An effective nonprofit organization is always "on message" meaning that everyone who works for the organization is about to talk about what the mission of the company is and why it is important. Here are some steps that will help your nonprofit to be on the same page.
1. Translate your mission into a language everyone can understand.
I was the ED of a theatre for three years. One day a woman asked me about my theatre. I proudly recited our mission . . .
"We are an ensemble group that produces definitive and transformative works spawned from the African Diaspora."
She smiled and then asked "What exactly does that mean?"
I was stumped. This woman wasn't a theatre person like me. Words like ensemble and Diaspora had no meaning for her. All they did was confuse her. Why is that a problem?
Because . . . CONFUSED PEOPLE DON'T GIVE.
They don't give money. They don't volunteer.
So your first task is to take your mission and give it to someone who knows NOTHING about your work. Have them ID every word in the mission that is unclear or vague.
Then replace every unclear word with a statement or phrase that makes it clearer. You don't need to change the formal mission statement, just the words you use to talk about the mission.
Here's an example of how this exercise worked out for me when I tried it with the mission statement given above.
The unclear words were "ensemble", "transformative", "definitive" and "diaspora".
After some time, this is what I came up with . . . .
Ensemble became group of actors
Definitive meant we wanted any particular show we did to be the best possible version of that work. This helped to explain why we spent a signficant amount of our budget on things like actor salaries, costumes, set design, etc.
Transformative meant that we did plays that made you think because getting you to think is the first step to transforming and expanding your viewpoint about Africans and African-Americans.
For the purposes of our mission statement, Diaspora essentially meant a body of work.
After this exercise if someone asked me about our theatre I may have said something like
"We are a group of actors dedicated to doing thought provoking work with the highest artistic quality possible. Our plays talk about African-American culture as well as other African cultures."
That may be a perfect translation of the mission, but it does help people to better understand what we do.
Translating your mission can be a lot of work but it can have a huge payoff in the long term.
2. Come up with two or three reasons why your mission is important to the general public.
Remember, just because YOU think something is important, doesn't mean the rest of the world sees things the same way. So you may have to explain why what your nonprofit does matters.
The goal here is to be brief but effective. If you have a good stat that helps to explain your importance, this is a great time to use it. For example . . .
"Our homeless shelter is one of only three in the city that focuses on serving single mothers and their children"
"Our adoption services help 100 infants a year find supportive homes."
Once you come up with your reasons, add it to your translated mission statement.
3. Train your nonprofit to talk about your company using the same language.
Before an athlete or CEO goes before the press they have been well prepared about what message they want to get across to the public. This isn't because these CEO's are not smart people, it is because in the chaos of the real world it can be very easy to say "the wrong thing" and cause your company harm.
On a smaller scale, this can happen to your nonprofit. Imagine the confusion if your Board President describes your company in a different way then your ED.
So once you have figured out a good way to talk about your mission (Steps 1 and 2), share it with EVERYONE from the Board President to the person who answers your phone.
More importantly, insist (yes INSIST) that they talk about the mission in the approved way and the approved way ONLY.
Some people will balk at this. Insist anyway. A nonprofit that speaks with the same language isn't a bunch of robots. They are a group that presents themselves as a unified bunch to the world and there is tremendous power in that unity.
Need some advice, wisdom or other techniques on how to clarify your communications? You can visit some great websites like NonprofitPR.com or The Getting Attention Blog