2 min Read
September 18, 2018

How to take credit when it’s not that simple

Pursue your mission and the work speaks for itself, right? Participants participate! Partners partner! Donors donate!

Alas, that’s not the reality for most nonprofits.

So you’re doing all this good work but you’re not reaching the participants who can most benefit, the partners who can help you create exponential results, or the donors who would definitely support you if they just knew about you.

You suddenly find yourself needing to toot your own horn, shout out your greatness from the mountaintops, or pat yourself on the back for all to see.

In some cases, it’s simple. Your organization does its work; positive outcomes follow; and you communicate about how your work resulted in those positive outcomes.

But for many organizations, it can be more complicated than that. For example:

  • You’re part of a coalition, and credit belongs to both you and others;
  • Your organization supports other nonprofits doing the on-the-ground work, and there’s a bit of distance between you and the ultimate results;
  • You have trusted partnerships in deep collaborations, when sometimes you take a leadership role and sometimes you take a backstage role;
  • Your work happens hand-in-hand with communities and claiming expertise feeds a dangerous “White savior complex” narrative.

How do you communicate your impact to the world while also giving credit where credit is due? How do you fully own the vital role you play without alienating your all-important allies? How can you convince donors that you’re worth their investment without “otherizing” the people you serve?

These are big questions with no simple answers.

At Big Duck, we find these questions coming up at the very core of a client’s brand strategy, especially when discussing positioning. Positioning is the single idea you strive to establish in the minds of your target audiences. It’s the first thing they should think of when they think of you. (Read more about positioning.)

This will be an important conversation to have if you’re embarking on a branding process. Having that conversation in the context of developing a brand strategy (positioning and personality, especially) can be transformative for an organization’s communications.

And we’ve seen the result of those conversations play out in a few ways:

  1. You identify yourself as the power behind a movement, unseen by the outside world, perhaps, but no less important to the work than the engine in a car.
  2. You lean into the very thing that makes it difficult to take credit for your work. What if you’re simply the best partner around to achieve results?
  3. You set up clear rules for taking credit. For example, maybe you claim the results fully, but you have strict guidelines for the context. We do this thing and we get these results, which aren’t possible without our partners.

It’s rarely as easy as the examples above make it sound, we fully admit. But your work is important for the world—far too important to remain a “best kept secret.” It’s vital that you figure out how to take some credit for it.

One possible first step is to begin an open discussion about your particular challenge with your leadership team. Get clear first about what your role is in achieving the desired outcome. Once you’re aligned on that, agree on a strategy about how to communicate your “special sauce” to your audiences.

And please make sure that your answer isn’t, “The work speaks for itself.”

Dan Gunderman

Dan Gunderman is the Former Creative Director at Big Duck

More about Dan