5 Methods to Modernize Your Nonprofit’s Message
by Mike Montalto
May 6, 2021

Here’s a hard truth: Many organizations don’t tell their story in a way that sticks in their audience’s minds. It doesn’t matter if your emails are technically sound, and your print pieces and website are well designed and engaging if your nonprofit’s message doesn’t resonate with donors!

You may think you have all the tools you need in place. But before you launch you next major fundraising initiative, spend a little time thinking differently about how your nonprofit talks about its goals, work, and impact.

Keep the following five pieces of advice in mind when revisiting and revising your nonprofit’s message:

Donor-centric means talking about what donors make possible, not what your organization has accomplished

 1. Make it all about the donor.

Many nonprofits that struggle to get their message heard insist on communicating the way they have been for years. Yet, they wonder why they’re still 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. And many nonprofits still focus on the nonprofit’s current activities and the difference it makes in the lives of the people they support.

And these points are important. But they shouldn’t be the main focus of your appeals and related outreach. And that’s because donor-centric messages are proven to be more effective in modern fundraising.

Being donor-centric starts with thinking about how donors see themselves in relation to your organization.

Remember, it’s not about what your organization is accomplishing. It’s about what the donor makes possible.

So don’t just talk about how your organization is working to preserve historic buildings. Focus on explaining how the donor’s support is keeping culture alive in the community!

READ MORE: How to Tell a Donor-Centric Story

CLICK HERE Free eBook - The Building Blocks of Engaging Fundraising Communications

2. Focus on your foundation.

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

Many organizations evolve their missions over time. But too many don’t formalize that transformation.

If the scope of your nonprofit’s work has shifted and evolved, make sure your mission statement is in tune with your current goals!

This is the “big idea” behind the messaging in your 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!

READ MORE: Starting With Why Is a Necessity for Nonprofit Storytelling

Appeals and other communications perform best when written at a sixth-grade reading level

3. Don’t dwell on details.

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 clear.

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.

READ MORE: 7 Ways to Improve Your Fundraising Today

4. Speak to Sam, Steve, and Sally separately.

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 make sure your nonprofit’s message feels relevant for each individual.

Personalization should go much further than simply 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 specific groups.

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

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.

READ MORE: How Independent Schools Can Be More Data-Driven

3 Steps to success

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 touch point.

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. They may need to hear a different message than the rest of your donor base.

Improving your nonprofit’s message is an ongoing process. You will need to re-visit and assess 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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