5 Manageable Methods to Improve Your Nonprofit’s Message
by Mike Montalto
January 23, 2020

The world is a noisy place. We’re exposed to over 3,000 messages a day. Yet the average person will only remember four. Today, it takes more effort for your nonprofit’s message to stand out!

But many fundraising organizations don’t tell their story in a way that sticks in their audience’s mind. This becomes painfully apparent for many during the busy end-of-year fundraising season.

So, if your emails were getting lost in the clutter on Giving Tuesday, or you didn’t get the response you were hoping for from your year-end appeal, there may be a problem with the way you communicate.

Here are five ways you can make your nonprofit’s message stand out, stick with your audience, and inspire them to support your cause.

1. Be Donor-Centric

Many nonprofits that struggle to get their message heard insist on communicating the way they have been for years. Yet, they still wonder why they’re not seeing the results they used to!

The fundraising landscape is rapidly changing. If your communication strategies haven’t been evolving with the times, you’re going to have a hard time standing out!

Traditionally, fundraising appeals tell stories focused on the people an organization supports. However, donor-centric messages are proven to be more effective in modern fundraising.

That’s not to say that you should cut stories and first-person accounts from your appeals all-together. However, you need to re-frame them to put the donor at the center of the story.

To do so, you need to think about how donors see themselves in relation to your organization.

For example, let’s say your nonprofit is focused on environmental conservation. You can segment your audience by location and send versioned appeals that play off that aspect of their identity.

Mention specific parks or nature reserves in a donor’s geographic area. There’s a good chance they’ve visited before! Then, explain how they can help protect the space so their children and grandchildren can enjoy its natural beauty by making a gift today.

2. Define Your Core Mission

Getting to the core of your mission and discovering what your audience will care about is essential to improve your nonprofit’s message.

Many nonprofits’ missions evolve over time. But too many organizations don’t formalize that transformation. If the scope of your nonprofit’s work has changed over time, make sure your mission statement is in tune with your current goals.

Or maybe your mission statement was written without a donor-centric focus in mind.

No matter the reason, it’s never a bad idea to re-visit your mission statement. After all, this idea should be driving your messaging in appeals and other communications. So, it better be complete, accurate, and insightful.

We use a simple exercise when working with nonprofits on refining their mission: State your nonprofit’s mission without using any of the words in your mission statement.

This exercise forces the nonprofit to break things down and explain what the organization is trying to accomplish and how it will happen in plain English.

Boiling down your nonprofit’s mission to the core will make your organization’s purpose clearer and more digestible for your audience while providing your organization with a stronger foundation for future messaging.

3. Keep it Simple

No matter what your goal is, or what the stories you tell are, it’s important to keep things simple. You can’t throw too much information, or present it in a convoluted way, if you want your audience to digest and remember your nonprofit’s message.

So, avoid using big words that can trip up your audience, like convoluted.

Write in short, simple sentences. It makes it easier for your audience to get the point. Appeals and other communications perform best when written at a sixth-grade reading level.

Keeping it simple also makes the point of each message clearer. Appeals have one goal, secure a donation. Any other information about your ongoing projects or upcoming events should be removed. Similarly, donor surveys, newsletters, and thank you notes should stay on focus and avoid monetary asks.

4. Speak to Different Audiences

No two donors are the same. And a message that resonates well with one segment of your donor base may not be as impactful for others. It’s important to know your audience and reach out with messages that feel relevant to them.

Personalization can be much more than including a recipient’s name in an email subject or an outer envelope. You can use data to create variable and versioned content that increases the relevancy of your message with certain groups.

For example, an independent school reaching out to alumni can include a picture of each recipient’s graduating class. Or, an animal shelter can send different messages to donors who are cat or dog owners. A museum can reach out with different messages for members and non-members.

Each of these examples tells donors you’re speaking with them directly. Versioned and variable content will make your message more memorable by making it closer to home for each recipient.

5. Attempt, Analyze, Adapt

Let’s say you take all the advice above to improve your nonprofit’s message. Hopefully, you keep detailed records about conversion rates, average gift size, and other important fundraising metrics for each communication.

Because you will need strong data to improve your nonprofit’s message with an analytical approach. When you implement the strategies above, keep track of how well each communication achieves the desired results.

For example, maybe your message is not resonating as well with younger people. You may decide to take a different approach for millennial donors the next time you reach out.

Improving your nonprofit’s message is an ongoing process. You will need to re-visit and asses your approach on a regular basis.

But making changes without analytical evidence guiding your decisions is like driving to a new destination without a GPS. You’re probably not going to get the results you’re looking for. And if you do, you will have no idea how you got there and won’t be able to improve for the next time!

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