Shoot The Messenger

Can you picture a wealthy conservative executive reporting to an audience of progressive nonprofit representatives that poverty has declined since the 1950s? What’s wrong with that picture?

An effective communications plan consists of many elements. Determine your audience. Define your message. Choose your communication channels. Pick your messenger(s) to deliver your message to the audience via the chosen channels.

The messenger(s) that delivers your message to your target audience is a key component.

Let’s digest this scenario.

Event: NPower’s 2nd Annual Nonprofit Innovation Award & Luncheon
Audience: progressive nonprofit organizations
Message: To showcase how technology makes a measurable difference in the nonprofit community
Sub-message: U.S. poverty is on the decline and at its lowest point since the 1950s [due in large part to advances in high technology]
Messenger: keynote speaker: John Connors, former Microsoft Chief Financial Officer.

There are several problems with the subtle political rhetoric delivered in Mr. Connors’ keynote speech. Foremost, his sub-message may not be appropriate for this audience!

Second, let’s assume that the sub-message is accurate. Mr. Connors would not be an appropriate messenger. This sub-message is less credible coming from a retired Microsoft executive; someone residing in Medina, one of the wealthiest zip codes in the nation (this is where Bill Gates lives); AND a partisan patriot who has donated over $92,000 to conservative candidates since 2003. Connors doesn’t exactly sound like a friend to the disenfranchised.

Sure, we’ve probably all heard that rising GNP raises average wages, and education levels and so forth. Yet, this great tide of productivity has produced a plethora of problems that nonprofits confront daily.

John Connors’ unquestioned statements are disingenuous.

The nonprofit sector would not be working, and struggling, if social, environmental and economic justice issues were not real.

Let’s dissect Mr. Connors’ sub-message.

He quotes from Who Cares, a Gillian Wadds book published over a decade ago, in 1988. A reputable independent review of this book is difficult to find online. Connors comments sound eerily like the face of poverty described by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation.

So, I went home and conducted some of my own research.

First, the U.S. Census Bureau does indeed corroborate that the “poverty rate stabilized at 12.6 percent in 2005—higher than the most recent low of 11.3 percent in 2000 and lower than the rate in 1959 (22.4 percent), the first year for which poverty estimates are available.”

It is also true that the U.S. has one of the highest poverty rates of any industrialized society. Furthermore, the gap between the rich and poor in this country (and King County) has been growing, not shrinking, since the 1950s. This gap is creating a two-tiered society where millions of people are disenfranchised.

Of course, I also found articles that challenged the relevance of these statistics. .

For 2005, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports that the average CEO of a company worth $1B made 262 times what the average worker made. The top fifth of households earned just over half of the nation’s income in 2005, the highest share on record, while low- and middle-income households saw real incomes decline. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the minimum wage is at its lowest value in 50 years. []

Meanwhile, Microsoft, with CFOs like Connors at the helm, outsources its administrative staff because they are not considered “core” to its business strategy. Financial tactics like these leave single moms to negotiate benefits for their children with temp agencies like Manpower.

Compared to the 1950s, the United States now includes the military in its employment count figures to help inflate its GNP numbers. Additionally, homeless people are not included in census counts, and neither are “terminally unemployed people.”

In the end, I only need to look around at the numbers of homeless on Seattle streets to recognize that we have a problem with poverty in this country. So, in this case, it’s acceptable to Shoot The Messenger, or, as Donald Trump would say: You’re Fired!

NPower’s next Annual Nonprofit Innovation Award & Luncheon is slated for February 2008.