Mini-Mission Makeover: Association for Supportive Child Care

I recently did a follow-up webinar to a keynote I gave at the Alliance for Arizona Nonprofits’ Annual Membership Meeting. I invited participants to send in their response to the question “What do you do?”, so we could chat about them.

The Association for Supportive Child Care sent in the following sentence: “We work to enhance the quality of care for children across Arizona.”

This is very similar to their Mission Statement, which is “to enhance the quality of care for children across Arizona.” It’s great that their Mission Statement is so short and sweet, isn’t it? So rare and wonderful!

My advice–stick with that short n’ sweet Mission Statement of theirs. They *almost* stick with it but commit a common messaging mistake–they use a qualifier. In their case, the qualifier is “work to…” Other examples of qualifiers include: striving, endeavoring, and trying.

Qualifiers function as little, tiny apologies. They make your work seem like it has less impact, less oomph, than it really does. They don’t enhance your messaging. It makes it sound like you’re kinda, sorta doing the thing you’re referencing, but you’re not all in. People want to support organizations that are all in for whatever they’re doing. Sitting on the fence isn’t inspiring. Best to eliminate qualifiers.

For the Association for Supportive Child Care, they could simply say, “We enhance the quality of care for children across Arizona.” Simple. It begs the question, “How do you enhance the quality of care?” And remember–when it comes to using language to engage people in your work, questions are good!

? = : )



Would You Say This Out Loud?

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern Tessa. You can find all her posts here.]

Simplicity Quote

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” -Yeats

While I don’t particularly esteem this quotation because of its condescension to “the people” and its gender exclusionary term “wise man”, it does present a worthy sentiment.

For those of you that I didn’t lose already, let me rephrase that:

I don’t like this quote because it’s condescending, and it excludes anyone who isn’t male. But it does make a good point.

(You can obviously see the difference.)

To get your message noticed, it’s helpful to use unique words rather than the same old same old. However, there’s an important disclaimer to that advice: Make sure you are using words that are easy to understand. The key word is easy. You don’t want people to have to re-read your mission statement three times to finally get what you do. You don’t want to sound like you wrote your donation appeal with the help of a thesaurus. And you don’t want to overwhelm your audience with syllables.

An easy test you can use is this: Ask yourself, “Would I use this word/ phrase/ sentence in casual conversation?” Most people understand a “worthy sentiment”, but most people wouldn’t say it out loud. To make your message accessible, write like you speak. There are some exceptions that may have the opposite effect, such as using slang words and jargon that outsiders wouldn’t understand. But in general, if you can’t see yourself using it in conversation, don’t use it in your nonprofit’s messaging.

“Think complex thoughts but communicate with simplicity.” -my revision of Yeats.

[Photo retrieved from Website:]

Use These Words with Caution – Part 1 [#WordsThatWow]

[This is the next installment in our series explaining each of the words on our 2014 List of Words that Wow. We covered the ‘Never Use’ category. Now were moving into the ‘Use with Caution’ ones. It’s a long list, so we’re going to split this into a few different posts. First up, inspire and impact.]

Inspire: Inspirational quotes flood our Pinterest boards, Facebook walls, and desk calendars. Artists need inspiration to create, entrepreneurs need inspiration to succeed, and many of us need inspiration to feel fulfilled in our lives. Inspiration is a wonderful thing, right?

Absolutely. It’s for this reason that many organizations are excited to use it in their mission statements. “We inspire change.” “We inspire hope.” “We inspire (insert group of people here).” I’m sure you’ve heard all these before.

And these phrases sound nice. But stop and think about them. Is “inspiring change” the best way to convey what your organization does, especially if you only have a few words to do it? This phrase could apply to the vast majority of nonprofits out there. It doesn’t make you stand out, or even sound very interesting. Your words should reflect the awesome and unique organization you are.

If you are adamant about using the word inspire, make sure you are not using it as a means to an end. Nine times out of ten, it’s not enough to simply inspire. Be specific about what you are inspiring people to do (and maybe even how you’re doing it). Show how the inspiration you are causing makes a difference in the world. For example, “We inspire youth to become leaders.” can change to “We inspire youth to question status-quo policies and lead their communities to progressive change.” Sure, it’s a few more words, but it’s a much more memorable and accurate description of your organization.

Impact: Like inspire, impact is a word that doesn’t mean much on its own. Your organization is impacting lives. So what? How are you impacting them? When you answer this question, my guess is that you’ll find you can remove the word impact from the equation completely.

So, the next time you’re about to tell someone that your organization is inspiring change or creating impact, stop a moment. What are you really doing?

Are you serving up guilt or potential?

As a reader of this blog, you realize the importance (and value) of a well-crafted message. But do you realize the importance of the HOW you package up your message?

There are many angles at our disposal. Our visuals and content can be funny, quirky, upbeat or solemn. It can also be inspirational and even manipulative.

Yup, manipulative. Seen those commercials by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, aka, the ASPCA in the States? The ones with the abused animals looking at you like you’re the only who can save them? The ones that make you sob and reach for the tissues? That’s using guilt to make you reach for your wallet after you’re done with the tissues.

Based on the fact that some organizations continue to spread on the guilt, the guilt perspective must work for them.

Another messaging perspective focuses on potential, using imagery of hope and positive outcomes instead of gut-wrenching pictures and tear-jerking music to inspire audiences to donate. A local Washington animal shelter, PAWS, uses words and visuals that imply we can be part of a beautiful relationship. We’ll get something out of donating or adopting a pet—a warm fuzzy glow or a warm fuzzy friend. Contrast this with the ASPCA who makes it seem like the poor animals will continue a life of filth and abuse if you don’t donate, and it’s all you and your mocha habit’s fault.  (Yes, yes, you’re seeing my personal bias come through here.)

Both guilt and potential can drive engagement. Using either also reflects who you are as an organization. Your values and your personality. For better or for worse.

What ultimately inspires people to volunteer and donate can’t be pinned down to one factor–but having a well-defined message helps immensely. And HOW you deliver your message says a lot about what you believe.

Visit these organization’s sites and then rate their messaging below on the Guilt-Potential Continuum!

  1. ASPCA
  2. PAWS
  3. a child’s right
  4. Plan
  5. National Coalition for the Homeless
  6. National Alliance to End Homelessness

Quizzes by | SnapApp Quiz Apps








Word of the Week: Differentiation (lessons from the Academy Awards)

Jean Dujardin, Academy Awards, Oscars
Jean Dujardin differentiated himself by looking dapper in a classic tux. Mon dieux! Photo credit

For a lesson in differentiation, it doesn’t get much better than the Academy Awards.

When deciding how to stand out on the red carpet, Jennifer LopezJean Dujardin, and Michelle Williams all faced the same challenge mission-driven organizations do: they needed to use their resources wisely to stand out from the crowd.

No matter how famous you are, there are only so many elements to work with. For celebrities, they look at their natural assets and decide how to use dress, jewelry, hair, and make-up to play them up. For organizations, you’ve got a compelling way to make the world a better place and you package it up in your logo, messaging, website, and materials. In both cases, you consider what the competition is doing (or will wear) and if they’re zigging, you zag.

Blending in is fine if you’re an Oscar seat filler. If you’re on a  mission to make the world a better place, you’d better make like the stars and differentiate!

When’s the last time you stopped and asked yourself (and your organization): Are we standing out or blending in? 




“Top 5 Words to Avoid” Featured on Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog

Kivi Leroux Miller

Kivi Leroux Miller is one of the leading voices in DIY nonprofit marketing. Her blog, Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog, is full of practical, do-now tips for do-gooders.

Two weeks ago on her main site, Kivi wrote a piece on the pitfalls of wordiness in messaging and how to fix lengthy writing habits. I got down in the word weeds with a guest post outlining the top five words to avoid in your messaging.

Learn why these words should be booted from your messaging vocabulary:

  • Provide
  • Just
  • Trying
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Thriving Communities

Pick the one you use too much and then take the One Less Word Challenge. How will you replace it?


For years, whenever I’ve heard the word righteous, I’ve thought of surfers and skateboarders and other people who seemed cool when they said, “That’s righteous, dude!”.

But then I was reading Barry Johnson’s book about managing polarities vs solving problems and it was written like this: RIGHTeous.

In the world of cause and mission, being right has currency. Being right doesn’t give you the right to be righteous. It gives you an opportunity to be humble.

3 Simple Steps. 1 Great Plan.


Why plan?

Why create a marketing plan? It takes time, energy and usually isn’t all that fun. Plus, you have your plan in your head so you should be all set, right?


According to Kivi’s 2012 Trends Report, only 24% of organizations have a written plan that has been approved by leadership. And yet, writing down your goals has been proven to up your odds of achieving them.

With no written plan, you are at risk of falling prey to shiny object syndrome. You will hear about a new social media tool that sounds fab and decide everyone else is using it and you must use it, too. Or a board member will suggest you do a big PR push and off you’ll go, in full pursuit of the latest shiny object.

This is the tail wagging the dog. Maybe these are great ideas, maybe they’re not. It depends on your goals. Twitter, Facebook, PR, websites, blogs, newsletters, annual reports—these are all simply a means to an end. Planning makes sure you achieve your goals in the most effective and efficient way possible.

How to plan?

Now that you’re convinced you should have a written marketing plan, the question is how do you develop one given limited time, money and, let’s be honest, enthusiasm for the task at hand?

Enter the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, a tool I developed to  make it simple for you—the mission-motivate of the world—to get laser-focused on your marketing goals and how you’ll achieve them.

The 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree demystifies marketing and reveals the three questions you really have to ask and answer in order to reach your goals.

  1. WHAT does marketing success look like for your organization?
  2. WHO do you need to reach in order to be successful?
  3. HOW will you reach them?

Ready to get started? Download a free version of the Tree or buy the poster-size version (featured in the video above so you can see it ‘live’) and get planning!

5 Steps to a Funective* Brand

Here are a few brand questions to ponder:

  1. Should we have a live receptionist or an automated phone system?
  2. Should we have offices with doors or open cubicles?
  3. What type of coffee should we have for staff and guests?
  4. Should we offer incentives for taking the bus or biking to work?
  5. Which paper should we use for our letterhead and business cards?

Sure, these are questions about administration (a), office space (b), purchasing (c, e) and HR (d). Your answers to these questions reveal much about your organization, however, and should directly–and consistently–reflect your brand.

Here’s that I mean: if you’re an organization working on childhood literacy and value being approachable, friendly and transparent, you’d have a live receptionist and an open, kid-friendly floor plan. If, on the other hand, you’re a domestic violence shelter, trust and discretion would be closely-held values and you might opt for an easy-to-use phone tree with confidential voicemail and offices with doors.

And this is why brand matters. Because a clearly defined brand makes it easy to make decisions—work for, donate to, volunteer for, advocate on behalf of, stay involved in, buy from…tune out. It’s hard to tune out an organization when  their words, visuals and actions consistently and compellingly say, “This is what we believe. This is what we stand for. Join us if you stand for this, too!”

By following the 5 Steps to a Funective Brand (fun+effective=funective…in case you were wondering), you can create an irresistible and enduring brand. Put another way, you will make it easy for people who care about your cause to find you and engage with you. And who doesn’t want that?!

This is a brand new tool so feedback is welcome! Was the process funective for you? How can we make it better?



Portlandia Do Gooders

Last Friday, I found myself surrounded by 35+ of Portland’s most impressive do-gooders in the board room of the United Way of Columbia-Willamette. And they are doing some serious good, let me tell ya!

I was there thanks to an invite from WVDO and Creative Cares. We covered a lot of territory in our 7  hours together (here’s the Prezi so you can see what I mean) and this group gave me lots to think about. Here are a few of those thoughts:

  • Strategy THEN marketing: We started by setting marketing goals (a.k.a. 1E on the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree.) It never fails that some folks get really stuck on this part. Marketing is a means to an end. If you don’t know what the end is, it’s mighty hard to know how to get there. Look to your strategic plan or fundraising plan for goals that marketing might help you achieve. If you can’t clearly articulate your goals, stop spending resources on marketing. (Seriously. Stop. Now.) Use those resources to identify your goals and then turn back to your marketing.
  • Progress ≠ Change: We all want to make progress–it’s fun and gratifying! But we rarely want to make change. Change is uncomfortable. When you introduce something new–e.g. a new way to talk about your organization–expect resistence. Plan for that resistence.
  • Manage expectations: We were all fortunate that Ash Shepard, of NPower NW’s Portland office, was able to join us on Friday to share his wisdom and insight on using social media in your marketing. One of the points that really stood out was how mindfully we need to manage people’s expectations when we use social media. For instance, if you have a presence on Facebook but you really want to build community on your blog, say so. If you just have up a Facebook page without letting us know what to expect from it, we will expect that you  have the same intentions as everyone else, i.e. to use Facebook to build community. If that doesn’t happen, we’re disappointed. Disappointment erodes trust. And that’s not good for anybody.

If you were at the training, what are your thoughts? If you couldn’t make it, do any of these points hit home or do they miss the mark for you?

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?