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Moving knowledge to action

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By Kristen Grimm

If knowledge alone spurred change, the world would already be a better place.

Yet time and again people report knowing and even caring about an issue, but still don’t act.

Real change requires action, and the key to moving people from knowing something to doing something is persuasion.

The key question for nonprofits is how to persuade people to act.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that if we educate audiences enough, good information will inspire action.

But it’s clear that nobody ever changed the world simply by issuing a report.

Research tells us that when it comes to issues where people already have a high level of awareness, continuing to share more information will not inspire action.

In fact, it can have the opposite effect: It overwhelms them and contributes to their inertia.

Overcoming that inertia means building people’s will to act, which is a very different process than educating people about an issue.

An “activation point” occurs when the right people at the right time are persuaded to take action that leads to measurable social change.

Here are three key factors nonprofits should consider when trying to create an activation point:

* Hope is the only absolutely, positively essential ingredient to campaigns trying to inspire action. You must make people believe that the situation will get better – with their help. No one ever took action to fix a problem that they thought was hopeless.

* Understanding an audience’s comfort zone is key. There are clear limits to what even the most passionate people are willing to do, especially if the “ask” is outside their comfort zone. On the other hand, asking people to do things within their comfort zone allows them to feel good about helping without putting themselves at risk.

* People want to know what’s in it for them. They need to feel an issue is directly relevant to their own lives before they will act. This means it needs to reflect a value important to them and when possible offer them a personal reward. Avoid labeling people as activists or advocates; those are our labels, not theirs, and they reflect what we need them to do, not what they care about in their lives.

As you’re planning your communications in 2007, think about whether your audience already knows and cares about your issue. If so, consider whether shifting your focus to building their will to act will help you reach an activation point – and make more progress toward your social change goals.


Kristen Grimm is founder of the nonprofit Communications Leadership Institute and president of Spitfire Strategies, a public relations firm serving nonprofit and foundation clients. To download a free electronic copy of Discovering the Activation Point, a guide to persuasion best practices for nonprofits, recently released by both groups, visit the Communications Leadership Institute.

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