A few weeks back I ran a Ragnar. If you don’t know, a Ragnar is a 200-mile race that (in Minnesota) goes from Winona to the Twin Cities. There’s 12-people on a team and we travel in two vans, each taking a turn running three legs over 35-hours. This year, my first leg was six miles with a very long and steep climb. At one point, I didn’t feel like I was moving up the hill, just standing there about to cough up a lung. Yet, at the top of the hill was my team cheering me on, supporting and celebrating me for something I didn’t think I was capable of doing.

Everyday, we receive hundreds of messages asking us to join something. Though it’s easy to click thru a “friend” request, it’s harder to discern those opportunities that may change the way we see the world. This is the conundrum that we face in communicating the value of our organizations’ work.  Often the goals we set, the tools we use to communicate, and the way we construct our calls to action do not differentiate the deep value we have to offer from the multitude of messages out there.

When the folks I workout with at the YWCA tried to persuade me to join their Ragnar team, they talked about how much fun we were going to have, what a great experience it will be, etc. Yet, it wasn’t what they said that won me over. What it took was a series of experiences that helped me understand that this was for me, that I was in the right place, that these were the right people, and that this was the right time to do this.

Just for the sake of expediency, we cannot ignore the reality that if want deep relationships with our participants, supporters, and community partners we must be willing to take the time to understand what they deeply care about and explore how that connects to our mission and values. Our power to engage the public comes from our ability to create authentic experiences that successfully marry the value we create to the needs and beliefs of our audiences. To do this we have to… 1) collaborate with them on what the goal of the relationship should be, 2) discover what already links us together, 3) build on those linkages, and 4) create a mutually beneficial pathway to deeper engagement. Only then will our communication and messaging efforts resonate.

Admittedly, when I first heard about the Ragnar, it sounded crazy.  There were many reasons for me not to join. Yet, there I was at the top knowing that I had two more miles to go and it was all downhill.