Do Happy Salmon Make for Good Messaging?

Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Assoc LogoUntil the other day, I hadn’t thought much about happy salmon.

But that all changed when Adrian Shulock, who works for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, sent me a delightful email.

After reading my SSIR article on how to spruce up your mission statement, Adrian shared a bit about their mission and the statement that explains it. What I learned was so happy-making, I asked if I could share it publicly. Lucky for us, he said yes!

To be clear: The following is not meant to imply that NSEA should officially change its mission statement. I’m not recommending they edit their by-laws, etc. It is, instead, offered as an objective take at how effectively their mission statement engages those new to the organization. It is food (or chum…couldn’t resist) for thought.

Okay, let’s start by looking at NSEA’s current mission statement. This statement appears loud and proud on their homepage. Its starring role means its job is to make visitors go, “Ohhhh, that’s cool. Tell me more!” Inspiring them to voraciously click their way through the site to learn more.

NSEA is a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring sustainable wild salmon runs in Whatcom county.

In the plus column for this statement? They focus on ONE THING–restoring sustainable wild salmon runs in Whatcom County. No laundry list here. Huge kudos for that.

In the minus column: the Reading Ease Score on this statement is, alas, zero, meaning it’s almost impossible to understand what they’re saying. People rarely ask questions about things they totally can’t understand (too daunting, they feel dumb). So it’s a conversation-stopper, rather than a conversation-starter.

Also, according to the Wordifier, the statement is packed with words popular with other nonprofits, lowering the chances that it will pique people’s interest. Bummer.

Adrian noticed that the mission statement didn’t exactly blow people’s hair back. So, when people ask what NSEA does, Adrian now says:

NSEA fixes broken creeks so that salmon – and you – can live happy.

This response scores a whopping 81.8 for Reading Ease! This statement does have a few words popular with nonprofits in general. BUT the way in which Adrian combines them makes them interesting. What does a happy salmon look like? How do happy salmon make my life happier? How do you fix broken creeks? All intriguing questions that would propel the conversation forward. Which is exactly what we want.

Again, I’m not necessarily suggesting NSEA  officially change its mission statement. That’s a Big Deal that warrants Much Deep Thought & Analysis. I am, however, suggesting that they figure out how engaging their mission statement really is to supporters who would want to fix broken creeks so salmon–and people–can live happy.

For more tips on writing a mission statement that’s as great as your mission, check out this SSIR article. It’s a quick, practical read.

Need help making your communications as awesome as possible? We’re here for you.

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease 59.7, Grade Level 7.8


Brand Statement Re-Do: Alternatives for the Seattle Public Library

Seattle Public Library, brandingAfter writing this post on the Seattle Public Library’s rebranding fiasco, I asked my graduate students at the University of Washington to take a pass at revamping the Library’s Brand Statement…with one catch. They had to use the criteria I recommend nonprofits use for their Mission Statements:

  1. Pick your verb first.
  2. Don’t use the verb ‘provide’.
  3. 10 words or less (up to 15 if you have to).
  4. Reading Ease Score over 50% and Grade Level under 8, excluding the name.

For reference, here’s the Brand Statement that library patrons were asked to evaluate in the survey sent out at the tail-end of the Library’s rebranding effort:

The Library provides access to knowledge, experiences and learning for all. We preserve and create opportunities for the people of Seattle who make it such a dynamic and desirable place to live. When we’re empowered as individuals, we become STRONGER TOGETHER

They worked in groups and had 15 minutes to complete the task. Here’s what they came up with:

  • We welcome everyone with a space to gain knowledge and access to resources. [70/8.2]
  • We foster an inclusive space to learn, explore, and grow. [78.2/4.8]
  • We connect you to the ideas and information you need to engage in civic life. [73.2/7.1]
  • We open doors to knowledge and opportunities for the people of Seattle. [53/8.8]
  • Through access to knowledge and experience, we strengthen Seattle. [56/7.6]
  • We cultivate knowledge and learning experiences for all Seattle residents. [35.9/14.5]
  • Your library connects Seattle to knowledge, ideas, and opportunities. [41.3/10]

After each team put their submission up on the board, each student got to vote for which one most resonated with them. The first two on the list above were the winners.

I thought it was interesting that both used the word “space”. I asked them if that accurately reflected today’s Library, given how many people avail themselves of the Library’s offerings without ever setting foot in an actual library, i.e. online. One student pointed out that space doesn’t necessarily have to mean a physical space. It could be a broader definition of space. The space, wherever someone was, to learn and read and grow, whether that’s on-line or in-person. Interesting point.

The following week, I did a similar exercise with nonprofit leaders who came to a training I did called Mission Statements & More, sponsored by Washington Nonprofits. This group didn’t have to get the Reading Ease Scores because we were in a spot that had no access to the Internet and no bars on phones (gasp!).

Here’s what they came up with (transcribed verbatim):

  • The Library brings the world to your fingertips.
  • The Seattle Libraries engage our community through education and imagination.
  • The library connects us to the world. SPL. Your access to a world of knowledge, creativity, and experiences.
  • Seattle Libraries empowers us through access to knowledge in a dynamic community.
  • Transporting Seattle through film, computers, and story – your Seattle Public Library.
  • Inspiring people to explore the vast learning resources available.
  • Explore the world through history, learning, and making connections.
  • Seattle Libraries encourage community knowledge and experiences by learning together.
  • Seattle Libraries nurture community knowledge, experience, and learning.
  • Empower individuals to become stronger together. The Library.
  • The Seattle library empowers individuals to experience learning in a modern, dynamic environment.
  • Accessible (free) learning experiences for the community.
  • Gaining access to knowledge, experiences, and learning to empower individuals.

Some of these are more taglines than Mission Statements (in that taglines aren’t always full sentences). But still. Good work for 15 minutes!

Coming up with a 10 word statement that communicates the essence of what an organization wants to be known for isn’t easy. One of the most common traps nonprofits get caught up in is over-thinking it all. “If we say this and not that, people won’t understand what we’re about! We need to say it all!!!”

That’s why mapping your messaging to an Engagement Cycle is so handy–and effective. It releases you from feeling like you have to shove everything into one sentence. And liberates you to think about the bigger story you want to share, and how you can parse that out so it’s easily digestible.

I’m not saying any of the statements above are spot-on for the Library. Without being privy to their What (goals and objectives) and Who (their target audience), we’re not in a position to definitively comment on a How (in this case, messaging). But it’s interesting to see how some library lovers who weren’t part of process would communicate what they perceive the essence of the Library to be. Especially interesting when they’re only given 15 minutes to complete the task.

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease 55, Grade Level 8.6

***Claxon University–where smart nonprofits learn to use better words to create a better world.***

Lesson 8: How will you let people know what you want to be known for?

This is part of a series introducing you to Claxon University, where nonprofits can learn everything I know for $949.

Claxon University’s first course is Words on a Mission. Each of the twelve lessons in the course asks a fundamental question a nonprofit needs to answer in order to develop high-impact messaging. In each post in this series, I’ll share what the question is, along with a snippet from the video lecture.

Lesson 8: How will you let people know what you want to be known for?

Lesson 8: Does your Mission Statement align with your Know Statement? from Claxon University on Vimeo.

The REALLY Terrible Orchestra of Westchester has REALLY Terrific Messaging

Not a member of the Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester...but he could be if he wanted to be!
Not a member of the Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester…but he could be if he wanted to be!

Last week, I was on a bit of a doom and gloom streak regarding nonprofits and their websites…or lack thereof. (See posts here and here.)

So I thought a little ray of sunshine might be in order. And that little ray comes in the form of The Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester.

We came across this little gem of an organization while gathering nonprofit websites for the Wordifier research.

So much goodness going on word-wise for this organization. Where to begin?!

Their tagline? Wait for it…

All you need is an instrument and a pulse!

Could it be any more fabulous? Could it ooze more personality? Could it bring a bigger smile to your face? No, no and no.

And their Mission Statement? Just as fab.

Our mission is to share a love of music and the desire to improve our playing while having FUN!

Unlike most nonprofit Mission Statements, which are technically incomprehensible, this one has a Reading Ease Score of 76.2 and the Grade Level clocks in a pitch perfect 7.3. Translation: When you read it, you get it. And that’s all good.

Do I wish the visuals on their website were as spunkarific as their words? Of course! But you know what? Their words are oh-so-good, I can totally let it go.

If you want to be an organization that wields words as well as the fine folks at the Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester, check out Claxon University’s course, Words on a Mission. We’ll get you sorted out straight away!

Can you be on a mission without a vision?

vision, missionAs you know, dear reader, I have a love/hate relationship with Mission Statements.

Last year, after much existential and linguistic dithering, rather than acting like nonprofits could simply ignore the fact that their mission statements might stink, I came down in favor of nonprofits coming up with mission statements that were worthy of their work.

After becoming fully disheartened by the fact that nearly 50% of nonprofits have mission statements that are technically incomprehensible, I wrote this post and this one and this one and ended up hosting a Worst Mission Statement Contest…all in the spirit of teaching nonprofits how to craft clear, compelling mission statements. Heck, it’s largely why I created the ding dang Wordifier!

To be clear: convoluted mission statements aren’t just irritating, they’re costly because if supporters can’t quickly and easily understand what you’re about, they won’t engage.

Equally, if not more, distressing is that it would seem the root cause of the lame language in mission statements is the absence of a clearly articulated vision. Without a clear vision, how can you come up with a kick ass mission? I share my thinking in this week’s podcast.

What are your thoughts on this whole vision/mission conundrum?

Please step away from your Mission Statement!

engagement, connection, marketing, fundraising, strategy
Engagement Cycle

We’re going to try out something new–Mini-Mission Makeovers. The purpose of these is to get more out of your Mission Statements.

Let’s talk about those Mission Statements, shall we?

Every nonprofit has one. Most are quite wed to them. Organizations invest hours and hours into both creating these statements and then having everyone memorize them.

Organizations undertake this memorizing of the Mission Statement with a view to staff and board being able to repeat the statement word for word when someone asks what your organization does. It is considered a success when all board members and staff can, in fact, repeat it word for word. Never mind that most people sound like robots when they repeat the Mission Statement. And that the statement itself is usually long, boring, and not very interesting. Never mind that it’s not anything anyone outside the organization would ever repeat. Never mind.

Don’t get me wrong–you should have a mission statement. It’s a very useful tool. But most Mission Statements don’t generally do a good job of succinctly and compellingly communicating what you do and why you do it to people outside of your organization.

Therefore, I beseech you to please step away from your Mission Statement!

Yes, you read that correctly. Stop worrying so much about your Mission Statement and start focusing on coming up with a really good response to the question: “What does your organization do?” that really answers the question “What do you want to be known for?”

Let’s pause on this because it’s important: People don’t generally wander up to you at a bbq and say, “It’s been a while, Harry, remind me what you want to be know for again, will ya?” Nope. People wander up and say, “Reminder me what you do again for work, will ya?” So that’s the question you’ll get. Your job is to use the opportunity to make sure they leave the conversation knowing what you want to be known for so that they can talk about that to others.

By coming up with a concise and compelling statement about what you want to be known for, not only do you make it easy for people to decide if they want to engage with you and your organization, you also make it easy for them to talk about your work with others who may be interested. (Note that a robotic recitation of your Mission Statement is neither concise, nor compelling. It is, therefore, not repeatable.)

Am I talking about your Elevator Pitch? Kind of, but not really. The idea of an Elevator Pitch is kind of weird, when you get right down to it. It implies that someone will go from first hearing about you to writing you a check in short order. #Creepy

Really what you need are a collection of statements that align with each point along the Engagement Cycle (see spiffy graphic above). You want statements that invite questions. Why? Because when someone asks a question, you get to know exactly what interests them about your work. That makes it easy for you to personalize what you tell them, thus quickly and efficiently moving along the Engagement Cycle. Neat, right?!

The toughest statement is always the “Know Statement”. It’s a humdinger. Ideally, it’s 10 words or less. If those 10 words are of interest to the person with whom you’re talking, you might move them along to an “Understand Statement”, whereby you help them understand what you do, why you do it, how you do it, etc. If they still look interested, then and only then, might you invite them to engage with you in some way–visiting the website, coming to an event, whatever.

Coming up with your “Know Statement” is no easy task, I’ll give you that. And that’s why we’re going to start doing the “Mini-Mission Makeovers”! We’ll give you specific tips for how to make-over your Mission Statement (because they are often a handy starting point for creating your “Know Statement”), so it becomes a useful tool for engaging people outside your organization, e.g. donors, supporters, volunteers, etc.

For our first Mini-Mission Makeover, we have Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County.

“We are dedicated to strengthening families and individuals by providing a wide range of social services and programs, including therapy, information and referral, support, education and advocacy.”


  1. Find an alternative to provide: You knew that was coming, didn’t you?! I’ve written about this a lot, so won’t bust out my soapbox in this post. If you aren’t sure why provide is so bad, you can read all about it here.
  2. Get rid of the “to be” verb: Whenever I see “to be” verbs (e.g. is, are, am) in a mission statement, I start by figuring out how to get rid of them. Lots of the time, “to be” verbs make a sentence duller than it needs to be. For instance, rather than saying “We are dedicated to strengthening…”, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County could simply say, “We strengthen…”. Boom.
  3. Ditch the ‘Services Laundry List’ and decide on the one thing for which you really want to be known: This is a tough one, I  know, but if you tell someone your everything, they’ll remember nothing. You want people to remember you and talk about your amazing work to others. Thus, the need to pick one–or at most two– things to highlight from the cornucopia of awesomeness that you do. (If you’re stumped by this, check out the Messaging Toolkit and/or the Organizational Lexicon, both free and available in our DIY section.)

Here’s how implementing the above recommendations might look:

“We strengthen families and individuals through therapy, education and advocacy.”

Now, I haven’t chatted with the folks at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, so I’m not sure what they want to be known for, but you get the idea–fewer words, spunkier verbs and no laundry list.

Want help making over your Mission Statement? Post it on Claxon’s Facebook page and we’ll see what we can do!



Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?