think, a lot of people have heard of IDEO, who’s sort of a leader in the design thinking space. They have an great online curriculum and service design, and actually not people in who work for nonprofits can access that training for free through I think, Acumen Academy is a great resource. I think Nielsen, the Nielsen Norman Group, which are experts in usability, a lot of great content. There’s a site called 99U, that Adobe sponsors in a conference and that they really bring together a lot of like thought leaders in creativity and in communications, so I think that’s another really good resource.

Spencer Brooks 27:58

Awesome. Yeah, that’s, those are some fantastic, I love Nielsen Norman, you could get yourself lost on that space, if you really care about usability and user experience and stuff like that. I will also make sure to include all those links in the show notes for those who are listening, who are interested and want to follow up on this. So yeah, well, Pam, thanks for the great interview. today. I just want to give you an opportunity to share how listeners can get in touch with you if they’d like to learn more about you and your work.

Pam Lowney 28:30

Sure, by all means, reach out to me directly at Pamela at fistula foundation.org. But I love talking about this. So, I’m happy to be a sounding board. It’s fun stuff.

Spencer Brooks 28:43

Great. Yeah. Well, that wraps up our show today. As a reminder, we are a new podcast. So just please consider rating and reviewing us on Apple podcasts or whatever platform you listen on. This show is also part of the thought education of Brooks digital. We’re a digital agency for health nonprofits, and we specialize in web strategy, design and development. So, if you like this podcast, feel free to go to our website at Brooks.digital. You can find more of our insights and learn about our work. With all that said, Pam, it was you did a great job today. This was an awesome interview. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Pam Lowney 29:16

Thank you, Spencer. I enjoyed it.

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