Defining and Communicating Your Nonprofit’s Message


As your fund and support base diversifies and grows, it will be even more important that your message is clearly defined and communicated. It is also important to take note there may be more nonprofits doing the same or similar work as your organization than when your organization first opened its doors. If this is the case, clients who need your services and programs and donors who might want to contribute to your organization realize they have more than options. They have an opportunity to shop around. And not every donor will give because they feel sympathetic or passionate to your cause. More than ever, donors today are also donating because they want to see positive change and they want to be part of something big. The bottom line is the bottom line – they want to see results from their giving.


Defining Your Message


There are different strategies on defining your message. Some would suggest having a broader scope to capture a broader audience and others would suggest having a specific scope to address your target market and then grow from that target. It is important that everyone in your organization is clear on your message.


Let’s look at the beverage industry’s top two brands, Pepsi and Coke. Their message is clear – drink soda. They may package the message differently based on their audience, but the message remains the same. They don’t just say “drink soda” but they communicate how you might feel if you drink their soda or how you may be perceived when drinking their soda. Maybe you will feel like you are part of, “a new generation,” or maybe it tells people that you are “the real thing.”


Communicating Your Message


Language.  Must make sense to the listener or reader. What can you say or write that connects to what is important to them. Effective use of language can paint a picture for your audience. Create the picture by using words that your audience understands. Don’t use “industry speak,” and acronyms that are unique to your organization or cause unless communicating to those in your industry. Saying, “…our programs have been most helpful to kids with OCDs…” may mean nothing to a donor but may mean something to a parent with a child who has OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) because they are familiar with the acronym.


Your Mission is Your Message. If your mission statement is clear, your message will be clear. The beginning of a new year is a great time to step back, look at the language of your mission statement, and to assess if your organization is being true to its mission. It is a good time to decide how, when, and where your message will be communicated. The core of your message needs to be constant but the language you use to connect with people needs to be different based on your audience, time of year, current needs, current trends, news, etc.


Sample message: Education is important. Would you communicate your message using the same language for parents, educators, politicians, to those who need or want education, or those who will donate and support education programs? To be effective you have to use language that connects with your audience. For example, parents want to know how their child will be helped. They want to know their hard work will pay to provide for their children to have opportunities they didn’t have. Everyone wants to know how their support and participation in this project or cause will pay off. What will be the end result and can their money, time, and talent really make a difference?


Fresh. Every year should bring an opportunity for you to re-introduce or introduce your organization to your city, state, or region. One of the biggest mistakes is to think, “Oh everyone knows who we are and what we do.” Ask Pepsi or Coke why they spend so much on marketing and advertising. By now, doesn’t everyone know their name, brand, and products? People and situations change. New people are moving into your community, city, and state. Persons who didn’t donate last year may this year because their lives or financial situations have changed.


Is Your Organization Impoverished or Empowered?  It is your job to clearly define and effectively communicate your message. Are you communicating a message of impoverishment or empowerment? Does your community see your organization as impoverished, always in crisis mode and just scraping by? What does this tell your community about your ability to be effective? If you are not able to keep the lights on how can you really help those who you committed to serving in your mission.


Does your community see an organization that is empowered, that has planned and acted effectively in carrying out your mission and can respond to crisis without desperation but with an attitude of “we can get through this.” Are you an organization that people want to be part of?


But isn’t this article about defining your message? The saying is, “Actions speak louder than words.” What you say and do, how you respond, and how you build relationships are all actions that define and communicate why your community should support you, use your services, and be part of your cause.


Ruth Peebles, President of The INS Group, offers 25 years of experience in the nonprofit management. The INS Group is a national consulting firm that provides organizational development and capacity building services to nonprofits, government agencies and faith-based institutions. Services include grant writing, grant research, strategic planning, strategic fund development planning, succession planning, executive coaching, and board training and board development. Ms. Peebles can be reached at [email protected].

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