Shine On! How to Stay On Message and Rise Above

Every nonprofit has a unique personality all its own. To be clear, we’re not referring to the personalities of the people who run or support an organization, although they can be quite colorful too.

Instead, we’re talking about a nonprofit’s personality—its brand—and how, among other facets, it “talks” about its mission and message, gives back to the community, celebrates achievements and tells its story publicly to gain further support. Whether created organically or strategically, your nonprofit’s brand has been cultivated since its founding and shaped over time.

That’s the good news: You’ve got the brand.

Now how do you make it shine?

That’s no small task considering today’s crowded, competitive marketplace. Consider this: According to Media Dynamics, Inc., a typical adult’s daily media consumption has grown from 5.2 hours in 1945 to 9.8 hours in 2014. That’s nearly every minute of every waking day! Everywhere we go, from all vantage points, we’re absorbing ads, labels, taglines, giving requests, articles, webinars, photos, videos, music and—whew!—more. Will it ever stop?

While we have more avoidance options, like remote controls and DVRs to tune out the clutter, we’re still exposed to thousands of messages every day. Think we get tired of seeing and hearing it? You bet. So we tune out the incessant “mumbling,” making it harder for us to discard the fluff from the substance.


One approach is taking it back to the ground floor—the basics—when you want your nonprofit’s message to be heard loud and clear. Keep it local, tight and personal. Though we live with an increasingly global view of giving to neighbors and causes far away, we still build empathy and community in our own backyard by giving locally. We love it most where we give our time, talent and treasures.

The first step to standing out is ensuring your messaging is spot on. Keeping your message on brand and in tune involves:

  1. Speaking the same language. For your message to stick, it’s got to be spoken the same way. Board members to key volunteers, civic leaders to in-house staff, everyone’s got to see and speak your mission using the same talking points—by being “on message.”
    • Develop 3-4 statements that most specifically and accurately describe the services and benefits of your organization, program or campaign—services that are so essential to your community that if you weren’t there, the negative impact would definitely be felt.
    • Hone in on a handful of key words and phrases to describe your initiative and push those out as often as possible, again, starting internally and then moving outward into the public, either via the media, or more directly through special events, speaking engagements and other community engagement opportunities.

It’ll take time, education and dedication, but don’t lose hope! The payoff could be well worth every minute. The more people know about you and the more they understand why they need you, they more they’ll stand by you, which translates into real and measurable donor support.

  1. Getting everyone talking: board, volunteers & key donors. About good things! Make your meetings more than the same-old business in several ways. Share success stories about the good work and positive feedback you’re receiving by bringing in a person or family who has been positively impacted by your services to share their own story of success. Include it as a line item at every board meeting, perhaps as “Our Moments of Measure” or “From the Field.” Or take time during meetings to share new programming or administrative upgrades that make your work more streamlined and effective. Positivity breeds positivity.


Will you do it?

How you engage with people in your community speaks volumes. Never underestimate the power of opportunities to step in and connect. Here are some relatively simple ways to shine:

  • Have a presence at local events, like farmers markets, holiday celebrations or community festivals. People make connections with people, not brochures on a table, so if you’re trying to build interest, always have a staffer or trusted volunteer at the booth to forge the connection.
  • Seek out opportunities to partner with local businesses, like an independent coffee shop or bakery. It could be income generating—like a special cupcake sold for one month with proceeds benefiting your organization—or simply to generate awareness and goodwill.
  • Reach out to local media, which still offers a wide and powerful reach. Local media outlets might be more inclined to give air time for local causes. Also, cultivate media relationships to build trust and secure additional coverage opportunities, like writing a special guest column, or become a trusted third-party resource for fact-checking or quotes. And remember, a thank-you for a well-done article or profile goes a long way for future coverage.

How does your nonprofit stay on message and rise above, locally and in the larger crowded marketplace?


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