What is your message [11 of 15]

How? Letterpress[This is part eleven of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten a 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]

We’ve covered “What” and “Who”. It’s finally time to work on “How”!

In the first part of the “How”, we tackle messaging.  Here’s what we’ll do:

  • Finish this sentence: We want to be known as the organization that…
  • Imagine you are at a cocktail party. What would you say if an ideal supporter asked: “What do you do?”
  • Describe your organization in 140 characters or less.

As you know from previous posts in this series, good messaging is rooted in a detailed understanding of what your organization does, targets specific supporters, and uses engaging words. But how do you actually create compelling messaging, you wonder? Good question. The 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree is here to help.

Let’s look at tree branch 3B. What do you say when someone asks, “What do you do?” This question has an unfortunate tendency to elicit lists of activities that make the listener’s eyes glaze over. There’s no reason you need to fall into that trap, however. Instead, pretend they asked, “What does your organization want to be known for?” This answer aligns with the first stop on the Engagement Cycle and is also your answer to 3A. As you develop ways to answer this question, keep your answer to 140 characters or less because that is the length people can remember (and repeat!)

If you’re reading this blog, you likely know that Claxon has a plethora of resources to help you craft messaging worthy of your organization. Here are just a few highlights:

Words, Words, Words!

  • The Wordifier is Claxon’s new tool that helps you amplify your words. The human brain is wired to pay attention to new information and ignore the old. We stop noticing the same, tired word. So, if you use the same word a lot, or a word that is used by a lot of other organizations, people will notice it less than one they don’t see very often. The Wordifier will tell you if a word is overused and it even gives you a breakdown by sub-section. Go give it a try.
  • The Language Lab is our new podcast. Sign up and every week you’ll receive a lovely little audio prompt to reflect on language and life.

Mission Statements

  • Whether you are officially writing a mission statement or coming up with a version to use in your messaging, we have some great makeover tips.
  • We didn’t invent reading ease scores, but we wish we had because we love to use them! You have heard advice like, “Your mission statement should only be one sentence.” The only problem with this advice is that sometimes people try to strain the limits of punctuation to cram as many words as possible into that sentence and end up with an incomprehensible mess. You won’t have this problem though because you can use reading ease scores to make sure your mission statement is understandable…rather than, gulp, technically incomprehensible like the ones in this post.
  • Follow this blog to get regular tips so you don’t use lame verbs like provide or mobilize.



  • Need some extra help? Our chief word nerd, Erica Mills, would love to be your coach. She can work with you one on one or we have group coaching sessions available. (The Winter session is full but you can get on the wait list for the Spring session, which will start in April.)


Let’s take a look at the messaging developed by Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story and follow links for demographic research.)

Mission Statement:

Chirp’s original mission statement is

To mobilize all birds everywhere; regardless of feather size, shape, color, or water repellency; by providing a first class educational experience in language arts which can empower them to talk to other birds with different (valued) experiences and viewpoints, ensuring optimal diversity, effectiveness, and sustainability for the bird community.

Yikes! That is cumbersome and it scores as a 12th grade reading level. Let’s see how they cleaned up that train wreck.

First, they tried starting with what they had and cutting out the unnecessary laundry lists, parenthetical asides, and things that just aren’t core to what Chirp does.

To mobilize all birds everywhere by providing an educational experience in language arts which can empower them to talk to other birds.

This is a little more concise and the reading ease score is improving a bit, but it is still at a 12th grade level. To help with this, they focused on reworking some of those big words and made educate the primary verb.

To educate birds and empower them to talk to other birds.

The grade level is down to 5.8 now, but it feels awkward. Then they remembered the earlier work they did on the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree. What is the most important thing they do?

To teach birds how to use words to communicate with other flocks.

This works a bit better as a mission statement and has a grade level score of 4.8. They checked the Wordifier and found that “teach,” “educate,” “talk,” and “communicate” are all in the yellow category. This means that they are used a lot. It would be better to use verbs that aren’t so common, but at least none of them are in the red category. Between “teach” and “educate,” “teach” is easier to say so they are sticking with that. “Talk” is a simpler word than “communicate,” but they felt that the two directional relationship implied in communicate helped the mission statement feel more engaging.


Chirp knows that the important thing about pitches is that you need more than one. You need something short and sweet you can use to introduce yourself, a bit more information if they are interested so they can understand you, then a pitch that will engage them in your work. You also need to tailor your pitches to different target audiences. Let’s look at how Chirp can shape its mission into pitches for different situations with its personas.

Ruth, the Rockin’ Robin:

  • Know pitch: We teach birds how to talk with birds in other flocks.
  • Understand: We do this by sharing how to use new words.
  • Engage: After completing our program, birds like you are able to use words to make new friends.

Charlie, the Copycat Catbird:

  • Know pitch: We teach birds how to be understood by birds in other flocks.
  • Understand: We do this by instructing them how to use new words.
  • Engage: After completing our program, birds like you are able to use words to make themselves heard clearly.

Olivia, the Observant Owl:

  • Know pitch: We educate birds in effective word use.
  • Understand: We do this by teaching how to use new words and avoid jargon.
  • Engage: After completing our program, birds like you have a rich vocabulary and the language knowledge necessary to learn from foreign birds.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the mechanisms you can use to spread your message…Facebook and Instagram and brochures, oh my!

Who is your ideal supporter? [10 of 15]

think,design[This is part ten of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten a 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]

Let’s talk about mind reading, shall we?

The next branch of the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree asks us to get in the heads of our ideal supporters. Specifically, it says:

Based on what you know of your best supporters, describe your ideal one.

This step is very, very, very important. Here’s why: When creating marketing materials, our natural inclination is to assume everyone has the same preferences as we do, and we design our materials accordingly. This is an erroneous assumption and a costly mistake. Because, turns out, your supporters aren’t necessarily motivated by the same things as you, nor do they behave like you do.

Luckily, you have a super power that can help you avoid making this extra super bad mistake. You can read minds.

You perform this amazing feat, called theory of mind, by holding a mental model of the mind you are reading in your own head. Imagine sharing good news with a friend. Do you think they will be happy for you? Can’t you just see how their face will light up? You may even have an idea of what they will say. When you do this, you are creating a simulation of their mind and you can then read that simulated mind whenever you want. Admittedly, this isn’t quite as cool as actually being able to read their mind, but it is still pretty cool.

Geeky neuroscience tidbit: Many scientists think that we learn how to do this because of mirror neurons, which are super interesting and the reason you wince when you see someone else getting a paper cut. Whenever you see something happen to someone else, this part of your brain responds in the same way you would if it had happened to you, which can help you understand how someone else might be feeling.

So what does all this mind reading have to do with your marketing materials? Now that you have learned this trick, the nifty thing is that these minds you can read don’t have to be based on real people. If you have ever read a book and come to feel like you know the characters, you know what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is creating a persona. A persona is a fictional character based on your target audience. The idea is to include enough details, like career aspirations and relationships, that you can develop a mental model for how your persona thinks and acts. Like the author of your favorite book, make the characters vivid in your mind. Then, as you are developing messaging and prioritizing mechanisms, you won’t be stuck in your own head, but rather that of the person you are trying to engage. .

In developing personas, it is important to base them on good research so that the mental model you create is relevant and useful. (See previous posts on your best supporters and who else you need to reach.) Hubspot has a fabulous free template to help you get started.


Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie, wants to recruit new students. Let’s look at the personas created by the leadership team. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story and follow links for demographic research.)

Ruth, the Rockin’ Robin:

Background & Habitat:

  • Busy, young mother of three
  • Makes herself at home in a variety of habitats from gardens to woods.
  • Frequents Mrs. Timberlake’s bird feeder to stay abreast of the latest gossip


  • Warm and cheery
  • The quintessential early bird
  • Industrious
  • Curious Explorer

Goals & Challenges:

  • Needs to collect worms for her chicks
  • Concerned about nest safety
  • Struggles with addiction to honeysuckle berries
  • Wishes she had more time to chat with friends

Relevance to Chirp:

  • Curiosity will make her open to learning new things
  • Social connections will help spread the word about the school

Charlie, the Copycat Catbird:

Background & Habitat:

  • Proud owner of his own thicket
  • Vacations in Mexico


  • Enjoys imitating the songs of other birds, frogs, and even mechanical sounds
  • Energetic and hardworking
  • Keeps to himself
  • Most comfortable in his gray, respectable suit
  • Not afraid to ruffle a few feathers to get a job done
  • Prefers to be short and to the point and so has started using Twitter

Goals & Challenges:

  • Is considering a move and eyeing a new development by a recently abandoned barn
  • Wants to makes sure he clearly communicates the boundaries of his territory
  • Likes learning new songs

Relevance to Chirp:

  • Already shows aptitude for learning new words
  • Has practical reasons for wanting to communicate better
  • Not as social as most previous students and so will be a good test case for the school

Olivia, the Observant Owl:

Background & Habitat:

  • Living in a barn which she is renting from a farmer in exchange for keeping rats away from the grain stores
  • Married for 12 years
  • Empty nester


  • Observant and thoughtful
  • Foodie who enjoys analyzing what she has eaten
  • Values knowledge
  • Careful listener
  • Avid recycler

Goals & Challenges:

  • Wants learn new things but struggles to find ways to expose herself to novel perspectives
  • Plans to attend the annual parliament meeting
  • Wishes she could communicate better in discussion groups

Relevance to Chirp:

  • Will be a careful student and may be a good prospective teacher in the future
  • Will solidify connection to owl community through Chirp co-founder Albert the Owl.
  • As their first student who is a bird of prey, Olive is a significant stretch for Chirp and will be a valuable learning experience

As Chirp moves forward in developing its messaging, the team will make sure they are optimizing their message so it resonates with Ruth, Charlie, and Olive. Then, in the spirit of  “meet them where they’re at”, the Chirp team will pick the mechanisms  their target personas prefer/already use. For example, when Albert goes to the owl parliament to network, he will want to the pitches he uses to be targeted to Olivia. And, any notices posted at Mrs. Timberlake’s birdfeeder should be tailored to appeal to Ruth. And, of course, they will use Twitter as a way to connect with Charlie because that bird is already tweeting his heart out.

Personas are a great tool for evaluating options and predicting how people will react to you. They are only as helpful as they are representative of the people you want to reach however, so make sure you do your homework. Next week we will move on to developing messaging and will want to make sure the message resonates with the personas for whom you are optimizing your marketing efforts.

Who else do you need to reach? [9 of 15]

Support[This is part nine of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten a 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]

Last week we discussed your supporters. This week, we are going to wade into murky waters and discuss people who aren’t your supporters. What do you do when you want to reach people who aren’t like your current supporters? Ask yourself if you really do need to reach them and then think long and hard about your answer.

There are three basic cases where you might be thinking of reaching outside of your current sphere.

Case #1: You need to reach a new demographic.

First, make sure you are clear on why you need this new demographic. Is it a good reason? Is it connected to the purpose and strategy of your organization? You will have to work harder to get a new type of supporter. Will the return be worth the investment? Notice the difference between, “We need more Spanish speaking volunteers because so many of our clients speak only Spanish” and “We need a lesbian on our board to improve diversity.” (True story.)

Second, be realistic. If you can target a new demographic that is only a bit of a shift, that’s going to be much easier for you.

Then, research. Lots of research. It is always hard to get out of your own head and look at things from another’s perspective. It’s a much harder task when you don’t have a lot of experience with the other person.

Case #2: You want to raise public awareness.

Don’t do this.

Seriously, don’t. The general public is too broad and vague a target. Be specific. The more focused your efforts are, the more effective you will be. Even if you need to eventually get your message to as broad an audience as possible, break it up into smaller steps.

Approach this as in Case #1. What is a new demographic that shares some characteristics with current supporters? Who could help connect you with a broader audience as you continue to expand your demographic reach in the future?

Erica uses an example of a campaign to stop texting while driving and objects that this isn’t about general awareness, it is about stopping people from texting. I’ll add to that objection that the target isn’t everyone, it is people who text while driving.

When you get to how you are going to reach your targets, you may find that it is more effort than it is worth to differentiate your target from the general public, but that question comes later. You aren’t doing yourself any favors to assume you won’t be able to differentiate or to forget who your real target is.

Case #3: You want to reach opponents.

Caution! Do you need to do this? If not, this is a waste of your precious time.

Usually you don’t actually need to do this. But, some people, not nearly as clever you, get sucked into trying to woo people who just aren’t interested. Their cause is so important that they just can’t imagine how anyone could not support it.

Anytime you see something weird, your brain is drawn to it. At Claxon, we like to talk about how you can use that fact to improve your messaging by making sure your words are interesting. But, don’t let that same tendency be your own downfall. Yes, I know it is super weird that someone wouldn’t believe in what you are doing, but let it go.

If you are struggling with this, Claxon has a handy tool called the Belief-o-Meter that helps you figure out who you should be focusing on and who you should leave alone.

There are rare cases where you do need to convert the opposition. This is usually because your strategy requires support from a significant percentage of the population as with advocacy campaigns or boycotts. If this is you, take everything I said about case #1 and amplify it. Do even more research. Be even more realistic. If you just need someone to not oppose you, be satisfied with that. Don’t expect them to become donors. And, then do some more research.

An interesting, headline grabbing example is same-sex marriage. Freedom to Marry’s goal is to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. They are changing hearts across the nation so that the US Supreme Court will feel comfortable ruling in favor of marriage equality. To do this, they need to reach the opposition.

Why do they talk about freedom to marry instead of marriage equality? Because their opposition responds more favorably to the phrase “freedom to marry.” They know this because they did lots and lots of research. And it’s working. After state campaigns started using their research, in 2012 the general populations of not one, but four states, became the first to vote in favor of freedom to marry.

Freedom to Marry has put in a lot of hard work, resources, and research time. And they have been realistic. They are asking people who have opposed them to change how the respond to polls, not expecting new donors. The investment required to reach the opposition has been enormous, but it is necessary for their mission and strategy.

Example: Chirp

Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie, needs to reach a new demographic. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story.)

After surveying their students, they learned that there was more interest in social mixing between different flocks than they had thought. This was very encouraging, but they also came to a concerning realization. All of their current students are birds that tend to flock. They want to reach all birds, but what about solitary birds? Could these birds be reached? Difficult decisions needed to be made. The leadership of Chirp decided to be realistic about their ability to grow into such a different market space. For this year’s marketing campaign they will target new types of flocking birds.

More research is needed before they can understand the needs and interests of their more solitary brethren. Owls typically roost alone or as a pair. However, they do occasionally flock and so are a good target audience for Chirp’s next phase of expansion. Albert the Owl has agreed to lead research efforts and will be traveling to the next parliament. (Don’t you just adore collective nouns?)

In sum…
Before you try to reach beyond your supporters, make sure you really do need to and be prepared for it to take extra effort. Next time we will be back to talking about supporters as we describe your ideal one and develop personas.

Who are your best supporters? [8 of 15]

fans[This is part eight of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten a 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]supporters

Now that you’ve figured out WHAT success looks like for your organization, we’re going to move on to WHO you need to reach in order to be successful.

Have you ever wondered what your future supporters will be like? Probably a lot like your current supporters.

In the next three branches of the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree, you will:

  • Name some common characteristics of your best supporters – past and present.
  • Figure out why your best supporters say they like you, and
  • Also identify how your best supporters find out about you.

In working through this part of the Tree, there really is no substitute for good data. There are many ways for your perceptions to be biased. Consider creating a survey. I have worked on projects where I thought I knew what supporters wanted. Then I did a survey. It turned out that the most vocal supporters weren’t actually representative of the majority. With this new knowledge I was able to adjust programming to match the interests of the target audience as a whole and check future suggestions for improvements against those broader interests.

The impact of gender differences is an interesting case in point. Women volunteer more than men, but you may be hearing from more men. Men and women talk about the same amount, but they talk about different things. Studies show that men tend to talk in more assertive ways, sometimes interrupting women (no offense, guys). It may just be, however, that women have different conversational conventions from men; being more talkative in small groups or when the topic is children, and more assertive with compliments. The take home point? It’s complicated, so do a survey.

Talking with supporters, one-on-one or in groups, can be another powerful way to connect with your supporters and to learn from their perspective on your organization. In addition to being able to learn what drives their engagement on a deeper level, a conversation can make them feel valued and strengthen the emotional bond they feel with you and your organization.

If you are trying to learn about your supporters in this way, there are a few things you should be mindful of (yes, I know that’s a dangling participle…cut me some slack):

  1. Listen more than you talk.
  2. Give them explicit permission to say what they aren’t happy about. Many people are afraid to mention these things for fear of hurting feeling or seeming rude, but it is often the most important thing to hear. Ask them for negative feedback and tell them how valuable you find it. You’ll still want to focus on what they do like. You are looking for things to use in marketing after all. But, don’t miss this valuable opportunity to learn ways to improve.
  3. Listen more than you talk.
  4. Select people at random. You probably can’t talk to all of your supporters, and if you pick the first people to come to mind you will just confirm the misperceptions you already have from hearing the most vocal people. If you take a list of your best supporters in Excel (all, major donors, long term donors, or however it makes sense for you to define “best”), you can create a column of random numbers using =RAND() and then sort by that column to put them in random order. This is super easy. I promise.
  5. Listen more than you talk. Am I revealing too much about my own weakness here? Seriously though, this is a common bad habit. Let’s work on it together.


Let’s look at how Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie, identifies its best supporters. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story.)

For Chirp’s first avian cohort, the students all came through personal connections with school founders. Birds also came as a whole flock, rather than enrolling just a few students from each group. This exemplifies the social nature of bird culture.

Because Chirp is small, it is possible to talk to all their students. Since the founders were already having regular one-on-one interactions with them in the school, however, they decided that the benefits of an anonymous survey outweighed the benefits of discussing the organization in person.

The lack of opposable thumbs makes writing difficult for birds. To compensate, they took advantage of an online survey builder so that the students could peck their answers out on a keyboard.

When the results came in, they found that the students enjoyed classes where they were mixed with members of other flocks. They most valued the way their new wordy knowledge enabled them to engage with birds from other communities. Not at all what the executive team at Chirp would’ve predicted!

In the coming year, in order to expand, Chirp will have to reach new and different flocks. Thinking about this problem has their feathers ruffled. You may be wondering what to do if you want to expand into a new demographic, raise general awareness, or convert people who are opposed to your organization. We’ll cover that next week. In the meantime: enjoy getting to know your supporters!

Why does your organization exist? (3 of 15)

The question Why? on a cork notice board[This is part three of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]

The first branch: Why does your organization exist? (Part II)

Why does your organization exist? Because you value something people need.

The second part of clarifying why you exist is to describe the need. In Part I I talked about values, but just because something is important does’t mean an organization should exist to advocate for it. For example, imagine an organization dedicated to safeguarding oxygen supplies. I doubt I could be persuaded to support them. I believe it is important that everyone have oxygen to breath. The importance for life is indisputable. I’m not too worked up over this issue though. Lack of oxygen isn’t a problem in the global air supply. In order to engage people’s hearts, you need to show them the need.

You are probably all too aware of the need for your organization, but others might not be. One way to get outside of your own head is to look around at the environment you are operating in. What are the goals and needs there and how do you fit within that? For example, if you are a local arts organization, you are a part of improving the quality of life for residents in your town. If you run an after school program, you are serving the broader educational needs of children.

In facilitating a conversation about the need for your organization, there are a couple of questions it is helpful to ask. As always, I’ll be using Chirp for examples. Chirp is the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie, a bird with moxie. Want the back-story? Of course you do. Download it here.

  1. Why do we exist? In asking this question you want to play the role of that inquisitive kid who doesn’t stop asking why. The conversation might look like this:

“Why does our school exist?” “Because birds need a full vocabulary.” “Why do they need a full vocabulary?” “So they can express themselves and communicate with different flocks.” “Why…” and so on.

Before starting this exercise, be sure to explain what you are doing and why. Not only is it helpful for getting people into the right mindset, but without an explanation, “why” questioning can be interpreted as an aggressive challenge to something that is an important core value.

For another example, see Erica’s discussion of Charleston Park Conservancy in a post on sharing your why. They do a fabulous job of communicating where they fit within the larger goals of the city.

  1. What would be different if we didn’t exist? You can also approach the question of why you are needed by imagining a world without you in it. How dreary! It’s fun to queue the It’s a Wonderful Life melodrama, but get serious about it too. In thinking about the things you do, it is easy to be vague. The starkness of not existing, however, can bring focus and clarity. That’s why this line of questioning is a great way to find hard numbers for the impact you are having. Think about things like:

Is there another city or target demographic for which an organization like yours doesn’t exist?

Are the other organizations like yours operating at capacity making it likely the clients would go unserved without you?

Are there outcomes your methods achieve that differ from those of other nonprofits in your field?

Messaging based on the answer to this question could look like this for Chirp:

Thanks to your support, 50 of your fine, feathered friends have completed our program and learned how to put words to their own unique chirp.

As you can see, the foundation we are laying now, in clarifying what your organization is about, will be super helpful when we get to the “How?” portion of the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree. Stay tuned!

Why does your organization exist? (2 of 15)

The question Why? on a cork notice board[This is part two of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]

The first branch: Why does your organization exist? (Part I)

Kids ask “why?” as they are learning how the world works. It has become a joke that we adults find it annoying to have every explanation met with this question, but I’m here to tell you, “The kids are right.” Asking “why?” is foundational to understanding anything.

The first question in the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree is “Why does your organization exist?” In some cases, the answer can be less intuitive than you may think.

For instance, let’s look at Alcoholics Anonymous. The founder’s personal why became the organization’s why and permeated the culture and structure of the organization.  At first, however, he didn’t have a clear understanding of why he was starting the organization.

When Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous he was trying to help other alcoholics. Early on, however, he found that talking to other alcoholics was what he needed to stay sober. He realized that his true motivation was to help himself through helping others. He then realized that what his fellow alcoholics might really need was an opportunity to help others themselves. A peer-to-peer approach replaced his initial model where he was criticized for preaching at people too much. No one likes to be preached at! His new approach, built from a more authentic understanding of his motivations, saw alcoholics flocking to the new organization.

This shift in understanding of his own motivations had repercussions for how the organization was run.  He taught something of an altruistic pyramid scheme where you helped yourself by helping others. The stress placed on anonymity is not just about protecting privacy. It is also about the importance of not letting the organization have a figurehead with a bullhorn. Each group is still independently run rather than being controlled by the central organization. This all gets back to their why.

The question of why you exist can be broken down into two parts: the motivating belief driving your mission and the perception of need. In this post I’m focusing on motivations.

In Erica’s video Heads and Hearts, she talks about her motivations for volunteering with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Spoiler alert! She was motivated by her heart, not her head.

If your organization has not clearly defined why it exists, reflecting on personal values is a great place to start. Have your board, staff, and key supporters pick their top two or three personal values and ask them to explain how those values motivate the work they do in your organization. (If you need help getting started, you can find a value-defining tool here.) Look for the common values that are driving your organization in its mission. Pulling these together is like looking at the repeating theme in a jazz piece. If you just overlaid each musician’s riff, you would get a noisy mess. Instead, you want to pull out the common thread that runs through everything.

Let’s take a look at Chirp to see what this would look like. Chirp is the nonprofit school Roxie, Claxon’s mascot, is starting for her fine, feathered friends.  Not sure what I’m talking about?  You can download it here.

The leadership of Chirp all thought about their values and wrote about how those values influenced their desire to work with Chirp.

Roxie values joy and expressiveness:

I want to make the world a better place. It is already amazing, but I know it can be better. One thing that I think would help is if everyone could tell others about the wonderful things they have discovered. I want to be able to tell my family about the beautiful valleys and the lake I found when I was out flying today. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Now that they have been through the Chirp program, I can. And, they can tell me about the great places they have found for digging for worms. Life is great!

Albert values learning and carefulness:

Whenever I have a puzzle or decision to make, I find it helpful to talk the matter over with others. It is easy to be biased by your own point of view and so I try to seek out those with a different perspective. Unfortunately, it is hard to find other birds with the breadth of vocabulary necessary to accurately explain their position. I am sure there must be so much knowledge locked away in the brains of my avian friends. I wish I had access to even a portion of that wisdom. Once more birds learn a full vocabulary, it is my hope that Chirp will expand its educational offerings beyond the language arts. The world’s greatest scientist or economist might be a bird, but we don’t yet know what they have to say because they lack the words.

Myrtle values cooperation and friendliness:

I just love meeting new friends! There are so many nice birds out there. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding them because they use so few words, which is a shame because I can still tell they are real nice. I can’t help but think, if we could just talk to each other – really communicate – we could accomplish so much. I’ll bet we could throw the most fabulous aerial dances! I love working with Chirp because I have been able to meet, and eventually talk with, so many new friends.

Jacques values curiosity and personal growth:

In my travels around the world I have met many birds. I wish I could know more about their lives and hear their stories. Alas, so few of them are able to share their vision for the bird society. I value the work Chirp is doing because I want all birds to have the verbal tools they need to explore relationships with other flocks.

Looking over these four statements, the birds of Chirp agreed that they all wanted to hear what each unique bird had to say. “We are teaching them a full vocabulary because we don’t want to miss a single word they have to share.”

In my next post, I’ll talk about the second part of clarifying why you exist—describing the need. In the meantime, have some conversations about motivations. Look for the common threads and see what you learn! And, hang on to your list of value words. You may find it helpful when you build your organizational lexicon.

Roxie’s Tale

The Consistently Compelling Seattle Aquarium: How Do They Do It?

Being consistently compelling is key when it comes to creating a lasting connection with your supporters. It’s what makes good brands great. It helps you stand out from the crowd and keep you at the forefront of people’s minds. It’s also really hard—especially when you have so many audiences and channels to juggle!

That’s why we wanted to interview Marsha Savery, Director of Marketing for the Seattle Aquarium. Whether it’s a billboard on the side of the road or an octopus in a glass tank, the Seattle Aquarium is consistently compelling no matter the setting. We were lucky enough to get Marsha’s tips on how they work their magic.

© Seattle Aquarium 2011
  1. Be able to clearly describe your brand: Marsha describes the Seattle Aquarium’s brand as clean, consistent, family friendly and professional. The graphics are very strong and vary according to the Aquariums’ three main audiences: families in the tri-county region with children under twelve, volunteers and donors.
  2. Have a common thread: The Director has the final say on visuals, which for families are tailored to be fun, vibrant artwork. Graphics for volunteers are photographs of the ocean and fish, and those geared towards donors are photos of the ocean, children and marine wildlife. The thread that keeps the visuals consistent is the Aquarium’s message of preserving marine wildlife, which is embedded in all they do.
  3. Have one conductor: Many people create content throughout the organization, but when it comes down to it, Marsha manages to make sure it all works in concert—social media, web content, billboard graphics, etc. The message never gets diluted because she keeps all the pieces working together. Even advertising done by an outside agency, as for the Aquarium’s summer outdoor ads, is managed solely by her.
Marsha’s biggest piece of advice–especially for smaller non-profits–is to have well-designed materials and messages!
She recommends reevaluating your organization’s messaging, including the graphics, as well as your logo. For the materials, preferably have them done by a marketing or graphics professional. While organizations are often pressed for money, having a pro craft your materials will go a long way to helping your image.
“I think non-profits should find someone they trust who can give them advice on how to present themselves in a polished manner. It’s so important to look like you’ve got your act together so somebody may help fund you. And graphics can do that.”
Marsha isn’t alone in being a fan of a strong logo. A Child’s Right felt so strongly about it that they have a full-time designer on staff, something the Chronicle of Philanthropy picked up on in their recent article on the organization.
Thanks to Marsha for telling us how we can all be consistently compelling!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?