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!

January Tune-Up Tuesday Re-cap: The Nonprofit Messaging Roadmap

In January, we held our monthly Tune-Up Tuesday meet-up at The Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center in Seattle where we reviewed the Messaging Roadmap and discussed how to relate it to participants’ organizations. Below is a re-cap of our lively discussion.

(Note: This month we also presented at AFP Washington’s Martini Mondays where we discussed the Top 5 Nonprofit Messaging No No’s. This re-cap includes some questions and concerns about nonprofit messaging that came out of that presentation as well.)

Common Questions and Concerns about Nonprofit Messaging


What is the basic difference between a tagline and an elevator pitch?


A tagline is read not said.

An elevator pitch is said.

What is the difference between how we’d write a mission statement and how we’d write top-level messaging?


Most mission statements (but not all!) speak to the what and the how. Top-level messaging relates to the why and speaks to the hearts of your audience.

Note: There is great value in the process of creating mission and vision statements internally. To develop great messaging, you need to go one step further. Take the work that goes into creating your mission and value and make it compelling.

When we try to do messaging, it gets picked apart and everyone has a word to add.

That’s why we discourage messaging by committee! Messaging is about what your target audiences want/need to hear, not what internal stakeholders want them to know. This is a tricky, and important, distinction to make.

How do we convince our board to see the value of marketing and messaging work in particular?

First of all, don’t use the word Marketing. Marketing and Fundraising are part of an engagement continuum. Marketing is critical to any organization that wants to engage new supporters and retain current ones.

Even within our Fundraising Department, we say different things. How do we get on the same page?

Many organizations have departments that work in silos. If you are in Fundraising you may find that your major gifts team isn’t on the same page as your general fundraising team, for example. Getting people to the point where it’s about the audience perspective is key. Start by writing a job description for your fundraising team (see this post for more on this idea) – including the role of your major gift officers – showing how everyone has a piece in accomplishing your goals. Remember: Your audience doesn’t care about your silos; they care about how they can support what you’re doing.

How do we get our messaging shorter and more impactful?

  • Often we have the tendency to speak to the what. We lead with what we do instead of leading with what we believe. If you are in Microfinance you could lead with “We believe poverty can be eradicated. Microfinance is a powerful tool that can help us do that.”
  • Ask your supporters what resonates with them using surveys or focus groups…or just pick up the phone and do a quick, informal check-in! Asking those further away from the day to day work will often speak to the why of what you do. (Plus, it’s a great cultivation tool!)
  • Be careful not to pack your everything into your messaging. Often, board and staff are nervous about leaving something off. It feels really uncomfortable to not talk about everything.

Our current messaging is just not resonating. What should we do?

First, start by going back to the why (Point A on the Messaging Roadmap). You need everyone in your organization to come to an agreement on an answer to the following questions: Why do we exist? What would be different in our community if we didn’t exist?

How do you talk without jargon?

Every year, Lake Superior State University publishes its Banished Words list—make sure to avoid these! In the end, speaking to your audience’s heart is the key. Turn statistics into stories. For example, if you’ve been around since 1850, how many generations have you helped?


  1. Messaging Roadmap
  2. Messaging Framework

Nonprofit Messaging Resources

  1. Watch AFP Washingon’s Martini Mondays Nonprofit Messaging No No’s.
  2. Subscribe to Nancy Schwartz’s Getting Attention Blog.
  3. Participate in Claxon’s 9-Week Nonprofit Messaging Bootcamp! (Here’s how to get started: 1. Sign-up for Tune-Up Tuesdays Video Series, 2. Read our blog starting with Week #1 of the Bootcamp and 3. Sign-up for next month’s Tune-Up Tuesdays Meet-up in Seattle.)

Belief is a terrible thing to waste

profiles in courageOn April 25, 1944, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and others incorporated the United Negro College Fund. They believed that it was time to “reject the prejudices of the past and consider the inner person.” Their first fundraising effort garnered $760,000, which would be worth about $8.6 million today. In 1959, Sen. John F. Kennedy donated the proceeds of his book, Profiles in Courage, to the UNCF. In 1972, famed ad man Forest Long came up with what is perhaps the most widely recognized nonprofit tagline ever: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Why has the UNCF garnered such unbridled enthusiasm?

In our humble opinion, UNCF has attracted and retained loyal supporters because they have stayed true to the reason they created the organization in the first place–their belief that “it was time to reject the prejudices of the past and consider the inner person”. They have undoubtedly experimented with new programs, new messaging, and new ways to raise money. But their core belief has remained the same.

The articulation of this core belief is an organization’s Belief Proposition.

The for-profit sector focuses on Value Propositions. But in the nonprofit sector, our currency is beliefs, not value. (Note: Values are of course important to us nonprofiteers. That is different from value, with no ‘s’.) Belief Propositions are the philanthropic sector’s raison d’etre.

Your Belief Proposition answers the question: “Why do we exist?” Most organizations tell you what they do and how they do it. But very few tell you why. This is a huge missed opportunity since people engage with a cause because it speaks to their hearts, not their heads.

Don’t believe me?  Think of the organization to which you’ve given the most money, time and energy over time. Did you do that because you were struck by their admin to program ratio? Probably not. You might have seen that ratio and nodded your head in approval, but it wasn’t what inspired you time and again to engage. We engage because we believe in why the organization is doing what they’re doing and we like how they are doing it.

When you lead with why you believe, you build strong relationships with others who share your belief. This has been true for UNCF, as well as thousands of other organizations that, over time, have not just survived but thrived.

What does your organization believe?

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?