Every time you communicate with your donors and the community, you’re either reinforcing their understanding of you or confusing them.

Think about it – the nonprofits that regularly and consistently share about their mission have supporters who are very clear about the nonprofit’s purpose. They get it and they’re excited to be part of it.

Those nonprofits with communications that are all over the place tend to have fewer supporters, because people can’t wrap their minds around what the nonprofit is doing. People might hear something occasionally that resonates with them, but they’re not likely to stick around.

What we’re talking about here is being clear about the messages you share about your organization’s work.

Let’s break it down.

You have a mission, right? Hopefully, you can clearly articulate it and explain exactly who you help and how you do it. If not, pause now and go work on that. We’ll wait.

Next, you need 2 or 3 key points you want to make to help everyone better understand your mission. These are key messages.

What is a key message?
A key message is something that defines you and distinguishes you. It’s something you share at every opportunity, because it’s critical that people understand it. It’s a teaching point or it dispels a myth.

A key message is

  • Simple and easy to understand
  • Memorable
  • Interesting and relevant
  • Emotionally powerful
  • Targeted at a specific audience

When I worked at the food bank, we had a long, jargonish mission statement that I noticed didn’t have much impact when I shared it with people 1-on-1 or in a presentation. I also noticed that there were some common questions that people asked. Most people didn’t think hunger was a problem in our community. So, I figured out that by sharing one simple statistic in everyday language, I could dispel the myth, do some education, and grab peoples’ hearts all at the same time. That stat? 1 out of every 8 people in East Tennessee will miss a meal today, and not because they want to.

See how simple that is?

It became a key message. We needed people to understand the magnitude of the problem and that it existed right here in our backyard. I shared that stat in our newsletter, on our website, in press releases – just about everywhere I could. And it worked. People started to understand.

What are the common myths about your cause?

What questions do you get asked over and over? This will give you some hints about what your key messages should be.

As you start to put together your key messages, consider these questions.

  1. Who is the audience? Who are you addressing (hint: it’s not everyone!) Get clear about the segment you’re talking to – women 35 to 55; men 18 to 35; Baby Boomers; etc.  When you know who you’re talking to, you can choose words they will understand and respond to.
  2. What is the simple point we want to get across? This is important! Get really clear about the point you want to drive home. It can’t be a whole lot of stuff – make it 1 simple point.
  3. What do they currently know about this point? Chances are good, your audience doesn’t know much about your cause or the point you want to make, so keep things really simple and basic for them. Leave out the jargon and keep it simple enough for an 8-year old to understand.
  4. What do we want them to feel? There’s always emotion attached to giving. Do you want people to be outraged at the current situation? Do you want them to feel deep compassion for those you’re trying to help? Choose ONE emotion you want people to feel and make sure your key message communicates it.
  5. What action do we want them to take? After people see or hear your key message, what do you want them to do? It might be to make a donation, or it might be something else, like signing a petition, volunteering, adopting, or something else. Get clear on this – if you’re not clear about what you want them to do, I promise you they won’t be either.

Once you get the answers to those questions, you can start to formulate your actual key message. Now it’s a matter of finding and playing with words until you get them in a combination that has plenty of power and juice.
 
Your Turn.
I challenge you to come up with 2-3 things you really need people to understand about your cause, and turn them into key messages that you can use in your materials, on your website, in presentations, and in your social media. Make them full of emotion and targeted at a specific audience. They can be facts people need to know, myths you want to bust, or statements of the big hairy goal your nonprofit is working toward.

And get ready to get tired of them! You’ll need a lot of repetition for them to sink in. Use them frequently, in written words, graphics, video, and audio.

Well-done key messages will set you apart and make you memorable. And they will likely draw more supporters to you.

You’re welcome to post your key messages in the comments below.

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