What is the most important thing your organization does? (4 of 15)

What? Letterpress[This is part four 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.]

Imagine you tell someone about the work your organization does and they think it is so interesting that they to run tell all their friends about you. Wouldn’t that be great? Here’s the catch: they aren’t going to remember the whole long list of programs or outcomes you tell them about. Not only will they not remember, but you may even overwhelm them, causing them to disengage instead. You want someone to remember and share what you tell them. For that you need to tell them just one thing.

You are probably very excited about all of the great things your organization does. I’m not saying you need to cut programs down to just one, but looking at everything as part of a single whole can bring great clarity.

There are two main reasons that it is helpful to focus on just one thing.

  1. Your organization will be more productive with a single focus. From your personal inability to multi-task to your organizations success at pursuing funding, the research is overwhelming. If you want to be good at something, focus on one thing.
  1. Your supporters will have an easier time remembering you if they can easily categorize you. Erica has a great video on mental file folders. The idea is that people are going to file your organization away in a mental folder and you need to make sure it is the right one. If you give them a whole long list of things you do, you risk being filed away in the dreaded “miscellaneous” folder. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “I would really love to collaborate with an organization that does miscellaneous things?” No? Me either.

Having trouble narrowing it down?

If you are facilitating a discussion about this, I have two helpful exercises for you.

  1. Erica created a method based on the mental file folder idea. Have the group write things you do on file folders and then start organizing them by nesting them together. Make additional folders as needed, making sure you are as specific as possible. “We do awesome things,” while true, is just another way of saying “miscellaneous.”
  1. Another way to narrow things down is tournament style elimination. This is a quick and easy way to get feedback from a large group because a simple show of hands will often be enough to settle which program or project wins. Create a bracket and then start picking between pairs asking, “Which is these is closest to the heart of what we are about?” The idea isn’t to actually cut programs, but to think about what would happen if you did. If you had to stop doing advocacy work, for example, would you become irrelevant as an organization or would you just be hampered by the loss of a tool? The interesting part of this exercise comes when two core programs square off. People will want to cheat and say, “What if instead we called that ‘x’ which would encompass both of those programs?” Perfect! This is exactly the sort of answer you are looking for.

For an example, I’ll be using Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie. Check out previous posts for the full back-story.

In many ways Chirp has an advantage here as a young organization. They haven’t had time yet to develop a whole long list of programs. They do have various goals, however, and different views on which are the most important ones. Albert, the wise owl, is a passionate student of languages. He is eager to teach words to other birds and to expand his own vocabulary even further. Myrtle, the friendly mallard, believes in the importance of fostering inter-species relationships among birds.

The single most important thing Chirp does is to teach birds how to use words to communicate with other flocks. This goal is broad enough to encompass both the language lessons and the bridging of cultural divides between flocks. Note that in merging these two ideas into a single goal, it is more specific, not vague. Words aren’t being taught for just any reason. It is about communicating with other flocks. Bird relations aren’t being improved by just any means. It is by making language accessible.

What is the most important thing your organization does?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?