Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
2 min Read
July 14, 2020

Messaging: Telling your story versus making a case

What does your nonprofit do? 

Why should I support you?

These are two simple questions that clear messaging—specifically, key messages and persuasive messages—can help nonprofits answer in a more consistent and unified way.

Key messages help your staff and board members tell your organization’s story. Persuasive messages help you reach specific audiences and inspire them to take specific actions (such as donating or signing up).

Key messages tell the overarching story

Key messages are an internal resource that contain the high-level points about a nonprofit, organized in a simple narrative. It should be easy for all staff and board members to use and adapt the key messages for any writing or talking they do about the organization. They should be used as the basis for writing and speaking in most external contexts.

Having the important parts of your nonprofit’s story in one place helps maintain consistency and cohesion across every communications touchpoint. Key messages also build internal clarity, helping staff see their work in context of a larger whole. When asked, What does your nonprofit do? You can be sure that everyone who uses the key messages will answer with (roughly) the same story.

With key messages, nonprofits save time and energy when creating organizational materials (i.e. avoiding the daunting blank page), on-boarding new hires, and unifying staff and board. Plus, audiences gain a clearer picture of what the organization does and why.

As part of their 2019 rebrand, we developed key messages for Shriver Center on Poverty Law. You can read more about that work here.

Persuasive messages move specific audiences to act 

Persuasive messages often complement and build on key messages. They’re a single, internal resource with language crafted to inspire specific audiences to do a specific thing. Strategic audience segmentation and research inform the language and structure of persuasive messages. Creating audience personas factor into the process as well.

Unlike key messages, which should be made available to all staff and used in all contexts, persuasive messages are typically used by just one or two departments that have specific audiences and a clear goal. They can also be tied to a campaign (e.g. a capital campaign or recruitment campaign).

For instance, a development team’s main priority is to fundraise by attracting and retaining donors.They may use persuasive messages to craft direct mail appeals for major donors or write fundraising emails for new subscribers, hoping to convert them into first-time donors.

When departmental staff have persuasive messages and audience personas to work with, they should be able to make a more strategic and compelling case in response to questions like Why should I support you? or Why should I participate? no matter who’s asking.

Big Duck developed audience personas and persuasive messages with New York School of Interior Design for their ongoing student recruitment efforts. Read the case study for more details.

Though key messages and persuasive messages differ, they share a common purpose: to make the practice of communicating easier and more effective for nonprofit staff.

Big Duck has helped many organizations develop comprehensive messaging platforms. If you’d like to equip your team with the tools to communicate in a more unified or persuasive way, let’s talk.