Thermodynamics, Ironman, and Ambassadors for Good

thermodynamics, mission, non profits
We can convert energy to make the world a better place.

Yesterday morning at 6:30am, I found myself bobbing on a dock watching 1,000+ wetsuit-clad people of all shapes, sizes, and ages hit the water as they began Lake Stevens Ironman 70.3. My husband, Rod, was among these kooky cats.

It makes you wonder what motivates people to do it.

For Rod, the answer was heart-breakingly straight-forward: he was doing it in honor of our friend, Sean Murphy, who had passed away doing the Coeur D’Alene Ironman a few weeks ago.

But most people there had never met Sean. (For the record, Sean was one of the most exuberant, awesome, full-of-life guys you’d ever have the great good fortune to know.) So why do something that grueling?

We often wonder what’s possible–physically, emotionally, mentally–but we don’t often push ourselves to find out. Every single one of the athletes yesterday was pushing themselves to find out.

As organizations, it’s even easier to convince ourselves to play it safe. Too risky, we tell ourselves. The funders/donors/supporters wouldn’t like it if we failed.

Is your goal for people to say that you’re cautiously plucking your way toward moderate mission impact? Likely  not.

In his ‘Eulogy from a physicist’, Aaron Freeman makes a moving case for seeking solace in the first law of thermodynamics:

“According to the first law of conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.”

This thought brought me a lot of peace as I watched all those athletes yesterday. It gave me a way to understand that Sean was there, even if we didn’t see him leap into the water.

That we can convert energy should be a call to arms–if the goodness that is you and your organization already exists and will always be here, shouldn’t we do what we can to harness as much of the universe’s energy so that those particles become Ambassadors of Good, forever on a mission to make the world a better place?

Sean was an Ambassador for Good. Rod did him–and all of us–proud yesterday when he raced on his behalf.

The Ironman may not be your thing. But making your supporters proud and doing good by your cause is. Please do so without ever apologizing for the boldness of your efforts and the limitless potential of your impact.

The 2 Biggest Messaging Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Bootcamp Week #6

Avoiding Pitfalls

(this week’s vid)

Pitfall #1: Talking about features vs. benefits

For most people, it’s much more comfortable to talk about how we do something than why. The why can feel nebulous, squishy. Better worlds, opportunity gaps, common good. Our brains struggle to understand concepts this big.

The how is specific. It is tutoring programs, immunization initiatives, the Picasso exhibit that just came to Seattle.

But our hearts yearn for the why. They thirst to know the benefit of what we are doing.  Our hearts don’t care about features (i.e. the what and how of what you are doing). We engage first with our hearts, then our heads. That’s why it’s so important to talk about benefits and resist the temptation to talk about features. Features can wait.

Your supporters will naturally talk to you in “benefit-speak” so if you’re wondering what that sounds like for your organization, go ask!

Pitfall #2: Staying Brave (or Resisting the Urge to Quantify Everything)

If you’ve done your homework, your Engagement Proposition will feel big and brave. It should make you nod your head in agreement…and it should scare you a bit. You are doing big, brave work. Your messaging must do justice to that bravery.

You may not be able to statistically prove that your why matters, that it’s worthy of engagement. Initial engagement isn’t about numbers and stats and quantifiability. It’s about your gut. It’s about your beliefs. It’s about your heart.

If you try to quantify your beliefs, you will end up with messaging that shies away from what you really want to do, to achieve.

To avoid this pitfall, don’t wimp out. Stay brave.

This Week’s To-Do

Revisit your Engagement Proposition. Change any features to benefits and make sure it does justice to what you believe.

Next Week

Top-Level Message. Woo hoo!

About Claxon’s Nonprofit Messaging Bootcamp

This is week #6 of our Nonprofit Messaging Bootcamp. If you’re just joining the Bootcamp, here’s what you need to do to get started.


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?