Starting With Why Is a Necessity for Nonprofit Storytelling

Jul 12, 2018

The ability to tell a compelling story is crucial to successful communication for any organization. No matter what you do or how you do it, you need to tell your story in a meaningful way to build a connection with your audience. Let’s take a few minutes to really dive into what makes nonprofit storytelling so powerful. It starts with why.

Having a clear sense of why your organization exists and why the work you do matters is key. We often refer to this as a mission-centric approach. Popular author and TED Talk speaker, Simon Sinek, has spoken at length about the power of focusing your brand’s story on why. As he puts it, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

What Makes Starting with Why Different

One of Sinek’s most powerful cases for starting with why comes in his comparison of two technology giants, Apple and Microsoft. Both companies have been huge successes, but Apple’s customers have historically been more loyal than Microsoft’s.

Sinek says this is because Apple uses the golden circle method. They start with ‘why’ before explaining ‘what’ and ‘how.’

Until recently, Microsoft, like most other companies, focused on convincing potential customers how their products and services are better and what their functionally is. However, they failed to explain why their company existed. “We make computers,” is not a strong why.

On the other hand, Apple defined itself as a company for those who think differently from its inception. This is why Apple was able to enter, and dominate, so many diverse industries.

Consumers already knew that Apple was a company dedicated to thinking differently. So, it came as no surprise when Apple debuted the iPod MP3 player, the iPhone and the Apple Watch.

Doing things differently was embedded into the company’s culture. Instead of focusing their message on their products, what they do and how they work, Apple identified themselves as a company driven by innovation.

Discovering Your Nonprofit’s Core Message

Developing a clear sense of why your nonprofit exists and why your work matters will help you build a core message that will resonate in all your communications. This is essential for nonprofit storytelling.

You should be able to break this core message down into three key parts:

  • First is your organization’s focus, or the why. Your focus should not mirror your mission statement. Rather, it needs to address the core challenge you tackle as an organization. Your nonprofit’s focus is why your organization exists. Your purpose should be more concise and clear than your mission statement.
  • Second, your core message should move onto your organization’s strength, or how you fulfill your previously stated mission. We’re still not talking about specific programs or services. Instead, you need to communicate the strength of your approach. Explain how the way you view things is different from other organizations with similar values.
  • The final aspect of your core message should focus on the impact of your work. In other words, what has your organization accomplished? This is your chance to provide evidence to back up your why and how. Now is your chance to talk about the impact of specific programs, share success stories and provide quantifiable proof.

The Golden Circle

Sinek describes this three-step approach as the Golden Circle. Thinking from the inside out by starting with why, then expanding on that value with how, and showing proof with specific examples of what, gives you a basic template to inject your core message into all your outreach materials.

This method of thinking will peak the interest of donors with similar values, and then draw them in further with the details.

But don’t just take my word for it, this approach psychologically proven! As humans, the choices we make are either based on rationale or emotion. Tough decisions usually involve both. The Golden Circle allows us to appeal to both key elements in decision making.

Why Start With Why?

Your message will be lacking if you jump into building you communications strategy without a clear sense of the ‘why’ behind your ‘what’ and ‘how’. Your why should be the focal point of everything your organization does, especially in nonprofit storytelling.

If you want to learn more about what makes starting with why so important, we recommend watching Sinek’s TED Talk on how great leaders inspire action with why.

His book, Start With Why provides more detailed examples and deeper insights into the topics we touched on in this post. Sinek will even let you donwload a free chapter on his website!

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