When you meet someone and they ask what your nonprofit does, what do you say?

If you’re like most people, it sounds something like this:

“We’re a 501c3 nonprofit providing rescue services to at-risk populations in blah, blah, jargon, jargon, acronym, acronym, blah, blah…..”


Your listener tuned out about 2 seconds in.

Being able to clearly describe what your nonprofit does is crucial to catching people’s attention, raising funds and gathering support.

What you need is a key message.

Unfortunately, most people haven’t taken the time to refine their key message.

Instead of sharing something that stirs the listener’s heart and soul, they regurgitate a long, boring, memorized spiel that’s way too focused on the organization. It’s “us, us, us, we, we, we.” It’s ego-centric and it doesn’t work.

Seriously, who wants to hear that?

If you’re ready to raise big bucks deepen donor relationships, you need something better to say.

People need to understand what you do and it needs to strike a chord in their heart before they’ll reach for their wallet.

Key Message Exercise: The 6 Word Attention Grabber

Here’s an exercise I often do in workshops.

Think about what you say when someone asks “What does your nonprofit do?” Grab a pen and jot it down.

Be sure to make it conversational and easy to understand.

Okay, got it?

Now, go back through it, and strip out all the jargon and acronyms. Rewrite it without all that mess.

Got something simple that anyone can understand?

Great. Now, try it again, and use half the number of words.

If you’re sucking in air, I understand.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to be brief.

In fact, it’s hard work to create something concise and inspiring to say.

Mark Twain, the great American writer, knew this. In fact, he said “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I’m ready today. If you want a 5-minute speech, I’ll need two weeks to prepare.”

How much time are you currently spending preparing the words you share with donors and prospects?

If you’re like most people, you aren’t spending any time at all.  You’re using whatever pops you’re your head at the moment. You’re quickly stringing words together just so you can be done and move on to the next thing.

If you’re lucky, it resonates with your audience. If not, you’re boring them to tears.

Hmmm. Might need to spend a little more time on it, huh?

Back to the exercise. Got your half-sized introduction?

Good. Cut it down to just 6 words. I’m serious!

These 6 words will help you bridge the heart-wallet connection. This key message can inspire someone to give or not.

It’s a great exercise to engage your brain and think about it in a new way.

Remember that these 6 words don’t have to tell everything your nonprofit does. They just need to grab someone’s attention and engage their interest.

Real Life Example

I remember once speaking in a large room of about 200 people, when this lady way in the back raised her hand and said “Our cause isn’t sexy. We’re not like the food bank or the animal shelter.”

I said “Ok. What does your nonprofit do?”

She started in with “We’re a 501c3 medical facility conducting research blah, blah, blah.” About 5 minutes later, I stopped her and said “Try again and leave out all the jargon.”

She tried again and it was better, but still too thick and hard to understand.

“Pretend I’m a 6-year old kid. How would you explain it to me?”

“Oh. We do research on the brain.”

Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. So I asked “What are you trying to accomplish with your research?”

And she began again with the medical terminology and acronyms.

“Stop. I’m 6 remember? What will the research do?”

“Oh. We’re hoping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.”

The entire room sucked in a gasp.

I looked at her and said “You’re working on a cure for Alzheimer’s and you don’t think that’s sexy??”

I’m guessing her problem was that she thought she needed to use the medical terminology to accurately explain the mission, and unfortunately it was turning people off.

I bet her messaging was dramatically different after that workshop!

Being able to clearly and concisely describe what you do will draw supporters to you like flies to honey. Using big words they don’t understand is like dousing them in vinegar.

Key Messages Matter

When you’re meeting prospects, memorized mission statements don’t work. A key message does.

When you’re trying to cut through the noise and say something to grab people by the heartstrings, remember to keep it conversational, jargon free, and easy to understand.

And be concise. The longer you drone on, the more you lose people.

Every word counts. Choose them carefully.