How to help people really understand what your non-profit does

Here’s the truth: “most companies have bland mission and vision statements that are vague, inflated and indistinguishable from one another.” Those words are from a wise man, Alan Siegel, and he’s absolutely right.

While blandness is bad enough, it gets worse…Non-profits often don’t see how pasting a “vague, inflated, and indistinguishable” tagline at the top of their website, annual report, or social media profile is sabotaging their best efforts to get noticed. They think that including their vision, mission, guiding principles, outcomes, and strategies are what’s needed to help people really understand what their non-profit does.

And it’s easy to see why. Non-profits spend hours and hours crafting these statements. They argue over individual words, and painstakingly placing punctuation. To the people who created them, these visions, missions, principles have deep meaning.

But here’s the thing: as a non-profit, you need a different strategy when it comes to communicating with people who are outside your organization. You need them to see your organization as relevant. You need to help those who have never even heard of your organization or your cause to quickly understand:

Your purpose

How you achieve that purpose

What impact your organization makes

And you need that communication to be carried through all the channels you’re using – through your entire brand – with consistency. Tall order.

Now, most of us can succinctly say what we do: the services we offer, the goods we sell, the fundraising we do. Some of us can explain how we do it: the things that make us different or ensure that we stand out from the crowd. And for non-profits, many of them can also articulate why they do what they do. Yet, when you look at the branding and the messaging, that why – the one that would actually resonate with people outside your organization – is missing.

So how do you help people really understand what your organization does, how they do it, and – most importantly – why they do it? How do you connect people to your purpose? What follows offers 3 steps:

Step #1: Story your impact

Graphs and charts that track your progress toward reaching your goals are certainly important. But you know as well as I do that most people don’t respond emotionally to graphs and charts (well, I guess boredom and dread do count as emotional responses, don’t they…).
What they will respond to are stories about real people who have experienced the benefits of the work that you do.

And why is that? Our brains are actually wired for story. When you start telling people about how your work has changed the lives of people in the community, and then pair that with your progress trackers, you demonstrate why people want to be involved with the work you do.

So, start (and continue) collecting those stories. Use interviews, surveys, recordings, video – whatever avenues you have available to you. And add to that collection often.

Step #2: Gather themes

Now that you have several stories about the impact of your organization, start listening to them differently. Instead of listening for details, listen for the themes. How are people saying that your organization has touched their lives? What services did you provide for them that made all the difference? How was your organization able to help when others weren’t?

These themes – the ones you gather from people outside your immediate organization – are the ones that you will want to use and re-use in your websites, social media posts, annual reports, and other media outlets. These are the themes that are most likely to resonate with the people you are trying to reach.

Step #3: Define your contribution and impact

Now that you have a list of themes, you’re ready to narrow your focus. (And I know that it’s tempting to just skip to this stage without going through the other two. Don’t. You need the richness that comes from the actual experiences of the people you have served to make what’s coming as effective as it can be.)

In this stage you define the contribution your organization makes to the lives of others and the impact of that contribution over time. And we like Simon Sinek’s format as a starting point:

TO ______________________ SO THAT ______________________.

Sinek defines his personal purpose this way: “To inspire people to do the things that inspire them so that, together, we can change our world.”
Other examples:

    • To take on disabilities so that we can build a strong society
    • To solve the cruel mystery of lupus so that people can reclaim their lives

Once you have this idea down, you can refine it:

“To give women rights so that global poverty decreases” becomes Ending global poverty begins with women’s rights
“To conserve land and water so that life can flourish” becomes To conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends

When you get this definition right, you’ll feel an emotional connection to what you’ve written, and it’s this same emotional connection you’ll work to reproduce for the people experiencing your messaging so that they’ll want to learn more.

Market Realities

As you already know, relying on savvy fundraising experts and big names that promote your cause isn’t working as well as it used to, even for the big names in non-profit.

It’s a tough market. And it’s a competitive one. You already run the risk of losing your funding base because people no longer see you as relevant.

And why is that?

Potential donors are overwhelmed by donation requests and it’s easy for them to pull the funds they are providing you in favour of another organization. In the words of Jim Fosina: “We’re risking the potential of any one of our donors being one click away from defecting to another not-for-profit.”

To attract and keep funders, you need to clearly communicate your purpose and how you achieve it. And you need to do it in a way that connects emotionally with your supporters so you get better results from your programs and attract more funding. Use story, use themes, and get clear about your contribution and impact so that you can create messages that are simple, bold, and powerful.

Non-profits must carve out their key messages. Without a concise explanation of what their aims are, and perhaps more crucially, why people should donate their money to further the cause, they risk losing everything they’ve built . Click To Tweet – Kerstin Heuer

About Kerstin:

When Kerstin makes a wish, this is what she hopes for: that people will be more conscious of what they do and really understand the impact everyone of us can have. She (actually) believes that we can change the world with one random act of kindness every day. And so Kerstin helps non-profits extend their kindnesses across our world using the skills she has: brand creation and strategic marketing. Her business creates the roadmaps that non-profits need to connect emotionally with their supporters, get better results from their programs, and attract more funding. Get in touch. She wants your message to get out. kerstin@non-profit.today

Need help with non-profit marketing?

Contact us at hello@non-profit.today and we will be happy to help you.

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