Nonprofit Communications – Focusing on the WHY
“Why should I support your nonprofit?” A simple question with a potentially loaded answer. Elevator pitches, email communications, social media campaigns, and major gift solicitations are all essentially created from this singular question. But something oftentimes missing in those pitches is the focus on a word that is so tantamount in the initial question – WHY.
Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED talk and book defines the importance of the WHY with his concept of the “Golden Circle.” Most marketing and communication efforts tend to describe the WHAT – that is, what product or service the company or nonprofit is providing. Most employees of those companies and organizations are likely to be able to define the what as well – helping the homeless, providing access to healthcare, or fighting for equal rights being examples. But what they lack in this description is any compelling reason why the organization stands out from others – what about their cause or efforts is worth supporting or fighting for.
Next in the Golden Circle is the HOW – how these products or services are delivered or how impact is produced. Less people can usually define the HOW when compared to the WHAT. From a nonprofit perspective, your organization might help the homeless by providing job training; you might provide health services in a mobile van to those who can’t afford regular doctor visits; your nonprofit might work with local leaders to put advocacy rights on important people’s agendas. The HOW is important to accomplishing your mission, but it doesn’t capture an inspirational or compelling argument to support your organization.
But most importantly, especially as it relates to nonprofit communications and development, is the WHY. Often lost amongst annual financial reports, special event deadlines, and patient service standards, is the main concept of WHY your nonprofit exists in the first place. What element is your nonprofit trying to help? Not in terms of the WHAT, but WHY does your nonprofit function? As Sinek repeats, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
There might be several other organizations in the same sphere as yours – but they are all simply defined by the same WHAT. To make your nonprofit stand-out, it is important to focus on the WHY. Taking it back to an initial example – helping the homeless is a concept that most people can define and understand, but basing your organization’s stance behind the idea that everyone deserves a second chance is a more clear inspiration behind the work that you are doing. And will help others understand your goals and your mission more clearly than just describing the WHAT.
By focusing first on WHY your organization exists, has an impact, and is helping the community, you are allowing your nonprofit to capture the hearts and imagination of donors and supporters. Your organization may have the best implementation model for your mission – but without compelling others to know why it is important, or why you are working the way you are, your organization will struggle to stand out in a crowded nonprofit marketplace. Take a step back and remind those around you WHY you do what you do – and then do it again.