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4 Steps to Identifying Your Key Messages

  • June 22, 2015

I worked with a client recently on honing their messaging. This organization has a focused mission, a clearly articulated approach to its work, and specialized niche within its ecosystem of actors and stakeholders. They know their constituents and they can speak at length about their work.

So why were they struggling to attract the kind of support they needed to stay afloat? Because they, like many people who work in the nonprofit world, know their work too well. They can speak at length about what they do, but it’s from the perspective of someone who spends every day doing that work — full of technical language and insider concepts, and narrowly focused on what’s in front of them instead of seeing the bigger picture. That may work for speaking with constituents and partners and maybe existing funders, but how do you reach new audiences and build your base of support? By crafting and using key messages that clearly and succinctly explain your work and why you do it.

Here are four steps to crafting key messages that your organization can use across a wider swath of audiences:

1. Identify your key audiences. Most people skip this step and go right to defining messages, but it’s important that your messages are understood by — and resonate with — the people you want to reach. So first things first: Write down your top audiences and think about what they know and what they care about.

2. Define the problem. What is the problem your organization is aiming to solve? What is it you hope to achieve by doing your work? This should be condensed to a simple statement about why you do what you do, and it should be framed in terms of something your audiences care about.

3. Identify the solution. Given the problem, what is the solution? Why should we believe that this solution will work? Write a single statement that makes the case for why your solution will be effective in solving the problem.

4. Articulate your work. The challenge here will be to state the work you do in a brief, simple, jargon-less, and concrete statement. Don’t get down into the details but don’t be too abstract either. Focus on what’s most important and be plain, straightforward, and concise.

Now take these messages and infuse them into your communications, whether it be a grant proposal, your website, or a conversation in an elevator.

By creating messages that state what you do (the solution), how you do it (the work), and why you do it (the problem) — all framed in a way that resonates with your target audience — you can communicate more effectively to build a broader base of support.


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