Do you know what a pomelo is? I didn’t until the Heath brothers used two examples of how you could try to describe a pomelo to explain how simple communication can exist with complexity in their book Made to Stick. That’s a fundamental problem facing most nonprofits in their fundraising: how do you make something that is quite complex simple to understand? Here’s the examples and point Made to Stick went on to say and make:

Explanation 1: A pomelo is the largest citrus fruit. The rind is very thick but soft and easy to peel away. The resulting fruit has a light yellow to coral pink finish and can vary from juicy to slightly dry and from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and art.

They then ask what you could do with that information. For example, would you be able to confidently say that would go well with orange juice? Then they go to explanation 2.

Explanation 2: A pomelo is basically a supersized grapefruit with a very think and soft rind.

Boom. You instantly understand more of what a pomelo is and could most likely answer questions like, “Would it go well with a juice?”, “Would you like to eat it?” and so on. What they are using in explanation 2 is something called a schema. Schema’s are defined in the book as:

… a collection of generic properties of a concept or category.

We all carry all kinds of schema’s or mental assumptions with us that are associated with different words, people, experiences, etc. What’s great about schema’s and explanation 2 is that it is shorter but also more clarifying – tough to do in writing. It allows you to take a foreign concept or something potentially complex (the pomelo) and quickly get someone to relate to it or understand it. Imagine how powerful that can be when you are telling your organization’s story or talking about a project?

Do You Use Schema’s?

Think about some of your recent communications. Are you describing activities and explaining your work or are you trying to find schema’s and stories that can cut down on complexity while increasing the reader’s understanding? If you use a gravity flow system to provide clean water in Uganda why not first say “it works like a rooftop gutter”. If you provide meals everyday to homeless youth maybe talk about the lunch cafeteria in high school but for the marginalized. If you fund local art projects talk about your organization being like Kickstarter for artists with a purpose. Try to tap into things they already know and understand to more easily connect them to your cause or project.

As neat and useful as schema’s may be in helping cut down and cut through to people, there is a huge additional benefit of using them if you can: schema’s make it easier for others to explain and communicate as well!

You’ll Always Remember A Pomelo Is Like A Grapefruit Now (You’re Welcome…)

If someone asks you tomorrow if you know what a pomelo is, I can almost guarantee you you’ll answer something like, “it’s like a big grapefruit”. You may not use the exact word “supersized” or reference the thick and soft rind but “like a grapefruit” sticks with you. That’s because it’s a shortcut for your brain now. Your understanding of a grapefruit is deep and a quick path for your brain, making it much easier to remember and recall the second explanation. It is a small addition to the information and neural path to a grapefruit you already have.

So not only does explanation 2 make it easier for you to know what a pomelo is but it makes it easier for you recall over time and tell other people what it is as well. The connection to your cause and fundraising is pretty straightforward here but if you want people to connect to and talk about your cause, you have to make it easy for them to do so.

You may wish for supporters to understand and tell others exactly how you deliver clean water, meals or fund the arts in the way you’d like, but more important than that is getting your supporters to understand how you deliver clean water, meals or fund the arts in the best way they can get it and tell others.

Schema’s In A Digital World

And lastly, the beauty of the web, digital and social media means you can use visuals and videos to help with your schema’s and communications. A picture may be worth a thousand words but a picture and a schema should make sure you, and your supporters, don’t need to use that many words in the first place.

This post was in no way sponsored by the pomelo industry, farmers or growers in North America and apologies to any fruit haters who are still reading.