Info fatigue

By Leon A Smith
April 12, 2012

One of the most famous and memorable soundbites when the Blair government came into being was “Education, Education, Education”. Education was a strong and powerful message, and through repetition 3 times clearly signalled the fact that Education was very high up on the Labour party’s agenda. Estate agents vocabulary is similarly peppered with one word which is also repeated: Location, Location, Location. An American president was equally parsimonious with his famous words “It’s the economy, stupid!”. Of course Mr Blair and others do possess a significantly wider vocabulary than this. Increasingly however every public statement is geared towards the media who alight upon certain words or phrases in order to further convey the news of our leader’s thoughts.

Another phrase that resonates with me a lot is Communication, Communication, Communication. Effectively there can never be enough of it. As a provider of care to older members of the Jewish community, I have a wide and disparate group of stakeholders – above all our residents. People from a wide variety of different backgrounds, religiously, politically, socio-economically. Then there is our large and multi cultural workforce with staff members from all over the world. And then we have our very large group of relatives and a wonderful group of volunteers – all of these groups are made up of very different individuals.

Whenever I ask for feedback in terms of surveys or forums, the one thing that I can always rely on is that somebody will say “you need to address communication”. –which has always been the case and I suspect always will be. No matter how much one communicates it can never be enough. Newsletters, email updates, annual reviews, staff newsletters, relatives newsletters etc etc yet one wonders whether we are in fact not suffering from under-communication but over-communication! There is such an enormous body of information now both in society generally and I must say here at Nightingale – that I wonder whether we are not overloading our potential readers. How much can one effectively absorb? How much are the newsletters actually read? And if they are read, they may be skimmed over to such an extent that not all information is actually retained. Notwithstanding this ,communication is of course in the eye of the beholder. If somebody feels that they are not being communicated with then that this something which we need to address.

The question is, however, one of balance. Too much information will result in “info fatigue” and too little will cause frustration. So how does one get the balance right? As far as one particular group of stakeholders is concerned we do very much hope that we have got the balance right. We are in the fortunate position of having many generous supporters within the community. Twice a year we write to our supporters asking if they will be kind enough to send us a donation. One of these appeals takes place before Rosh Hashana and the other before Pesach – traditionally two occasions during the year when a large number of people pay attention to charitable giving. (We do give our supporters a rest at Chanukah!). We also mail in May an annual review to all of our supporters. This does not contain an overt appeal although many people are kind enough to send us a donation. The prime purpose of this mailshot is to provide information on the activities of our Charity – what’s been happening in the past year, what our plans are for the future, effectively providing factual information.

We are convinced that our supporters do want to hear from us at least once a year without an overt “ask”. This seems to be popular and seems to work and it is something we intend to continue with.

One particular area where a number of charities have been criticised is in sending supporters merchandising items. These can vary from a simple pen to more sophisticated and more expensive gifts. There’s been a lot of controversy within the fundraising world about this practice and generally the feeling is (quite rightly) that donors do not really want their charitable gifts spent on merchandising items. Nightingale only mail out one merchandising item – which in the past has been a legacy promotion ruler with the Nightingale logo and the Jewish calendar. This year, we have cut it back just to the Jewish calendar which we send to lawyers.

In conclusion I come back to my central theme of communication. Too much, Too little. Or just right. No communication means no relationship. Too much communication could potentially mean alienation of our supporter or stakeholder. As I said above, it is a question of level and degree. This can only be informed by a sixth sense of knowing those with whom one is intending to communicate by simply having an instinctive feel for what is the right or wrong level of communication. Bearing in mind that this week’s blog is getting a little too lengthy I will cut short for fear of boring my reader(s).


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