Homelessness: Upbeat Message on Downbeat Problem
On Tuesday I caught a snippet of an MPR interview with Cathy ten Broeke, Minnesota state director to prevent and end homelessness. She was discussing the problem of homeless veterans as she prepared to leave for Wednesday’s White House event on the subject with Michelle Obama and state and local government officials.
When I heard ten Broeke’s voice, my ears quickly perked up. While I have long been interested in our state’s homelessness problem, I was also drawn into the broadcast by her delivery. Ten Broeke sounded so upbeat and positive — almost like she was smiling. (They say you should smile when you call someone on the phone — your listener can tell!)
Her delivery was articulate and direct, too — no dodging of the interviewer’s questions or bridging awkwardly to self-serving messages. And she didn’t fall into a little cynical trap laid by the interviewer when he asked whether the White House event was timed to shift attention from the developing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal.
The facts ten Broeke delivered were easy to understand and memorable. She reported that at last count in January 2014 Minnesota had 317 homeless veterans, and that’s down from nearly 600 in 2010. She stated confidently that Minnesota can reduce the number to zero veterans sleeping outside by January 2015.
Her skillful description of solutions to homelessness reminded me of a communications strategy used by my former colleagues at a marketing agency. To test alternative positioning statements, they used the RUB test: Is the message Relevant, Unique and Believable. Her messages easily passed the test.
Props for Partners
Finally, ten Broeke gave credit where credit was due. She complimented the federal government for funding permanent Section 8 housing vouchers and providing V.A. services for former military men and women. And she cited the Minnesota Legislature’s allocation this year of $100 million in bonding resources for affordable housing.
A very successful private/public partnership called Heading Home Minnesota has also contributed to significant progress on ending homelessness in Minnesota.
Are You an Articulate Spokesperson?
I recommend taking a few minutes to listen to ten Broeke’s interview. And then think about what strategies you can use to convey hopeful, meaningful messages about intractable problems your organization is trying to solve.
Even if you aren’t the official spokesperson for your nonprofit, you should be prepared to represent and present your organization well. The more staff and volunteers who speak up in positive, forthright ways, the more likely you’ll garner much-needed support for your cause.