Crafting your organization’s vision, mission, and messaging
Creating simple, memorable ways to speak and write consistently about your nonprofit organization’s work can be transformational. Clearly defined and consistently implemented mission and vision statements and messaging platforms are key to ensuring that all points of contact with your organization reinforce the right messages.
In this webinar, Farra Trompeter, Chief Growth Officer of Big Duck, Chandra M. Hayslett, Communications Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Bridget Jackson, Sr. Public Affairs and Communications Advisor of NeighborWorks America, and Yvette Scorse, Communications Director of Byte Back, reviewed how these messaging elements can be created to more effectively engage your audiences—from local residents to activists to donors.
They also discussed the relationship between brand strategy (positioning and personality) and messaging, provide examples of how other organizations use these tools (i.e. setting your board and staff up to be brand ambassadors), and explore when/how you might evolve your messaging and who you should include when you do it.
Farra: Hi everyone. Welcome to today’s webinar, Crafting Your Organization’s Vision, Mission, and Messaging. Before we get started and introduce our great panels, I just want to go over a few quick things. We often get asked the question of will I get a copy of these slides? What we do is we record this meeting, and by the way it is being recorded, and we will post that recording on our website in our Insights section. We’ll also send you an email tomorrow or Monday that has the link to the recording as well as some related resources. So you can check that out. We have plenty of time for questions and answers. If you’ve got any questions while we’re going, you can feel free to chat those in at any time, but we will also make sure we leave time at the end for overall questions. If for some reason you get into a technical issue at some point during this webinar, feel free to email my colleague Lillie Rice, our Marketing Coordinator, at [email protected].
Farra: And if you’ve got any takeaways or questions or anything you’re excited about during the webinar, feel free to tweet using #20NTCVision. For those of you for whom that hashtag may look familiar or unfamiliar. I just want to briefly talk about the origin of today’s webinar before we dive in. This webinar was supposed to be delivered two weeks ago at The Nonprofit Technology Conference from NTEN. Unfortunately, that conference had to get canceled. Because it had to get canceled, which significantly impacts NTEN’s revenue, some of us, including myself, we actually have two of your presenters of four are NTEN board members–myself and Bridget Jackson, who you’ll meet in a moment. We’re all banding together to do a campaign for NTEN. Should you desire to make a small donation, please, we welcome it. You can go right to we-heart-nten.causevox.com. We’ll send that out as well. Another comment I wanted to make before we go further is, we developed this content a few months ago. We are happy to talk about messaging as it relates to the coronavirus. That’s not what we’re focusing on today. Today we’re really focused on organizational messaging, ongoing branding topics. But again, if you have questions about that, you can feel free to submit that and we will talk about that at the end. So without further ado, I would like each panelist to introduce themselves.
Yvette: Good afternoon. And thanks, Farra, and thanks, Big Duck, for hosting this. I’m glad that we’re able to do it even though NTC was canceled. It’s been really great working with Farra, Chandra, and Bridget. So I think we’ll have a great webinar today. So my name is Yvette Scorse. I’m the Communications Director at Byte Back. Byte Back is a DC-based nonprofit and we provide a pathway of free tech training to help adults move into living wage careers that use technology. In today’s discussion, I’ll be talking a little bit about our rebranding and mission. And because we’re a small- to medium-sized direct service organization, it kind of gives you a different perspective and makes this within reach for any size organization. And I think Chandra is next.
Chandra: Thanks, Yvette. And again, thanks to Big Duck and so happy to be here with you all today. I’m happy that we’re able to still offer this information. I’m the Communications Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and we’re a New York City-based litigation and advocacy organization. We partner with social movements and communities under threat and we work with them to dismantle oppression and fight for justice. We’re 53 years old. We started in Jackson, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights Movement. Some of the issues that we’re fighting against are abusive immigration practices, discriminatory policing, government surveillance, mass incarceration, Muslim profiling, and for LGBTQAI+ rights. And most recently we have been doing some work dealing with COVID-19, trying to get immigrants released from ICE detention centers.
Bridget: Hello everybody. I’m Bridget Jackson with NeighborWorks America. I’m the Senior Public Affairs and Communications Advisor in the Western region, based in Southern California. However, NeighborWorks America is based in D.C. and NeighborWorks America is a federally funded nonprofit. We are chartered by Congress. We are 42 years young in the affordable housing and community development space in which we have a network of more than 240 501(c)(3)s that are all running the gamut in affordable housing and community development, sustainable home ownership, and a host of other activities that keep communities stronger together every single day. So that is what I’m offering to you today as far as my expertise with today’s branding session. Thanks.
Farra: Hi everyone. The voice you heard earlier belongs to me. This is Farra Trompeter. I’m Chief Growth Officer at Big Duck. Just last week I had the fortune of celebrating 13 years at this organization. I’m really excited to have you all join us today. At Big Duck, I lead our marketing and business development efforts and I sometimes have the pleasure of doing strategic work with our clients. I am also our lead trainer and in fact that’s how I met Bridget, through some training that I got to do with NeighborWorks. So it’s always exciting to come full circle together. If you want to connect with me on Twitter, you can find me @Farra. I’m also often behind @BigDuck. Feel free to connect with any of us on Twitter, Instagram, etc. We will again share our contact information along with the follow up after this webinar.
Farra: So just in case you’re wondering, here’s what we’re going to be talking about today. We’re really going to get into the basics of branding and messaging, really unpack some key elements on branding and messaging. We’re going to talk about how having clear and consistent messaging can help your organization and finally give you some action steps you can put into place to roll out and ensure that messaging is used consistently. Some of you may not have any messaging, some of you may already have existing messaging and/or be in the process of changing it. In fact, we’ll find out shortly. We’re going to do a poll. We believe there’s something for everyone in this webinar. And again, if you have any questions at any point, please do feel free to chat them in.
Farra: So speaking of, we’re going to start with that poll I was just talking about. If you give me just one moment, I’m going to launch that and we’re going to ask everybody to vote. So it may not be the exact answer, but pick the one that comes closest to where you are with your organization. Take two more seconds, get all those votes in. And it looks like I’m going to close this poll and share those results. It looks like no one has claimed that they are a master, but most of you have done some work on it. So again, for the few of you that haven’t done anything formally, welcome, you will still have a lot to learn here. And those of you who started working on this or have some, again, feel free to ask particular questions with your needs in mind.
Farra: All right, just give me one quick second to get back to our slides. All right. So what we want to do is start by talking about, really if you’re not familiar with Big Duck, we work exclusively with nonprofits and one of the things we focus on is really figuring out how you can use communications to achieve your mission. And we do that by building strong brands, strong campaigns, and strong teams. We think a lot about branding and how it intersects with all those other things I just mentioned. Chandra is letting me know the poll is still showing. I’m sorry about that everyone. Give me one quick second to see why it’s doing that.
Farra: Sorry everyone, please stand by while I figure this out. All right. I believe we’re back. Sorry about that. So again, we’re going to talk about grounding your messaging in your brand. So first I actually would love it if a few folks can chat in what they believe the definition of branding is. So when you hear the word brand, what phrase comes to mind? How do you define branding? So just chat in your thoughts. What is branding? So I see one person says it’s your logo. Again, chat in, what is branding to you? Another says it’s kind of what people think of when they think of you. It’s your personality. It’s your identity, it’s your reputation, it’s the elements, let’s see, the elements that capture the essence of your organization. Oh I like that. Your vibe. Very cool. How you’re perceived in the marketplace, how the public perceives you. Great.
Farra: So a lot of people who are, again, thinking about, I like that your vibe, your essence, your personality, your perception. At Big Duck, we think about branding on many levels. I think, branding is really kind of all of the things that you said and more. When most organizations think about branding, they do often go right to things like the messaging, sort of what’s the name of the organization, how do people introduce it? And people actually understand what we do. What do we look like? What do we sound like? Maybe they think about their website. I mean, particularly in this moment, a lot of people are thinking about their digital presence. Especially if they were an organization that mostly convened or offered services in person, right? What’s happening online or in other channels? To understand really what you should be even doing with communication channels, what you should look like, what you should sound like, we really believe at Big Duck that you really need to first be clear about what we consider the organizational level of your brand, which is: where is your organization trying to go? What is it trying to do and to get that and what are the principles that guide you. But to get there, who do you need to reach? Who do you need to engage? What is it you want them to do? And at the heart of it, a lot of the comments people said, what do you want them to think and feel about you.
Farra: A lot of things in the top of this pyramid, things like vision, mission, values, those are often articulated in a strategic planning process or maybe in a really deep grant proposal depending on your organization. We always like to understand where is an organization going? So then we could look at, okay, how should we then relate that to what we want people to think and feel about us? And then how we talk about our work.
Farra: At the heart, again, of this is what we consider these elements of positioning and personality as your brand strategy. Again, that’s the big idea people have in their mind about you and the way you make them feel. The official definition of positioning, it gets defined by people in lots of different ways, is really kind of that big single idea you want in people’s minds. So when they hear your organization, what’s that phrase that immediately comes to them? Because it’s really just meant to be a quick association. We encourage people when they’re working on positioning, it doesn’t have to be just used exclusively internally. But that’s really the goal of it. The goal is to be something that you can look at your next communications, your Facebook update, your new tagline, whatever it is and say, does it reinforce and reflect this big idea?
Farra: So it should be something we can use in that way. And for most organizations, positioning is different than your mission. Some organizations really do like the ideas that come through in their positioning statement and use it as their mission. That is certainly okay. But the intent of positioning again is to be that kind of idea people associate with us. On the other hand, is personality. Personality is the way we make people feel. It’s often the tone and style we use. So somebody chatted in, Cary chatted in, your vibe. That is certainly part of it, right? Are you an energetic and spunky organization? Are you warm and compassionate? Are you feisty? We’re going to see some examples of this and how you apply it. Personality really, when you’re coming up with your personality words, and we typically encourage groups to use four to six adjectives, those should be different from one another and they should not be the kind of words that every single other nonprofit is trying to strive for.
Farra: My number one pet peeve of a word when organizations put it in their personality, and forgive me if any of my colleagues on this call are using it, I love you with all my heart, is the word innovative. Everybody wants to be seen as innovative. The challenge is, everybody says it. So the word has really become so watered down that it’s kind of lost any meaning. I often encourage, you know, maybe push on that if you ever hear a word that really doesn’t bring a feeling to mind, push on it. Maybe it’s things like inventive or forward-thinking or pioneering. Those bring a little bit more of a feeling and an energy to it. And that’s really what you want your personality to do. Not necessarily, again, because you’re using it externally, but so it can help you with the most creative decisions as possible. You’re applying personality when you are thinking about your elevator pitch, when you’re thinking about the colors you’re using, when you’re thinking about your approach to images. So personality and positioning come together to be objective tools we can use to build cohesion among our team. And when we’re looking at things, but also among our entire brand.
Farra: I’m really having some Google issues today. Forgive me everyone. So as I was saying, positioning and personality come together, that is your brand strategy. We use that to make decisions about what, if anything we should do or change when it comes to our visuals and our messaging. Chandra is going to take us through a case study of how you can see some of this coming to life for Center for Constitutional Rights.
Chandra: Thanks, Farra. So what you all are looking at is our old logo and when we started the rebranding process, maybe February of 2018, and it was a ten month process. But before when we started it, the Center for Constitutional Rights hadn’t rebranded for about 15 years and our former look, which is on the screen, it was tired and not motivating. It wasn’t, it didn’t move people to act. So after about a year before the rebrand, the board and the management team finalized our strategic framework and so we thought it would be a good time to rebrand and update our messaging so everything would be aligned with the new framework. A group of about ten staff and board went through Big Duck’s one day intensive training to determine the position and personality, which Farra just walked everyone through. And that guides us with our internal messaging and it guided us through the ten month process. When we decided on our new logo, tagline, we redid our vision and mission statements, key messaging, boilerplate, and elevator speech.
Chandra: We’re still using the personality and positioning when we’re making decisions about how we frame out our work for the public. And so this is still like the old logo and how it looked on our website. The colors were like a lime green and a turquoise. And so we changed all the colors, the logo. I think Farra’s going to flip through some more slides, sorry. And this is our brand strategy. The positioning: we dare to fight oppression regardless of the risks, standing with social justice movements and communities under threat. And our personality: unapologetic, agile, tough, and impassioned. And again, we use these internally to determine how we’re going to show up on social media, how we’re going to show up in messaging, when we take on a new case. We try to use these if someone is going on broadcast TV to talk about our political analysis of what’s happening in the world with our cases. Really trying to tap into, we are unapologetic. We are in spaces where people don’t want to be fighting. We’re agile, we work with social justice movements, but we can also show up in courtrooms. We’re tough. We’re a legal organization. We have to be tough. And we’re a nonprofit. Everyone who works for the Center for Constitutional Rights and is passionate about the issues that we cover.
Chandra: This is our beautiful new logo. Again, colors have changed. We have new fonts and what I want to highlight here is the fact that “rights” are highlighted with this broad stroke. The broad stroke comes from the fact that we do a lot of Freedom of Information Act cases, cases where we request documents from the government, which we often sue, and those documents, will generally come back redacted. So this is like a redaction in a legal document. And we wanted to redact or highlight the word “rights” because we are fighting for people’s rights. And so this is just the new book on our website. It’s so much cleaner. And we’ve gotten so many compliments since the rebrand. And we launched this October of 2018. Our social media. Justice Takes a Fight is our tagline.
Farra: Great. Thank you, Chandra. So Chandra was sort of showing through that brand strategy and how we applied it visually and with the tagline. We’re going to get back into their messaging shortly. So we’re going to try a poll again and hope it works. So I’m going to bring a poll up and have you all vote. What do you hope messaging can do for your organization? What’s the number one thing? I know it’s probably all of the above, but if you had to pick one, it’d be great to hear what you all are thinking. All right, we’re going to give it another second. A few more votes coming in. All right, well it looks like most of you. It’s not showing the results… I think you can’t see the results yet, can you? Let’s see. Well, for some reason it’s not letting me, are you all seeing the results? I hope you can. But just in case you can’t, it looks like 60% of you are hoping to clarify or refresh who you are both for internal and external audiences and then followed by recruiting participants and supporters. So just a few of you are trying to think about how your staff and board can represent you and change perceptions. You’re really looking at this idea of clarifying who we are and that is often the number one need that we see organizations have.
Farra: I’m going to try and see if it will let me go back to the slides. Being quite cranky, these polls, I’ve got to say. Give me one moment here, everyone. All right, we’re back. So now we’re going to walk through the elements of a messaging platform. When we think about messaging, I think most people think about the written elements, things like the about us, but it’s also the elevator pitch. How do we write and talk about our organization? It also includes, if you remember that pyramid I showed earlier, I talked about how vision and mission really have to lead our brand strategy work on our positioning and personality. It also, we need to look at how those things are expressed. So in the organizational level, we think conceptually about our mission and vision. Where are we going? What are we trying to do? When we get to the actual identity level and we’re thinking about our messaging, how are these things actually written? So for some organizations, when they go through a branding process, they don’t necessarily change what their organization’s vision and mission are, but they look at the expression, and they look at, does that expression really represent that big idea we want. Is it written in a way that really reinforces that jump? So why might you change your messaging? I think Chandra is going to speak to this.
Chandra: Yes I am. Thanks Farra. So there are a number of reasons for an organization to rebrand, but they all speak to the evolution of your organization. The Center for Constitutional Rights’ decision, it falls into a couple of these buckets, but you may be in any of these spaces. So, number one, when you want to shake off an old image. So outdated branding has the potential to affect you credibility with potential donors, partners, and clients, if you have clients. It’s a visible, visual representation of your effort to move forward and you can help your supporters see you differently. Number two, when you want to tap into a new audience. For the sake of keeping your organization moving forward, it’s an absolute necessity to reach out and tap into a new audience that may be interested in your mission and vision. Number three, when your language is outdated and not inclusive. This speaks to advancing your organization’s legacy and really being current. Number four, you’re failing to differentiate yourself from the competition. When you want to break out in the sameness in your field by featuring the value you bring to donor supporters and clients. The last two are pretty self explanatory. You’ve moved or expanded beyond your original geography. And number six, you’ve merged with another organization. Those would require updated mission, vision, and messaging.
Farra: So I just want to, you know, offer some definitions for folks. I think people define these terms in different ways. A vision statement is really kind of painting a picture. What is that desired future state? What is the sort of, at the end of the day, the why behind your organization? What’s the outcome you are hoping for in your work? So for some organizations, it’s a vision for the world. We’ll talk about the different kinds of vision statements in a moment. But then the mission statement kind of explains how are you actually going to get there? And together they come together and really explain who you are. A mission statement tends to be a bit more matter of fact, it’s the purpose, it’s what we do. But the vision statement often is something that brings people in. It’s aspirational. Again, it’s the world or the New York or the region, or whatever it might be, that we’re trying to create. So again, that vision: big, motivating, aspirational. Mission: clear, how are we actually going to get that vision done? What do we do?
Farra: Together, what you want to do is make sure that those statements are free of jargon. This was really important to be the number one position. We often see vision and mission statements that had been written in strategic planning processes written by a board or a group of staff and maybe 30 people have put their hands on it. And while certainly that can be helpful for buy-in, often that means that the final docket statements are a bit watered down. They might be confusing. They might be too long, they might have lots of jargon that everyone in the room understands. But as soon as you put it in front of anyone else, they have no idea what you’re talking about. These are, it’s important that when we look at the written expression of these things, people get it. They know what you do, they know why you do it, and it makes sense of why your organization should exist compared to every other organization that might be trying to do similar things.
Farra: They also should be written in a way that reflects that big idea and that feeling from our positioning and personality. So that’s an important check. You know, if you’ve got your vision and mission statement handy, take a look and see, you know, are they free of jargon? Are they short and sweet? Do they sound unique? And do they really reflect that brand strategy? The one comment I do want to make is that in some organizations there is a jargon that does make sense, right? There might be, depending on your audience, depending on what you do, there may be phrases that are really used that, again, to the outside general person would have no idea what you mean. But for the community you work in are really important to use. So it’s free of jargon with a little disclaimer. All right, Bridget, take it away.
Bridget: All right. Yes, and we try very hard at NeighborWorks America to escape that jargon trap. But we do have specific audiences that do listen to a certain language because NeighborWorks America in different communities does reflect in different ways. And so at NeighborWorks q, I’m just going to share a little bit about our mission and vision because I talked a little bit about what my organization does at the head of the call. But for those of you who’d never heard of NeighborWorks America or exactly know what we do from that bit that I shared, this might help to clarify that and I’ll break down what our mission and vision means in a few simple statements. But to start, as you can see here, our mission at NeighborWorks America is to create opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives, and strengthen their communities.
Bridget: Our tagline even says “working together to build to build strong communities.” Our vision for that mission is: Through NeighborWorks and its partnerships, America is a nation of vibrant communities that all are proud to call home. We believe fully that, you know, every place in America is a is a place for opportunity. And how you define opportunity, it’s not one size fits all. It’s not necessarily home ownership. It may be affordable rentership. It may be, you know, opportunities where you can create wealth for yourselves and your family and creates financial achievement and longstanding wealth for for yourself and your family for the benefit of your lives and your families’. So through those mission and vision, I wanted to break down a little bit about how we do that on the next slide, in the mission.
Bridget: And so when I say creating opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, that is grants to our NeighborWorks network. I mentioned at the head of the call, we have about over 240 network members that are all in community development and affordable housing. We provide grants and technical assistance to those network members to fund development efforts, whether it’s building affordable apartments, multifamily complexes, creating home ownership preservation opportunities to keep people out of foreclosure, to keep new neighborhoods from being completely priced out and out of reach for families and individuals. Which leads to the equitable access to housing point here for creating opportunity. We want to help folks improve their lives. So we do want to, above and beyond, as far as our mission statement began over 40, 50 years ago, disrupting those systemic inequalities that put wealth building out of reach.
Bridget: So we want to make sure that just, you know, that the 1% are not the only ones who have access to those resources to strengthen and improve their lives, and doing so by strengthening those communities. They’re going to be able to, folks are going to be able to reimagine those formerly disinvested areas and transform them into the communities of choice. And that’s something that’s at the heart of what we do every single day. And to talk about the vision as the why… So the what we do is the how, but like why we do it. America is a nation of vibrant communities that all are proud to call home. We’re setting that bold vision idea for the future. We’re motivating staff, not only at the NeighborWorks America level, but also in the network organization levels that we support. Motivating staff, board, member organizations, partnerships, which is very huge to the sustainability of both our organization and the organizations that we support with fund development, residents, participants, donors, and others to join us in this collective fight, an endeavor to keep America a nation of vibrant communities that all are proud to call home.
Bridget: And again, that does speak to our core purpose of what our mission is overall at NeighborWorks America. So, moving forward, I wanted to share just a little bit about one of our organizations in our Northeast region. I did mention that we have various regions of NeighborWorks America, some of our organizations in the 240 ish, some odd network of NeighborWorks groups, some of them are DBAs. They take our name and our branding to heart to the point where they are maximizing the NeighborWorks America brand name and putting that into their own work in their communities. And so someone in Western Pennsylvania, if they say, if we just simply say NeighborWorks and not NeighborWorks America, they’re thinking West, that local organization, Western PA, not necessarily NeighborWorks America, the mothership, if you will, that is represented in DC. Unless they’re really savvy.
Bridget: And we hope with our branding as we go on in the next 40 plus years that we can get that first name recognition that way. But, here’s NeighborWorks America’s mission and statement here, mission statement. They promote stable, vibrant communities by providing neighbors with comprehensive financial empowerment and home ownership services. So this organization is definitely differentiating itself as yes, you know, we’re not looking at affordable rentership, we’re not looking at something specific to that community of need and service. But they are primarily a homeownership based organization. So their mission there is to promote those stable vibrant communities from falling into the traps of disinvestment and communities of non-choice, that folks do not want to live in and it’s not a place for opportunity, to transform that with neighbors. And rather than saying clients or something, rather clinical in that sense, they consider all of their service area representatives and constituents as neighbors, which is great.
Bridget: But providing them with financial empowerment and home ownership services. So that’s their vision there to provide their neighbors with that tool. And I think if you click on that one more time, you’ll see the vision, there you go, to provide the neighbors with the financial empowerment. So the tools and skills that those individuals need on their own sort of, you know, getting a grant so that they can get down payment assistance. It’s what they do with that so that they can retain that wealth asset, that home to become a long-term, stable home ownership, which in turn impacts the community beneficially as a whole. So that’s one of our groups and what they do and how they have applied our branding, you see a little bit of some of our wording in their mission and vision and how that embodies the NeighborWorks brand through their own particular individual services and resources. And so with that I think I’m going to bounce it to Yvette to talk about the next session about aligning the mission with personality and values.
Yvette: Great. And there was a great slide earlier on the reasons to update your vision, mission, and messaging. I’d really encourage you all to look back at that because it’s a really helpful checklist. I wish I had it at the time that we re-did our mission statement about a year ago. It could be helpful in starting the process, but also in convincing leadership if you’re looking at those boxes and kind of checking them. So we have our old mission statement here. We checked several of those boxes, several of those reasons that we needed an update. One of them was we really wanted to shake off an old image and tap into new audiences. And I’ll be talking a little bit about that more later. But we were founded in 1997 and our goals and our audiences, like we really wanted to reform our old image and tap into new ones, especially for fundraising and thought leadership. Another motivator or reason for mission update was we were .. So you’ll see we’ve mentioned the Washington D.C. Metro area in our old mission statement, but we expanded last year into Baltimore and we’re looking at expanding beyond that. So that was kind of another impetus. But the main ones I want to talk about are that our language was outdated and not inclusive. And this mission statement is also just really long. I had to take about three breaths to get through it.
Yvette: And the language itself is pretty inaccessible to the people that we serve in communities. So what we really wanted to do was use language that they could identify with. So part of this process was really, that word “underserved” in there was really standing out as something. I actually went to ask a group of our adult students who take our free tech training to get their thoughts on our mission before. And a literal quote I got from them was “I don’t want to be called underserved.” So it was really not ringing true for them as a community. And I don’t think it really described our impact, our theory of change. So after doing this process, our mission statement is Byte Back provides a pathway of inclusive tech training that leads to living-wage careers. It really focuses on positive language, on the impact, on where our students are heading.
Yvette: And it really helps audiences see that, see the positive impact instead of focusing on maybe where some students are starting as being underserved or needing economics opportunity, which is pretty vague. It’s really focusing on that living-wage career at the end. And I think if you click, Farra, maybe there’s a couple more comments. Right. So what I was talking about underserved. Another thing we did was just test the reading level, which is a really easy tool. Not just for a mission statement, but for a lot of your messaging. So our before mission was at postgrad level. So again, not just for our students, but really to better and more clearly communicate with all audiences. This change has been really beneficial.
Chandra: Hi. So I’m going to talk about our vision and mission statement at the Center for Constitutional Rights. And as you can see, the vision is the Center for Constitutional Rights fights for a world without oppression, where people use their power to achieve justice and guarantee the rights for all. For our vision statement, we talked about what we hope for the future. If the Center for Constitutional Rights didn’t have to exist anymore, what would that world look like? And it would look like a world without oppression. So it was really important for us to have that key phrase in there, a world without oppression, because that’s what we’re really fighting for every day. And our mission statement, the Center for Constitutional Rights stands with social justice movements and communities under threat using litigation, advocacy, and narrative shifting to dismantle systems of oppression regardless of the risk.
Chandra: So with this, it was really important to have the three elements of the organization highlighted. Litigation, we’re first and foremost a legal organization. Advocacy, we do a bunch of campaigns that support the legal work. And then the narrative shifting is the communications department that comes in and really tries to change the narrative around some of the issues or really all of the issues that we’re fighting for. I also want to highlight the regardless of the risk portion and our mission statement and it really goes back to who our personality as the unapologetic word that I mentioned earlier. The Center for Constitutional Rights has a legacy and history of often being the first nonprofit to step into a legal space on behalf of clients. An example of that is we are still representing men at Guantanamo Bay. We were the first nonprofit to file a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of the men aGuantanamo Ba. So we are often finding ourselves stepping up first in spaces where other NGOs don’t want to step into. So we are unapologetic and it was really important for us to have something that spoke to the unapologetic-ness of our organization. And that’s regardless of the risk. And I’ll pass it back to Farra now.
Farra: Thanks Chandra. So I mentioned earlier there are lots of different kinds of vision statements, actually. For most of us we tend to think about a vision for the world. We imagine a world where no kid goes to bed hungry, is an example of a vision statement. Some organizations actually, we’ve seen three other kinds beyond the vision for the world. One is for the people you work with. What you hope will be the outcome of your work for the people that are directly impacted by what you do. Another might be for the field, if your organization particularly is one maybe that’s an intermediary or one that’s focused on really trying to shift how people operate. Your vision might be around the field. And then finally for some organizations, and I actually say this is pretty common for those who are creating vision statements as part of strategic planning processes, sometimes organizations just have a vision about their organization. Within the next 10 years, we will be double in size, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Something about just your organization. I think those are probably least effective for motivating anyone beyond the staff and board. But it can be a direction that makes sense for you. And we’ve written a blog about these four different kinds of vision statements with examples and we’ll share that later on as a resource. But just something to keep in mind as you’re looking at your own vision statements.
Farra: So we’ve talked about vision and mission. Now we want to talk about key messages. When we think about how to tell your organization’s story, again, most people go right to elevator pitch, the sort of spoken introduction of our organization. At Big Duck, we believe to get to the right introduction of your organization, you need to start with an exercise that defines your key messages. And this is really first about creating the structure of your story. I like to think about it as if there was to be a book about your organization, what would be those chapters? What would be the table of contents? So just even at a glance, I get what this book is about. That’s kind of what key messages do. They’re not necessarily copy and paste as is, but some organizations find them helpful. And you’ll see that in a moment, but some organizations just use them for reference and they might pull certain elements when they’re creating a speech or a specific story. Once you have those key messages, then you can look at that written overview of who you are or your boilerplate and that spoken introduction, or your elevator pitch. These elements, key messages typically are used internally and then boilerplate and elevator pitch are used externally. But some organizations including one on this phone sometimes love their key messages and finds it useful to put them on their website. And you’ll hear about that in just a moment. Chandra, let’s talk about your key messages.
Chandra: Thanks Farra. So we’ve structured our key messages in a way where we really were talking about goals and how the organization works. So what we’re up against is… The goal of this section is to lay out the problems that we’re trying to attack every day. It’s when the law doesn’t support systems of power. I’m sorry. The law often support systems of power that violate our most fundamental rights and prevent people from living with dignity. So this is like baseline. This is a problem that we’re trying to address in our work. The what we do, we use this section to highlight the three components of our work, which I mentioned a minute ago, litigation, advocacy, and narrative shifting. This is the way we internally structure our work and each tactic plays off of another. So those three are highlighted and are the litigation, advocacy, and narrative shifting.
Chandra: Why we win is, we were trying to convey that we win by fighting power in the courtroom and on the streets, in the media and building power in the communities that we work for. That talks to another personality word, being agile. Again, I mentioned that, you know, our lawyers are on the ground with social justice movements. They’re in the courtroom. So we’re building power with the communities that we’re working for, but fighting power on behalf of those communities. Why we are calling on you. We wanted to end with a call to action or an invitation for people to meet us where they’re most comfortable and able. Can you sign a petition, donate, share. So acts, can you sign a petition? Can you engage with us with a sign on letter? Donate. We’re all nonprofits here, so we’re always looking for people to donate. Share. How are you showing up on social media? How can you support us on social media? Can you retweet something for us or comment to engage with us on social media? All of this information is on our website and it was really important for us to put all of this information on our website. And there it is. Yes, there it is. So it’s under each key messaging there are breakouts points until all, again, all of this is on our website and it was really important for our audiences to experience this. We were hoping to attract some new audiences when we rebranded and updated the messaging and vision and mission statements. So it’s for new audiences to really be able to take a deep dive into who the Center for Constitutional Rights is and for our existing audiences to see how we are evolving.
Chandra: So this is our boilerplate and all of this plays off of the key messaging. There are pieces from our vision and mission statement that you will see in the boilerplate. So it’s a lot of the same messaging that’s rephrased, but we really wanted a through-line. We wanted people to see consistency through all of the elements that we worked with in rebranding. So this is our boilerplate, which is obviously on our, we use it on our press release. We have a shorter modified version and, I think the elevator pitch was next. If you can go, yes, our elevator pitch. We are a litigation and advocacy organization that partners with social movements and communities under threat. Together we work to dismantle oppression and fight for justice. And I opened the webinar with this, using our elevator pitch to describe who we are and what we do. And we have this elevator pitch on little business cards that all staff hopefully are carrying around with them to be able to refer, because the mission and vision are reflected in the elevator pitch, but it’s worded differently. So it will take time for people to get used to saying this or pulling parts out. So we got the elevator pitch printed on business cards that people have and are using to quickly describe the Center for Constitutional Rights. So as soon as Farra will click through these slides again, I will pass it to Bridget.
Bridget: Okay. So with that great stuff from Chandra, thank you so much. We want to talk about how we get started in crafting those winning mission, vision, and branding statements. And the way that we need to do that is to get a roadmap going to make that effective and get those ideas from mind to paper to permanent fixture on your brand identity and your websites and so on. So of course you have to start with the basic roadmap. Have you got to get the, identify the who, the what, the five “w”s, so who the story is for, getting input from different voices in the organization and the community, you want to brainstorm and write and do those mind maps, do those meetings, do those stakeholder engagement type of activities to get things into place and framework. You want to share that with your audiences and get feedback and feedback is a gift.
Bridget: You know, I know people say that. It’s not a hackneyed phrase. It is a thing. You want to be able that you’re having all of those voices and their feedback. Take that to heart when you are doing that roadmap work. It’s so important. And of course then there is the systematic rollout of the mission, mission, vision and branding statements. And to provide training so that everybody in that organization from the administrative assistant to the CEO is telling that same story and making sure that everyone is in alignment with what those statements are and that there’s an understanding of how they can get that mission and vision flowing and in the minds of the people that you care about to reach. So in order to get that process going, you want to prioritize those audience. So we talked about the who, who are the people and the constituents in the service area that you’re trying to reach and serve?
Bridget: You want to convince the leadership in your organization of why those priority audiences and messages are important. You want to make that process inclusive. So from creation of those statements and ideas to testing those ideas out into the communities, you want to make sure that everybody’s voices are included and heard. And that does not just include, you know, a few select people that are your best folks in your organization. Or sometimes we tend to work in silos in our organizations and go to the people that are the most responsive. You kind of have to open that up and talk to new folks in your organization, especially if you have multiple lines of business or service intention in your groups. You want to make sure that you’re getting their input as well. And that can be as informal as, you know, sometime over watercooler break or having time at your staff meeting to start engaging folks on that deeper level than you might’ve thought previously in your other engagements with them.
Bridget: And then of course you want to make sure that your messages, in the final stage, connect your program to the main organization and/or the local chapters for the national organization. So for those of you that are on the line today that represent individual chapters of a larger organization, you want to make sure that your programs align and your messaging aligns with that as well. And so, moving ahead. Okay. So we want to make sure that that messaging team that is part of your roadmap process, you want to make sure that at a basic level you’re going to have your leadership, CEO, Executive Director, Program Directors, board members, of course, not just the President but more committee members are also very important here. Volunteers, community stakeholders, make sure that those individuals are also engaged in your process.
Bridget: And of course the program participants themselves, which I’m sure if you go to leadership with the program directors that are representing various businesses or services in your group, that they will have super stellar superstars, which is normally the volunteers, but sometimes also program participants that might be new and provide a fresh set of eyes to their first engagement with your organization. Somebody who might be willing to be part of that process. Always try to be as inclusive as possible and cast a wide net in your messaging team when you start this process. And so when you work with these individuals together in your committees to create these mission and vision statements, you want to ask yourself some specific questions to make sure that they quote unquote pass the test, right? So is the language that comes into these statements concise? Say it out loud. If it’s full of that jargon that we want to avoid that we talked about earlier in the call. If that sounds like there’s just too many words and it’s marbles in your mouth, you probably have to cut it down a few sentences, right? And then of course, you want to make sure that the statement is unique from your contemporaries. So you know, you’re not trying, you know, imitation’s the best form of flattery, but not when you’re trying to distinguish yourself from some organizations that do almost exactly what we do. Right? And you want to make sure, again, if that language is concise, it’s going to be easier because it’s easy to commit to memory, so that you can think of it on a dime anywhere you are at any time. And then you’re going to pull up a business card or some of those folks put the mission statement on the business card.
Bridget: If you’ve got to pull out your business card every time you talk to somebody, you might be having an opportunity to do a mission and vision statement redo, right? And then of course, does that mission statement, vision statement, is it clear to those unfamiliar with your cause? And you know, at NeighborWorks America, full disclosure, a lot of times that folks, when I say I’m in community development, well, people don’t really understand what that is. Or if they think they know NeighborWorks Americas, they thought they’ve heard of us before. The first question I get, a lot of times is, oh, like Habitat for Humanity. If they’re familiar with what their understanding of NeighborWorks is, if they happen to have an organization that we fund, that does self-help builds for low- to moderate-income homeowners, people that are building their homes from scratch to earn the sweat equity for their mortgage payment. That’s, you know, they go, oh, like Habitat. No. So, you know, those are things that we want to make sure that when we tell the story of NeighborWorks America, we’re not being compared to some of our other contemporaries in the field.
Bridget: And we’re getting there in bits and pieces. Right. And so another way here. So we want to make sure that those four points you do the mission and vision statements, that they’re passing that basic tests. And you may have, you know, your mileage may vary. You may have additional criteria that’s relevant to your organization to make sure that those benchmarks are being met before you get to final boilerplate status with your mission and vision statements. And with that I’m going to turn it back to our fearless leader to talk a a little bit more about nonprofit communications goals.
Farra: Thank you. So we’ve just got a little bit more content. There are some questions coming in. Feel free to send them in, we’ll take some time for questions shortly. At the beginning of the process, one of the things we want to make sure you think about is kind of what does your messaging need to do for you as part of your branding work, your overall communication. Typically, we see communications trying to support one of these three goals, if not all of them. Trying to help us build relationships with supporters so we can raise more money or generate revenue, trying to get people to access the information we need, sign up for our programs, benefit from our services. So that’s kind of like a direct recruitment. And then other times it’s trying to change legislation or maybe change hearts and minds and shift narratives and therefore it’s advocacy.
Farra: Some organizations have a communications goal that’s directly tied to all of these. One thing that could be interesting if you’re starting a process is to say, is one of these the most important? Right? Yes, I know we need to do all of these, but given this point of where we are in our organizational life cycle, where do we need to move the needle the most? Are we in a place where actually we’ve got more of a demand for our programs than we can meet? What we really need is to raise more money, etc. Right? Asking yourself all of those questions with this combination of circles here and seeing if there’s one primary thing you need to do. It will just help you select your target audiences. Because again, we may be trying to reach audiences related to all of these circles, but if you had to somehow prioritize them into primary and secondary, it can help you as you’re putting these messages together.
Farra: And when you’re thinking about your audiences, of course it’s important to not just think about new people. You need to think about the people who do already know you, who are connected to your work. And just maybe they still don’t have a clear understanding of who you are. But that’s an important audience to remember, including your staff and board. And when you’re thinking about the messages they might need to hear or understand about you, both think about how they’re seeing your work, hearing your jargon. But also as we’ve talked about an inclusive process, look for opportunities. I love how Yvette shared, she actually got feedback from students which may be brought up points that the staff alone might not have realized. So it’s always important to both walk in people’s shoes and actually if you can get their direct opinion. And again as we’re thinking about audiences, keep those goals in mind. So Chandra is going to walk us through her goals and audience. She’s just so you can see an example of it.
Chandra: Thanks Farra. So we had three goals when we started the rebranding process and they were to generate awareness and interest in our work,, to raise money and to inspire people to take action with us through some of our advocacy campaigns. And it’s interesting, or maybe it’s not interesting, but maybe just a good job that Big Duck did with our third goal to inspire people to take action. That is again, reflected in our key messages that I just talked about. The last one was we are calling on you act, donate, share.
Chandra: So that goal is reflected and the key messaging where we landed. And we connect, go to our primary audiences. The first was unaffiliated progressives, and you may be like, who are these people? They are generally individuals, mostly millennials who are mission-aligned with our work, who know about our cases, or the issues that we cover, but may not realize that we’re the organization behind them. And a good example of that is most people have generally heard of stop and frisk. And we are the organization, one of the organizations, that took New York City to court to get stop and frisk declared unconstitutional and we were victorious in that. So a lot of people have heard of stop and frisk, but may not realize that we are one of the organizations that was able to get it declared unconstitutional.
Chandra: So you are mission-aligned, you know about the issues, but just may not know that we are the organization behind it. So we were trying to tap into that unaffiliated, progressive audience. Another is the individual donors from our existing base who tend to be older, leftist progressive who connect with our history and values. I mean, I started by saying we’re an organization that’s 52 years old. Most of our donors tend to be older, leftist donors. But so it was important for us to recognize those individual donors, but also going back to the unaffiliated progressives who are mostly millennials, to attract those as well. And movement and community partners and activists. We strive to serve as a resource to and stand in solidarity with grassroots and community-based organizations fighting oppression. And so that language, in addition to those being primary audiences, is reflected and pops up throughout our mission and vision statements, our key messaging, our boilerplate. So in addition to these main audiences, we’re hoping that people can identify themselves and some of the new language that we pushed out about a year and a half ago. And I will now turn it over to Yvette who will talk about goals and audiences.
Yvette: Thank you. So before our rebranding and crafting these key elements of our messaging, Byte Back was known as an organization that taught people, taught older people how to use mouse, how to type, how to basically use a computer in the DC libraries. It’s actually an important part of our work that we do computer literacy training for adults. But it wasn’t telling our full story and it wasn’t achieving our goals or connecting with all the audiences that we needed to connect with. So one of those key audiences was our partners and participants. So in our messaging and our change of mission and our key messages beyond that, we really wanted to connect with our students, with these adult learners, and communicate with them that we were headed towards a common goal, which is a successful career that uses computers.
Yvette: And now we have students come in our doors, not our physical ones nowadays, but our virtual doors and they do have that clear understanding that they’re heading towards a career, not just taking a one-off computer training class. That also helps us build partnerships with employers, which helps us connect those students with careers when they’re done with our program. Another key goal here was getting new funders. So we really needed to diversify funding streams. Before our rebranding, we were about 60% government-funded and now that’s about 20% of our funding. So we really managed to get a lot more workforce development and tech funding and corporate funding. And our brand and our change in messaging was a huge part of really switching this about attracting the right audiences, speaking to them, making our language clear, accessible, and inclusive. And then the last bit was actually attracting, being known as thought leaders. So the rebranding and messaging really helped us build a national reputation. So going from our local libraries to being known as thought leaders around digital equity and diversity in tech really around the country. So that’s really helped us again, gain that funding, gain recognition and partnership, and it really wouldn’t have been possible without this rebranding. So now we’re at a spot where participants can really see their futures in our messaging and our mission and the impact is clear to stakeholders and really attracts them as well.
Farra: So I’m not going to try and launch the last poll. I’m just going to ask everyone to chat in the number: one, two, or three. Can everyone on your team clearly and uniformly describe what you do? Only if you can, type in number one, some can, but not everyone, type in two, three if your whole team can. And we’re going to unscientific results share what we’re seeing here. Getting a lot of twos, looks like most of you are kind of in the “some” camp. A few of you have one, no one yet is sending a three. So the last piece of work we want to share with you or ideas we want to share with you and then we’ll open it up to some questions we’ve received, is how do you get people to use these tools once you create them?
Farra: Some of the questions that your messaging might answer, right? If you’re creating key messages and thinking about what you need or maybe even talking points you’re going to provide, these are some of the things that you want those questions to answer. What do we do and why, right? Like what is again, that what and why behind our work? And getting into the how as well. Through your programs, what are, you know, who is reached by your programs? Where are you based? Who are your audiences? Why do they want to get involved with you? Who funds your work? Or who do you work with? Where are the results you’ve achieved? What are those milestones you’re proud of? What is coming next for you? And then of course, as Chandra’s example shared, I think it’s important to always have a set of message points around action. You want every conversation you have, every piece of material you send, to include a call to action. What should somebody do as a result of listening, watching, hearing, reading, anything you’re putting out there? And that might, and ideally that’s one quick fit. That might be make a gift. That might mean share, that might mean, you know, login and take a survey, whatever it is. But the more you can be clear on what involvement looks like for you and giving people opportunities to be involved and share with it the better.
Farra: I think this is me, but one of my colleagues, feel free to chime in if you were going to chat on this one as well. When you want to get folks to use your messages and roll it out, what you want to do is really first make sure people are clear on what they need to do. You want to take those messaging documents you have and put them in a brand guide if you’ve got one and make sure they look and feel like you. So people are excited to use them. Some organizations like Chandra said, make business cards that have their messaging elements on it. Others make a flyer that people can hang up on their desks or maybe put a screenshot on their computer. You want to make sure that messaging is available in a place everyone can access like Google Drive or whatever tool you’re using to share files.
Farra: You want to make sure that you don’t just do a message training once but it actually becomes part of onboarding for staff or board members. So that might mean delivering it every time you’ve got some new folks who are joining you, or recording it and asking them to watch it. And again, some organizations actually create signs and put their–I’ve gone into many offices that have vision and statements written on the wall. You might put your messaging on your website, like Chandra’s organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, has. So think about how you might roll this out both internally with your staff and with your board but also with your external community.
Farra: So I think that’s really it for our slides. So we’ve got a few questions that have come in. We’re going to give a minute for any others and as folks are chatting in questions, I want to share a few quick resources. And then we’ll get into a conversation. So we will be, one resource we’re excited to share with you is a worksheet you can try just to work on your mission statement, we thought this would be helpful. I think some of these questions you actually could use to work on your messages as well. We’ll send this link out, but if you go to bigduck.com/missionworksheet, you should be able to download that and have access to that. So that might be actually a fun worksheet to share with your colleagues, have them answer it, and then look at all the different answers and see where there’s alignment and maybe where there isn’t and use that to start workshopping what your mission statement might be.
Farra: Also for those of you who might be thinking about a bigger branding process or really want to understand the concepts that go into a branding process, our CEO and founder, Sarah Durham, wrote a book called Brandraising about ten years ago. You can get that pretty much anywhere. So that may be something you want to check out. We are very proud of the work we’ve gotten to do with the Center for Constitutional Rights and you can see a case study about our work together with them on our website, at bigduck.com/ccr. Again, we will send that out for you all to review as well. We also have a podcast series where we talk about a lot of these topics including branding and messaging. And you can access that on our website at bigduck.com/podcast. You can get it on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, all the podcast players. So definitely take a listen for that. Each episode is pretty, you know, ten, 15 minutes, easy to digest and listen to. And our friends at Center for Constitutional Rights have a podcast too. Do you want to talk about that, Chandra?
Chandra: Sure. The Activist Files is our monthly podcast. It’s about a year and a half, about 18 months old, and it’s a platform for activists, lawyers, and storytellers to come on and talk about their work. We have a saying at the Center for Constitutional Rights that says if you bring an activist, lawyer, and storyteller together, they can change the world. So this is a platform for them. And our podcast actually came out today for this month and it is our Executive Director, Vince Warren, and Legal Director Baher Azmy talking about, we’ve been here before looking at government missteps in times of crises. So it examines how the government overreached during the HIV AIDS epidemic, during 9/11, and now COVID-19. So it’s just a 20 minute conversation that will give some folks some insight in how to be watchdogs for the government if you’re interested in that type of thing. And just kind of like the patterns that the government generally takes when they’re during a time of crisis. And it’s on our website, ccrjustice.org/activistfiles.
Farra: All right. I didn’t mean to go to the thank you side. We’re going to go back to, I’m just actually put up the worksheet slide and folks can download that they want. But, we’ve got some questions that have come in and again, if you have others, feel free to chat them in or if you have a different opinion than ours when we answer these questions, you’re welcome to chat that in too and we’ll represent it. So, one question we have, it’s a really interesting one: What are some tips for mitigating stakeholder fatigue with establishing a mission and vision for the organization? Since this process can take months, what are the ways to keep staff and other stakeholders engaged and generate consensus on what these statements should say? That is a great question. I know this comes up a lot. You know, we don’t want to send out yet another survey. We have so many meetings whether it’s for vision or mission or other elements of communication. So, I actually want to see if everyone might have an answer on this. So, Yvette, actually I’m wondering if you might be game to be the first one to answer this, because I know you talked a little bit about the process you did and how you made sure it was inclusive. And I think usually when you have an inclusive process it adds more time to the equation.
Yvette: Sure. So first of all, I don’t think you necessarily need consensus from everyone because there probably will always be some people who are pretty stuck on old branding or your old messaging or your old mission statement. But that doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for your organization. So I would want to avoid like writing by committee because that can be a super hairy process and not have the best results. So what we did. We’re a small to medium organization, about $3 million budget. So we didn’t hire a firm to work with us, but I did get consensus from different audiences in a few ways. I talked about visiting a classroom of our adult participants to really ask them about the current language and to throw some ideas around with them about what would ring true and what would best describe them and their goal at Byte Back.
Yvette: So that was an important part of the process. And then we also involved, we have a small committee of staff members at different levels, our leadership, and then of course involving the board once we had a better idea of really kind of worked out the language. So we weren’t starting at scratch once we did roll them in. And I think if anywhere in the process, like maybe I had the most fatigue in it, but I don’t think others really experienced that fatigue because they were involved kind of the right amount instead of in the whole entire thing.
Farra: That’s great. How about you, Bridget? Any thoughts about how you, what tips you might offer to manage stakeholder fatigue in a process like this?
Bridget: Absolutely. And I’m totally with you, Yvette, on the fatigue part. The most fatigue was on the part of the organizer themselves, right? And so what I would probably suggest to the person who asked this question would be, when you get your targeted amount of folks that are going to be part of this stakeholder group, right. You kind of want to have to appeal to their personal sensibilities before you, you almost have to convene this group with the intention of getting to the heart of what’s in it for them. Right? Like, you’ve chosen me to do this. And in some cases it’s just the, oh, well thank you for thinking of me. I’m glad to be a part of it. But really when you get that interest engagement initially, you’ve got to speak to what’s in it for them to keep that motivation going. Because it can take a long time, months or possibly a year for you to actually get from point A to completion and a boilerplate that has a brand new mission and vision statement, right? So when you get to these folks in your group, you want to definitely make sure there’s clarity on the goals and the scope and the context of what you’re trying to accomplish with this project.
Bridget: And also once you get these folks together and you want to find out, get the clarity of the roles and responsibilities of each person on that team. Because if you have a mixed bag of folks, like again from CEO to program participants, people will start to, you know, fit into their declared understanding of what their role in the organization is. So CEO is like, oh, I only have to be at a couple of these meetings at the start and the end and I’ll just sign off on things. You really have to get granular as to take yourself out of the picture of “I’m the CEO so I can control when these meetings are going to be met” and so on and so forth. Try to get folks in a more broader, holistic mindset of where we’re going as a group to create the goals to get this done. Because otherwise you’re going to have these meetings that are supposed to generate traction and results, but you’re just kind of going around in circles of, you know, who’s on first, right?
Bridget: So you want to definitely get clear on who owns what and then when that is achieved, you want to make sure that the timelines are succinct to get those going. So again, you know, whatever type of time and project management software you might use on your backend from as simple as an Excel sheet to something much more nuanced if you have actual project management software installed at your organization that helps you with this to keep on track. Because that’s going to be very influential in being able to discern when you had things said and who said what, the accountability piece. Once you find what’s in it for them and you’re appealing to the folks that are engaging with you, and are willing to volunteer to step up, let them know very clearly what the engagement timeline will be. And in turn what you’re helping them to understand is, okay, I’ve told you what this expected timeline is going to be to get this work done together. Now it’s on you to make sure that in your role as you understand it and define it, that you are producing what we need and takeaways are being recapped and things produced at the next time that we meet so that we can get things going to stage next in our vision and mission, branding statement process.
Bridget: And those things kind of like, you kind of have to be a task master. I don’t like to kind of have to do that with folks, but you know, honestly if you’re getting the right people to the table and you’re hearing and you’ve taken the time to listen to what their interests and needs are as far as why they wanted to be part of this with you, it’s almost like help us help you. Right? And so I feel that in organizations that I’ve worked with on this level to try to help them get to that stage in life with their organization’s needs, with the mission and vision, if they are very clear from the beginning on what roles and responsibilities are, the engagement, as long as you’re helping them direct that, it’s almost like it tends to work a lot easier than if you’re just picking people, throwing them in a room, and let’s brainstorm and hopefully we can conclude these sessions in 90 minutes and get a thing going.
Bridget: It doesn’t really work that way. You have to kind of find out the individual’s why and appeal to that in the process of getting them engaged and keeping them engaged over time. And then there also can be a review process. I mean if you’re looking at something that’s going to take like a year out of a project time and you’re noticing that somebody is not engaging at the level of everybody else and not pulling their weight, there might be opportunities for you to kind of pivot at the three month mark and see where everybody is. And when you think of people that are going to engage, who might a backup be if somebody is having a hard time and not able to really live up to the performance level that you need to get to the next station to get this project done together? So those are a couple of things I could think of on that. So sorry if I’m rambling.
Farra: Great! Thanks, Bridget. Chandra, do you want to add some points?
Chandra: Yeah, I can just quickly add. I remember I want to +1 the fatigue and the consensus. I think that the fatigue is definitely on the person who’s in charge of the project. And while the Center for Constitutional Rights worked with Big Duck, I was the point person. And with consensus, we have 58 staff members. So there was no way that we could get consensus on all of the elements from logo and tagline, mission, vision statement, key messages, boilerplate, etc. But what we did at a couple of points through the ten month process, the way we try to make the process inclusive, is… When we were deciding on the logo, during a staff meeting, we started with four logo options and we blew them up really big on posters and put them around the room.
Chandra: We talked about each logo, the color, like in the logo that we ended up with, with a broad stroke, just the little details of the logo and what that would mean for our organization. And we literally gave people one post-it note each and they went around the room, 50+ people and put their one post-it on the logo that spoke to them. And so the logo that we ended up choosing was the logo that the majority of the staff selected. So that was our way of bringing in the staff because it was really just eight. We had an eight member working group throughout the majority of the process. We extended it to 10 and let me back up a bit. The working group was two board members and six staff members. It was interdepartmental across our five departments. And when we got to vision and mission, we added two more board members because it was important for the board to sign off on the vision and mission statement to make sure… I mean people join boards because of vision and mission statements. So we wanted to make sure that the majority of the board was on board with the new vision and mission statement.
Farra: Great. Chandra, I think you were done. I don’t know if I just lost you, but, okay, great. We have another question we’re gonna answer in a minute. I wanted to add to that question about fatigue. One thing that you might think about is thinking about this process like a funnel, where you’ve got like almost like an upside down triangle or a pyramid. And at the top, we have the most voices and at the bottom we have the least. And I think in the beginning of a process, trying to hear from a lot of voices, get a lot of input, find out what’s working, what’s not working with what you have. Maybe have a brainstorm session to conceptually align around ideas about what your vision and mission are. Maybe give them examples of other organizations’ vision and mission statements and have them, like Chandra said, do that sticky exercise where they put a post-it note on. And there are tools, you can do this online too if you have to be virtually, where they can vote for the ones that they like the most and just use that to get people’s ideas.
Farra: Once you can agree conceptually about the direction your vision and mission should go, then I would start and you get maybe feedback from different stakeholders. Then I would start trying to narrow in. And as you know, as Yvetter also spoke about too, maybe you start speaking to less people, the closer you get to the finish, the final result. And that’s just another way to think about this. We have a question about brand strategy that I think is really interesting. It’s hard to know the answer without, you know, wanting to talk to you, to you directly and understand more of your situation. But we’ll see what we can do and we’ll start with Chandra. The question that was asked is how do you figure out your brand strategy, your positioning and personality, with an organization that relies a lot on academic freedom of the individuals in the org, and those individuals frequently change. So again, I’m fascinated and want to learn more about this organization. But the question itself, Chandra, do you have any thoughts about an organization who maybe the people in it are so much part of the mission and they are constantly changing?
Chandra: I’m sorry, Farra. When we were chatting, I think you misunderstood me. I’m hoping that you can start with that one.
Farra: Oh of course! That’s okay. And if any one of my colleagues want to chime in, just chat me if you would like to answer it. I would say to this question, I think, I would really try to look to what’s really key in the organization. This may actually, you know, again, look back conceptually at your vision and mission. Why does your organization exist? What is it trying to do? I would imagine if it’s something tied to academic freedom, that even though the people in the organization may change, there’s something that’s in common with the people who do come in and out of the organization. So I would try and look for what those commonalities are. And then I’d also look at peers. It can be really helpful when you’re trying to figure out your positioning and personality to look at organizations that are similar.
Farra: There may not be an organization that’s exactly like yours, but maybe it’s somewhat similar. And if you’re not sure, maybe think about who your donors also give to, who do your supporters also take action with? Who do your program participants also engage with? And how do those organizations express, if you had to guess at what their positioning and personality, you know, if you had to describe them, how would you? And look to see if you can get any kernels of information by doing those two exercises. Yvette, Bridget, would either of you like to add anything to this question?
Bridget: I think, this is Bridget, I think you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head there and I was thinking of stuff and then you kind of swiped it from me.
Farra: Sorry about that.
Bridget: That’s okay. It’s all good.
Farra: Well, you know, there’s one last question and then and I think we’ll wrap it up. And that question is what is the difference between your mission and elevator pitch? Can those two statements be the same? Should they be different? Some of you talked about the mission statement as being something that people could memorize and should be something that you can say. So should your mission statement and elevator pitch be the same? Should they be different? Why, why not? I’d love to hear from our panel. Bridget, do you want to start us on that one?
Bridget: Sure thing. I would say that they should differentiate because you know, when you have an opportunity to do your elevator pitch, you want to get it out in less than 30 seconds. I feel, at least with NeighborWorks America, we can’t necessarily do that in that 30 seconds pitch, because the mission statement actually gives us an opportunity to further hone in on the fullness and the depth and the breadth of what NeighborWorks America does and what they stand for. So my opinion would be, yeah, I think that your elevator pitch, you know, while having some components of your mission statement in there, it should be theoretically language specific, different. Because I feel like a mission statement should be answering a little bit more about what you do and why, with the vision incorporated than the short elevator pitch that might fit on the back of a business card. So that’s my answer.
Chandra: What we did with our elevator pitch is we touched the why and the what. The why from the vision and the what from the mission and created the elevator pitch. So while it’s different, it incorporates those same elements of the why we do the work and how we do the work.
Farra: That’s great. And Yvette, I know we looked at your mission but not specifically at your elevator pitch. But you really did a lot of thinking about how that language could be accessible, and I’m curious, do you use that as your elevator pitch or do you have a different one?
Yvette: I mean, I find our mission wording the way it is now pretty accessible to be used as an elevator pitch. But that’s it. I think the mission is something, I mean, the words are pretty stuck. I mean, we don’t have it painted on our wall, but I mean, if it’s something that you’re painting on the wall it’s a pretty set part once you do this work and have it set. But there’s a little more flexibility in an elevator pitch. And I think there is room for different people in our organization, like an instructor, to have a slightly different elevator pitch then maybe our Development Director. And to personalize it a little bit more, tailor it depending on the audience and who you’re actually speaking to.
Farra: Great. And I would just add to that last comment. What I like to think about is maybe having an elevator pitch that has one or two sentences that everyone can use to explain the organization and then try and help them think about how they can then add to it from either what they do or in response to the person they’re talking to. So just to add to that. Well, I want to thank all of you for joining us today and I want to thank our great panelists, Chandra, Bridget, and Yvette. We hope you enjoyed this. We’re sorry we didn’t get to be with you. Those of you in person who were supposed to be at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, hopefully next year in Pittsburgh. And please have a great rest of your day.