2 min Read
October 7, 2013

Need a clearer message? Focus on the “musts.”

Messaging is one of the first and most important tools nonprofit communicators need in their toolkits. Whether you’re out to drive donations, inspire actions, attract volunteers, or recruit participants, it all starts with a clear understanding of what story you need to tell and how to tell it.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But when you spend your days working for a nonprofit, steeped in the complexity of your issue and the nuances of your approach, it can be almost impossible to boil all of that information up into a few simple ideas that really get your message across.

Here’s a little trick that might help you see the forest in spite of all those trees:

Focus on the “musts.”

Start by taking a step back, and imagine you’re talking to someone who’s never heard of your organization before. What are the key points you MUST communicate if you want him to walk away with a basic understanding of (and hopefully a little bit of interest in) what you do? If he forgets almost everything you say, what are the couple of nuggets of information that should stick in his mind?

Those key points will vary for every organization, but they might include…

  • Quickly explaining the problem you exist to solve—not all of the details, just the big idea (e.g., preserving wildlife is important for the environment, or heart disease is the #1 killer of women)

  • Emphasizing that your organization is needed (e.g., we’re the only ones doing this important work, or we have to tackle this disease from every angle if we want to find a cure)

  • Communicating that your approach is effective (e.g., we’ve successfully protected dozens of species, or the research we’ve funded is already leading to more effective treatments)

Of course, you might have a longer list depending on how complex your nonprofit’s story is, but the goal is to figure out the bare minimum of what someone needs to understand. In fact, it should probably feel a little uncomfortable—it’s a very reductive way to think about your work. But if you can identify a few quick and memorable “musts” to get the conversation started, you can create opportunities later on to dig into the details and help your audiences gain a more nuanced understanding.

What are your favorite tricks and tools for staying oriented on the big picture when you’re talking to supporters? Share your thoughts in the comments.