Hey nonprofiteers! Please enjoy this guest post by our friend Kristi Porter, Chief Do-Gooder at Signify.
Let’s say you’re at a conference. You sit down for the next session beside a kind-looking woman who turns to give you a big smile and shake your hand. After a quick exchange of pleasantries about the weather, free coffee, and Panera boxed lunch assortment (yep, you paid good money to be here), she asks, “So, what do you do?”
How do you describe your nonprofit? Do you explain it today in the same way that you did on Day 1?
Your mission may not change, but the way you talk about it might. It certainly has for me—and that’s a good thing.
Three years ago, I was a plucky entrepreneur with a fresh LLC in my hand, no website, and big dreams of helping small cause-focused organizations with their marketing and communications. I was also trying to figure out how best to explain my services.
You probably remember that feeling from your early days, too, but now you’re a pro and your elevator pitch rolls off your tongue. This evolution happens naturally, but I’d like to show you how to really make it work in your favor. (Hear: more money!)
Repeat It, Then Refine It
When you repeat your mission over and over again, you’re refining it. You’re not only getting better at saying it, you’re proactively making it better. It becomes more succinct, more focused, and dare I say, more engaging.
The end result of refining your mission is, you guessed it, more donors. People want to give to something they understand, can get behind, and are excited about. You not only want your staff to effectively communicate your mission, you want your donors to do the same.
I’ve stood beside nonprofit leaders who were asked what they did, and they said phrases like, “It’s a little complicated…”, “It’s a long story…”, “It can be confusing…” or they took a deep breath and launched into a rehearsed speech like the UPS Store commercial where the listener grew older before your eyes. I’ve also stood beside peers who kind of confused me—and I knew what they did!
How likely do you think those people are to receive donations from the listener? Let’s just say that, like Hunger Games, the odds were not in their favor.
You can run ads, engage influencers, have a gorgeous website, and employ a talented staff, but if you can’t communicate your mission in a compelling way, you’re just wasting your money. And whether you’re counting pennies or Benjamins, I want you to make the biggest impact with what you have.
So, let’s look at three areas of opportunity to tell people what your organization does. Go seek these scenarios out for the next couple of weeks and see what you can learn. Because when you’re more mindful of how you’re stating your mission, you can refine it, and in the end, win new donors over to your cause.
Repeat Your Mission In Person
Get out much? When you do, make the most of it. You likely have to attend a number of events, out-of-office meetings, and coffees with prospective donors for your nonprofit. When you do, you probably rattle off your mission without thinking too much about it, so next time, be a little more thoughtful.
Really think about the words you use. And if you’re with a colleague, think about the word’s they’re using. What words or phrases make people’s eyes light up? What makes people’s eyes narrow in confusion?
Repeat Your Mission Online
Even if you’re not out moving and shaking on behalf of your organization, you probably have plenty of opportunities to talk about your work online. That could include anything from emails to Facebook or LinkedIn Groups. And for those of us who work from home, or are introverted, this could the primary way you share about who you are and what you do on a day-to-day basis.
The great thing about this outlet is that you have a record of it. You can actually go back to see what you said. Take a look back at any introduction emails you’ve sent in the past, or where you’ve introduced yourself in online groups. What did you say? How did people react?
(Oh, and if you’ve been lurking in groups without introducing yourself, now is a great time to jump in and give it a try!)
Repeat Your Mission to the Masses
Whether you’re talking to the media, a new neighbor, or your kid’s soccer coach, you likely have oodles of occasions every week to play storyteller for your nonprofit.
Unless you’re the person in charge of shaking trees for money, you may not be taking full advantage of it. Or, even if you are, you may be so in the groove that you don’t hear yourself anymore. However, this is one groove I don’t want you to get back—at least not right now.
Actively look for situations where you can talk about what you do to people who are not in the nonprofit community. Remember, you’re practicing your pitch in order to perfect it, even in your off time.
These folks will also furrow their brows at any jargon you throw out, so this helps you to remove it from the next conversation.
Evaluate Your Message (And Then Reevaluate It)
Once you’ve had a handful of chances to tell others about your mission, and have located a couple of introductory emails, take some mental or physical notes.
- What were the differences?
- What trends did you see?
- What questions did you get?
I realize that not every single aspect of your work fits perfectly in your elevator speech, but the point is to see if you’re leaving out any key details, using jargon or can say something more clearly. Your audience, whether it’s online or in person, will help you determine that.
From there, refine again. Write out your introduction, look at it, and maybe get some feedback. These exercises will help ensure that you’re telling the best version of your nonprofit’s story. Your mission is your foundation, so let’s make sure it’s a strong one.
Pro tip: After you’ve refined your message, double-check to make sure that all your marketing tools, such as your website and social media profiles, are telling the same, clear story.
Tell Your Story
Three years later, I’m still a plucky entrepreneur. And while I still offer pretty much the same services that I did back in 2016, I’ve certainly found a better way to talk about them. Same mission, but more refined.
With every day that passes, you’re getting better and better at what you do. Get out from under that grind for a few minutes and you’ll see it’s true.
So, take every opportunity you can to talk about what you do. First of all, because it could mean another donation! But, of course, to get better at telling your story. I have no doubt that what you’re doing is important and needs to be heard. Be sure you’re telling it in a way that will make people sit up and listen.
Kristi Porter helps cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, she’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.