Why Nonprofits Must Clarify Their Message

Dec 18, 2018Message

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Let me share an experience why nonprofits must clarify their message:

When I was CEO of the education-related foundation, I shared a newly produced brochure with a newly elected board member who happened to be a marketing expert. I thought the solicitation piece was ideal – great stories, great photos, super colorful, etc. However, the appeal resulted in little donor response. His quick assessment of the piece was that our message was not clear — we had no clear call to action.

I was working with a client and reviewing their messaging. I looked at their website, marketing materials, and appeal letters. My mind jumped back to our piece that produced little results because our message was not clear. My client’s messaging was not clear. It was difficult to identify what the organization was known for or what they were asking.

Clearly communicating your message is critical if you want to raise more money.

“Clarify your message so more customers listen,” says Donald Miller, New York Times bestselling author of Building A Story Brand.

We value talented graphic designers who create brochures, websites, presentations, and appeal letters. However, no one will listen if your message is not clear. All that is heard is noise.

Nonprofits are a business, and they should be run like a business. Start with a clear message.


Here are 6 steps to assess and bring clarity to your messages.

1.    Identify the problem your nonprofit is solving.

This should come from your mission statement (or case for support). Wordsmith so the problem clearly expresses the hope, heartbreak or frustration felt by the donors helping solve the problem.

E.g. Skyrocketing costs for a college education are preventing low-middle income, first-generation students from completing college debt free.

2.    Identify your ideal donor.

Think of your current donors. Take 10 minutes as a staff and capture the characteristics and behaviors of your model major donor.

E.g. Those who value education, completed college because of a scholarship and had close mentors and support groups.


3.  State how you understand the problem.

Express an understanding of those people or places you are serving.

E.g. College completion is an unbelievable hurdle for students who are often working several jobs and do not have a support system. We all fear that as the financial stresses continue, students will drop out of college.

4.  Provide 3 or 4 action steps for your donors to take to make a difference.

State or share how your organization has helped those in the past.

E.g. Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, 200 students received scholarship and were able to complete college last year debt free. There are 2 ways you can support a student with a scholarship: 1) Donate to XX Scholarship Program 2) Create a Named Scholarship. Contact Mary at….

5.  Share what might happen if the problem is not addressed.

E.g. We have 300 qualifying students who did not receive a scholarship last year and are in jeopardy of dropping out of college.

6.  Capture testimonials of people whose lives were changed or can tell a story of the impact of a place or project.

E.g. Since my parents never attended college, they don’t understand how the system works. I am so grateful for the financial and mentoring support provided by XX nonprofit.


Summary of Why Nonprofits Must Clarify Their Message

Clear messaging attracts the right people who want to make a difference from what your nonprofit offers. People want to support great causes. Make it easy for them and start with a clear message.

Question: What are your best tactics to ensure clear communication with donors?

Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising guide. She provides overwhelmed nonprofit leaders with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at [email protected].


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