Your Nonprofit’s Message Platform: Association Staffer Asks “What’s a boilerplate, and where does our mission statement fit in?”

Your Nonprofit's Message Platform Association Staffer Asks What's a boilerplate, and where does our mission statement fit inI heard recently from Sarah Sturm, an editor with the Forest Landowners Association. Like many staff members with nonprofit organizations, she wears multiple hats, including the nonprofit marketing chapeau.

Here’s Sarah’s question: "I define boilerplate as a ‘who we are’ statement as opposed to the mission statement which is ‘what we do.’ Is that accurate? Are there any particular elements it should contain?"

Thanks for the great question, Sarah. It’s one many folks have, but few are brave enough to ask about something they think everyone else understands! So here goes:

==> What’s boilerplate?
(from Wikipedia): "Boilerplate is any text that is or can be reused in new contexts or applications without being changed much from the original."

==> Your org should be using several boilerplates, from tagline to key messages, and mission statement: Your organization’s boilerplates include all messaging developed for ongoing use by your organization. Ideally, elements include: Tagline, positioning statement (the who we are Sarah refers to above); and key messages.

  • Mission and vision statements are also boilerplates, in that you use the same statements repeatedly, but these statements are usually more focused on internal audiences (staff, board, maybe volunteers) than the other elements of the message platform!

==> Your positioning statement (what Sarah’s referring to) is a one to three (only if they’re short) sentence statement that conveys what your org does for whom to uniquely solve an urgent need—the  value that your org delivers. Here’s a list of key components your positioning statement should  convey:

  •     Who you are
  •     What business you’re in
  •     For whom (what people do you serve)
  •     What’s needed by the market you serve
  •     What’s different about how you do your work
  •     What unique benefit is derived from your programs, services and/or products?

Here’s a positioning statement I crafted recently for a client:
"The National Association of Mothers’ Centers (NAMC) supports mothers and motherhood through its network of mothers’ centers and MOTHERS advocacy initiative. NAMC’s connection to mothers throughout the country is the core of its impact as a support and advocacy leader for the good of mothers and families nationwide. Working both at the grassroots level providing mom-to-mom support, and at the policy level to engage citizen advocates in the battle for fair treatment of family caregivers on economic, social and political agendas, NAMC is the collective voice of U.S. mothers today."

Hope that helps in getting your messages out there, Sarah!

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Nancy Schwartz on July 15, 2008 in Branding and Messages, Copywriting, Nonprofit Communications | 4 comments
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  • You make me sound so important! I’m actually an Editor for a non-profit association who wears many hats. Thank you for the post. It is extremely helpful to us as we dive into the complex process of positioning and messaging.

  • Demi Prentiss

    Dear Sarah and Nancy —
    Wiki’s definition is okay, as far as it goes. But “boilerplate” doesn’t refer to the statements you’re talking about. It refers to “all-purpose” text, that has particulars zipped in, like a merge document. It was coined to refer to the long, laborious verbiage necessitated by many court filings, where very little has to be changed except for the names of the plaintiff, the defendant, and perhaps some particulars, like a property description. Many apartment leases and some real estate documents fall in this category.
    Please note that a boilerplate (the real deal, used for patching boilers) is heavy, and of not much use for anything else.
    With that in mind, I would sincerely hope that your mission statement or positioning statement would *not* fit the description.

  • Nancy E. Schwartz

    Hi Demi,
    Thanks for sharing your definition, and perspective. I agree: No nonprofit messaging should be unwieldy and, as a result, seldom used.
    But boilerplate is used much more casually, and broadly, in the nonprofit marketing world in general.
    Best,
    Nancy

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