Nonprofit Messaging 101: Your Nonprofit’s Key Messages

4 min read

Think of the last time you were trying to explain to a friend what your nonprofit does. Now, think of when you had this same conversation, but at an event with potential donors. Did you struggle with describing your nonprofit for this new audience? Or, were your definitions exactly the same (when speaking to very different audiences)?

Solidifying your nonprofit messaging through key messages can help you eliminate any confusion when talking about your organization. Key messages help determine your core external statements for each of your individual audiences so every member of your organization can feel confident no matter who they’re talking to — from board members and volunteers, to donors and recipients of your services.

#Keymessages help determine your core external statements. Click To Tweet

Here’s why key messages are so important for your nonprofit messaging, and how you can create them for your organization.

What are key messages?

Key messages are the main points you need your stakeholders to hear, understand and remember about your organization. They create meaning behind the work you do, the issues you want to discuss and the actions you want people to take as you work to advance your mission.

Effective key messages are:

  • Succinct
  • Focused on the basics of your organization (who you are, what you do, where you make an impact, why you do what you do and to what end is the intended result of your actions and focus)
  • Segmented by stakeholder group
  • Used primarily internally, but form the basis for external communication
#Keymessages are the main points you need your #stakeholders to hear, understand and remember. Click To Tweet

Key messages should guide your communications, but you shouldn’t necessarily use them verbatim in all your communications and marketing materials.

Why are key messages a critical part of nonprofit messaging?

Operating without key messages can cause confusion among both your team and external stakeholders. When your staff, leadership and board members have no key messages to refer to, everyone may tell their own version of your nonprofit’s story. These stories are often inaccurate, they’re always inconsistent and the bigger picture of what you do and why gets missed.

Not only is it important to share key messages with your team, leadership and board members, but keeping them in the loop during the process of creating and interpreting your key messages also allows for brand Democracy. Brand Democracy, as described in “The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity,” means an organization trusts its members, staff, participants and volunteers to communicate their own understanding of the organization’s core identity.

Operating without #keymessages can cause confusion among both your team and external #stakeholders. Click To Tweet

Engaging internal and external stakeholders in the creation of your nonprofit messaging ensures everyone remains on the same page about what your key messages are and why they matter. Ultimately, this allows everyone who touches your organization to be effective “brand ambassadors,” which will help get the right messages about your nonprofit in front of more people.

How to create key messages for your nonprofit

When creating key messages for your nonprofit, we recommend starting with “master” key messages. These master key messages should apply generally to all stakeholder groups. As we discussed, these messages should focus on the basics of your organization, answering the following questions:

  1. WHO: What group(s) or communities does your organization serve?
  2. WHAT: What does your organization do for those group(s)?
  3. WHY: Why do you do what you do?
  4. WHERE: Where is your impact focused?
  5. TO WHAT END: What’s the intended end result of your actions and focus?

Once you’ve answered these questions, tweak your master key messages to fit each stakeholder group using the following matrix. It may be helpful to identify a key point or two that you want to emphasize for each stakeholder group across all the messages.

nonprofit messaging: key messages

Now, it’s time to put your key messages to use. As you roll out your nonprofit messaging, you should:

  • Refer to them every time you develop new communications, across any channel. Align your external messaging with your key messages, rather than use key messages explicitly.
  • Distribute them organization-wide and hold a training among all staff, leadership and board members on how to use them.
  • Empower your staff to use the key messages as a basis for personalizing their conversations and content.

Once you’ve established your nonprofit messaging, put it to use in a marketing plan that helps you reach your goals and truly transform your mission’s impact. Download our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template to get started.

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