Your association may be doing a lot of work on diversity, equity, and inclusion—but your members may not be aware of it. Here are some ideas to ensure that your DEI messaging matches your efforts.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion needs to go beyond talk. But if you don’t talk about what your association is doing to improve, you might be undermining your own work.
Signs show that many members aren’t aware of their association’s DEI efforts. A Willow Marketing study [PDF] recently found that nearly 40 percent of association members were unsure of whether their organization had a documented DEI policy—and that just 16 percent of respondents rate their organization’s efforts to build a diverse member community as “excellent.”
Is messaging the problem? Tim Hopkins, CAE, a senior consultant with McKinley Advisors and a member of ASAE’s Diversity + Inclusion Committee, noted that this problem may not necessarily be isolated to DEI initiatives. Organizations are often doing a lot of things, and members may simply be overwhelmed by the volume of information.
“I think that’s partly because the world is flooded with information all over the place—email and social media, a lot of inputs,” he said. “So it’s easy for any communication to get lost in the mix.”
How can an association ensure that its DEI messaging makes an impact? Here are some insights from Hopkins on how to balance communications when executing a DEI strategy:
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Repeat Yourself
Hopkins said that with members being deluged with messaging from both within and outside of the association, it’s easy for something to get missed.
The solution: Share the messaging more than once.
“Repetition does help lead to members getting a better chance of seeing that message and understanding what’s going on,” he said.
He also said it was important to vary the messaging for different needs, using methods such as social media. “Don’t just send out text. Do a video, share an image that connects to the work you’re doing,” he added.
2. Don’t Wait for the Big Moment
According to Hopkins, many association leaders understand the need to tie words and actions together, but they may be concerned about having enough results to show for their efforts—or that they might overhype that work in the process. But tackling a big initiative won’t happen overnight, and it takes time to get things right.
Hopkins emphasized that it is important to be comfortable speaking up even without a grand reveal, and instead to share efforts whenever possible so members know how it’s going—good or bad.
“I think of organizations that are often holding on for the perfect message saying we’ve done a huge thing. I don’t think that’s necessary to wait,” he said. “In fact, I think it’s important to communicate even some of the small bits of progress, and sometimes the tension points they run into. Members paid their dues because they want the organizations to do things on their behalf.”
3. Lean Into Sharing Your Success
On the other hand, some organizations may avoid boasting about their efforts because they tend to be more humble. Hopkins gets the concern.
However, he said it’s still important for members to have an idea of what’s going on—whether that’s a legislative win or significant progress on a policy initiative supporting DEI. Hopkins recommended framing DEI efforts as a success of the entire organization, members included.
“You should not be timid about sharing those things. It’s a win for your community,” he said. “Keeping that part in mind—‘we did the following,’ the collective ‘we’—is a great way to approach it. And I think that’ll hopefully help get organizations past some of that reluctance to share.”
4. Promote DEI Efforts Like Your Events
Another challenge associations may face is when and how to promote the organization’s DEI efforts consistently, so those efforts don’t fade or appear randomly.
Hopkins suggested looking closely at successful messaging in other areas of your organization—say, when it comes to your annual meeting—and basing your DEI communication strategy on that approach.
“The level of effort and care that goes into the communication strategy of your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts should be along those lines,” he said. “If it is a priority, then it needs to be something that they frequently talk about and in different ways.”
He added that more regular messaging can also help ensure proper representation in marketing messaging, as it can highlight underrepresented groups in an equitable way that makes your efforts clear to members.
“I work with a lot of organizations that would like to diversify their leadership and their field in general, and this is one of those ways to do it,” he said, adding it can help fill the gap “until the organization is as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as they hope it can and should be.”
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