By Natasha Dresner
It is a period of deep reflection and introspection in the Jewish community now associated with the High Holy Days, arguably the most important religious, cultural, and spiritual time of year in Judaism, celebrating the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. Each year, I try to take advantage of this time to do some personal and professional reflection, and I encourage my clients – Jewish or not – to do the same. This year, my personal and professional “aha” moment was that better messaging is the key to everything (and I don’t mean text messaging!:). More specifically, I was able to identify three vital communications/messages that every nonprofit needs to reflect on, and do a better job at developing and delivering.
1. We Are a 501(c)3 Nonprofit Organization and Here is What It Means…
Go on your organization’s website or Facebook and see how much, if at all, you can find in there about your organization being a nonprofit. Many organizations have something like “XYZ is a nonprofit organization dedicated to…”, which is better than nothing, but very far from enough. It is the job of the nonprofit to educate its audience about what it means to be a nonprofit: the benefits, rights, responsibilities, and opportunities associated with it. Take every logical opportunity you have to send that message to your constituency. It does not have to – and, actually, should not – concentrate in one page or portion of your website. On the contrary, it should be present throughout. Do it a lot, and do it well. And, remember, that there are many different ways to transmit that message in addition to the obvious places. For example, look at your business card. Does it say anything about your organization being a nonprofit? If not, revise it, and don’t hesitate to utilize the reverse side of the card that, more often than not, stays empty.
2. Organizational Vision
Your organization’s vision for the future is a critical message that so many nonprofits (as well as for-profits) neglect to communicate. Most websites, for example, have an organization’s mission statement listed, but not its vision. Some, also list the core values, yet, still not the vision. Then, there are also those that list the vision, but it’s basically a paraphrasing of the mission. As a result, most nonprofits are caught between not communicating their visions at all and communicating them poorly. Why is it so important? Because your vision is the backbone of your organization, its mission and its success. It unites and inspires your lay and professional leadership, your supporters and community. It guides your organizational decisions and strategies, and fuels your passion for the cause and your day-to-day activities. It keeps you honest and creative, and empowers you to think big and ask the right questions.
Don’t get me wrong, your organizational mission statement is very important, but its purpose is to communicate what your nonprofit does presently, how it does it, and for whom. Your vision, on the other hand, addresses a more fundamental question of why your organization exists in the first place, which is what defines your mission. A vision statement communicates our aspirations and desired impact for the future – it describes a daring transformative change in people’s lives, in the community, and the world because your organization exists. So the relationship of your organization’s vision to its mission is what Oz is to the Yellow Brick Road. Without Oz as a final destination, the Yellow Brick Road doesn’t have much of a purpose. In other words, the vision always precedes the mission no matter how old or young your organization is, therefore, it stands to reason that it must be communicated better both qualitatively and quantitatively.
If you are still confused about the difference between the vision and the mission, here is a simple tip for you: the true vision statement always describes something that does not yet exist. Look for it and, if it is not there, have the leadership of your organization do some serious thinking about it.
Similar to the “we-are-a-nonprofit-organization” message, there are many places and opportunities to communicate your organizational vision, one of which is mentioned in the section below.
3. Compelling Case for Giving
Once again, if you go to your website and look for a case for giving – your organization’s rationale for financial (and other) support – many of you will not find one, or will not find it compelling enough. Given that every nonprofit organization relies (more or less) on its income from fundraising, it would seem only logical to have a powerful case for giving communicated through your website and other opportunities that are all around you. For example, do your Board members and staff know the case for giving, and are they comfortable sharing it with others when those opportunities present themselves? The main reason your answer may be “no” is because your case is not powerful and/or compelling enough. While it will take us a whole separate article to discuss all of the details of how to create a compelling case for giving, I do want to give you one piece of advice: the key to a compelling case for giving is to build it on your organizational vision (yes, that same vision we talked about in the previous section).
So go ahead and reflect on whether or not your nonprofit has these three things – “we-are-a-nonprofit”, organizational vision, and case for giving – communicated well and in everything you do as they can make all the difference not only for your organization, but for all those you serve. So, whether it’s your New Year or not, commit to making these three new year’s resolutions and following through on them!
Natasha Dresner is a Nonprofit Development Consultant and Mentor with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in Agawam, Massachusetts. She can be reached at Natasha@hgf.org