What inspires you? Why do you drag your sorry derriere out of bed every day to labor in the nonremunerative and often thankless social change business? You’re not in it for the glory. You’re certainly not in it for the money. Chances are you’re in it because something is burning inside of you – and we’re not talking the carry-out pizza from last night.

Chances are you have some deep beliefs, some cherished values, some personal stories of moments that changed you forever. Chances are, on your worst day you wouldn’t trade what you do for the happy go lucky life of a venture capitalist or hedge fund trader.

But when it comes to public communications, chances are equally good you have trouble conveying – or even showing – that passion that keeps you going. We know intellectually that our community responds to passion more than cold logic, yet we continue to serve up passionless fare and then
scratch our heads that our audiences don’t understand how important our work is.

This week a bunch of really smart and thoughtful folks have ruminated on this question – how can we truly inspire our audiences?

Cara, aka The Hack Artist, offers an absolutely splendid vignette, with a supporting Stephen Colbert clip that certainly won her extra points with me. She hit on a really important notion, that even though we need to keep our audience front and center, in order to really connect with them, we also have to reveal something of ourselves.

Next time you find yourself agonizing over how to inspire someone to care about your issue — whether its frogs or children, hunger or unspayed pets — back up a step. Put aside your faceless statistics of catastrophe, step away from the “Canaries,” and think about telling us something personal and true. Don’t tell us why we should care, tell us why you care. We really want to know.

Katya Andresen, a friend, colleague and future partner in crime, builds on Cara’s theme, yet warns that self-revelation cannot lapse into organizational narcisissm. She also indirectly raises a question I think needs to be addressed more in the future: Can we afford to call our constituents an “audience,” which implies we speak and they listen, or do we need to think of them more as partners? Her advice for re-inspiring the troops: “Start a true conversation with your list and be responsive to its feelings. Chocolates and flowers may help too.”

Over on Non-profit Congress, Elizabeth confesses to a certain weariness with the whole inspiration thing. Her post reminds me of the scene in “The Candidate” when Robert Redford’s candidate goes completely loopy after giving the same speech 100 times. Elizabeth: “The messaging is always inspiring until the 297th time I hear it. I feel like I’m sliding into an inspiration rut. And if I’m not inspired by my work, why should anyone else be?”

She found her inspiration, perhaps improbably, in direct mail solicitations from other organizations, which featured personal appeals and stories from real people.

“How can nonprofits inspire their audiences? Put the people back in your message. Words are shreddable; people are unforgettable.”

At the end of the day, marketing it would seem, like soylent green, is people!