This post was originally published by Philanthropy News Digest on July 27, 2015.
How often does this happen?
You’re at a gathering and someone asks you what you do. As soon as you say you work for a nonprofit, the next question is, “What does your nonprofit do?”
This is the point where most nonprofit professionals recite their organization’s mission statement. Tailored to the person you’re talking to, your response probably sounds something like:
“We educate and empower people who lack resources and opportunities….”
“We provide basic services to those in need….”
While that kind of generic description might be totally appropriate when you’re making small talk, it probably doesn’t convey the passion you actually feel for your organization and cause. And it should never find its way into your solicitations.
I know, it’s only July. But the end-of-year fundraising season is just around the corner, and I’m already looking forward to the many direct mail pieces I expect to receive listing the reasons why I should give to this cause or that. But while almost all those letters will tell me what the organization does, only a handful will tell me what the organization stands for.
My point? Whenever you have an opportunity to tell your organization’s story, you should focus less on what the organization does and more on what you and your colleagues believe.
As fundraisers, we spend countless hours trying to illustrate our organizational missions in ways that inspire donors to give. But we can become so numbed by the repetition that we end up answering the “what does your organization do” question with rote lists of our activities. Describing your organization in terms of the generic or mundane might be fine for people who are already familiar with the organization and its work, but if you really want to get donors engaged in your cause, you need to paint a big, bold picture of what the organization and its staff and volunteers spend their days trying to achieve.
Any organization committed to positive social change stands for something. And it is that something which like-minded donors are most likely to respond to and support with their time and resources. So, the next time someone asks you what your organization does, start by saying something like:
“We believe that people who lack certain skills and knowledge can get the help they need to be successful from individuals who have been successful and are willing to commit their own time and resources to helping others achieve the same kind of success….”
“We believe there is tremendous untapped potential in low-income neighborhoods, and we work hard every day to connect donors who believe the same thing to individuals who are desperate for a chance to prove themselves….”
“We value the skills and talents of all people, and so do our donors. We make it possible for our donors to make a tangible difference in the lives of people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to show the world what they can do….”
The point is you want to use language that shines a light on both sides of the equation. Your organization is the conduit between a community of donors, activists, and change-makers who share your beliefs and are passionate about your cause or issue. Forget modesty. People aren’t so interested in how you work; they want to know why you do what you do and who you are trying to help. Take pride in that work and the positive change you and your colleagues are helping to bring about. The world – and your donors — will thank you.
Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and creative agency for causes. In addition, he leads the national research team for the Millennial Impact Project, the premier study dedicated to millennials and how they engage with cause work, and is the co-author of Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement.