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Strengths vs. Shortfalls: What Message Do You Want Supporters to Hear?

October 10, 2013

As a follow-up to the “Nonprofit Communications Camp” workshop attended by 100 local nonprofit staff and board members at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County last week, we are beginning a series of posts about nonprofit communications to offer perspectives on messaging, communications planning, media relations, positioning and other topics.

As always, your feedback, ideas and contributions to the conversation are appreciated and valued.

popeyeNow let’s talk about inferences people may be making about your organization based on your messaging.

Think about a time or circumstance during which you felt as if your organization was at a disadvantage. Perhaps you were comparing your organization to other nonprofits with more staff, a more experienced board, a perceived foothold in the local media market, more volunteers, a longer history in the community–whatever it might be.

As we work with organizations through the Giving Challenge, enhancing profiles in The Giving Partner, and facilitating connections with donors in our community, we frequently hear from organization representatives who share comments like this:

  • “We’re only all-volunteer…”
  • But we don’t have the time to _____.”
  • No one knows who we are.”

Note the use of the words “only,” “but,” and “no one.”

Imagine what these proclamations sound like to funders, donors, volunteers, or anyone who would like to be energized by the organizations they choose to support with time, talent or treasure.

Nearly twenty percent of the nonprofits with profiles in The Giving Partner have no paid staff.  Each of them is doing meaningful work in the community. Like organizations with paid staff, they work hard to find volunteers, donors, and board members to lead the organization.

Time is an issue for you? Surprise! It’s a challenge for everyone. If something is important to your organization, make time for it. If it is not important, position the fact that you are not addressing it in terms of a deliberate strategy.

More connections…we’re all trying to make them, all the time. If you want to expand the universe of those who know about your organization, speak about it from the vantage point of specific audiences, why they need to know about you, and what actions you hope they will take once they do know about you. Do you have a plan to reach them? If not, why?

Try using messaging like this:

  • “Our organization is small and nimble.”
  • “We are growing carefully.”
  • “We are strategic about how we spend our time.”
  • “We’re working on developing connections with the young professional community to increase our volunteer base.”

Sound better? What do you think?

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

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