How to Master Volunteer Communications for Your Nonprofit

As a nonprofit professional, you have a lot to juggle: administrative tasks, event planning, fundraising asks, and more. But there’s an important component of your team that helps you push through these challenges and raise your level of success.

These are your volunteers.

Your volunteers make up the backbone of your organization. Without their help, many smaller (but still important!) tasks would be delayed or go unfinished altogether, which could significantly slow down your team’s progress. That’s why prioritizing volunteer engagement is essential. So what’s the best way to keep your volunteers engaged? Communication.

Effective volunteer communication keeps the wheels of your organization turning and ensures volunteers are up-to-date with what needs to be done. That’s why we’ve outlined our top strategies for mastering volunteer communications at your nonprofit:

  1. Make use of social media and email.
  2. Leverage your website.
  3. Make a good first impression.
  4. Regularly check in.
  5. Keep your volunteers updated.
  6. Segment your communications.

Keep your wheels turning and your volunteers engaged with the right kind of communication strategy. Let’s get started.

1. Make use of social media and email.

As you prepare to reach out to both potential and current volunteers, there are two top channels to consider: social media and email. Through social media, you can recruit volunteers, and through email, you can keep them directly updated.

But those are just a few of the benefits of using these channels. Let’s dive more specifically into each so you can get the most out of them.

Social Media

Social media can be used to share your recruitment message, but it’s essential that you don’t just post and walk away. According to the InitLive volunteer management guide, it’s helpful to craft a formal social media campaign. This campaign should outline what your message is and include content that is meaningful to your supporters.

Here are some tips as you prepare to engage with your audience:

  • Be brief. Shorter posts get straight to the point and are easier for readers to digest. This will encourage more engagement from your supporters.
  • Don’t feel the need to post all the time. While regular updates are important, you don’t always need to post multiple times a day. In fact, posting too often might turn off some readers.
  • Post new information. Share content that might not be found on your website or blog, which will add value to the post. For example, offer early access to new opportunities or highlight some of your standout volunteers!

As you share your content, make your recruitment link available on your specific posts and in your page description. Then, you should see more volunteers signing up!


Email is also an important element of volunteer communications. Email not only helps recruit new volunteers, but it also serves as a way to keep your current group of volunteers updated (more on that later!).

Use email outreach to give past volunteers exclusive access to your available volunteer positions. You can even encourage them to share volunteer opportunities with their circle of friends, or offer a referral gift as an additional incentive to get the word out.

There are many ways both social media and email outreach can contribute to a solid volunteer communication strategy. Start by sharing meaningful but relevant content that will boost recruitment numbers, and you’ll be on your way to even more engagement.

2. Leverage your website.

Your website is typically the very first place potential volunteers will go to find out about opportunities with your organization. That’s why you should always keep this information up-to-date, especially if you want to recruit successful volunteers.

Your website will allow you to:

  • Post new volunteer opportunities
  • Offer supporters an easy way to sign up for those opportunities
  • Promote your overall mission

When your website prominently features your organization’s mission and includes clear calls-to-action (CTAs), this will make it easy for supporters to navigate their way to your volunteer opportunities and registration. Even more, a clear and intuitive website will ensure that your volunteers have a basic understanding of your goals and what you need from them.

Once you’ve optimized your website to communicate what it is you need from your volunteers, you’ll be in a better position to communicate with them going forward.

3. Make a good first impression.

Volunteers come to your organization because they believe in your mission. That’s why you should take the time to get to know them, to determine the specific appeal that brought them there and help them learn more.

This starts with your registration process. Use volunteer management software that creates an easy sign-up process and helps you sift through each individual’s information to assign them the best possible fit.

This applies whether you’re organizing an event and need to staff it, or you need people to help with data entry. It’s important to find out what skills your volunteers have and what they would enjoy.

When you clearly communicate with your volunteers and understand what is important to them, you’ll pave the way for a good first impression, happier volunteers, and more work that gets done.

4. Regularly check in.

Even after you’ve successfully recruited volunteers and everything seems to be running smoothly, effective communication doesn’t end there. It’s essential that you regularly check in with your volunteers to keep the engagement going.

For example, you can ask:

  • About any challenges that might have come up
  • If they’re enjoying their role
  • If they’d like to try something else to continue or deepen their involvement

Regular check-ins also include recognition. While it’s probably true that your volunteers aren’t doing this specifically for the glory, it’s important to recognize your volunteers to keep them motivated and ensure they feel appreciated.

Look for ways to communicate your appreciation through social media, email blasts, and even through features on your website. Personalize individual outreach as you say thank you and demonstrate the impact your volunteers have made on your overall goals, whether it relates to fundraising, events, or other tasks. If you’re looking for examples of emails that say thanks, check out these templates, which can be adapted to suit any type of supporter.

Case in point: Regularly keeping up with and recognizing your volunteers will help push your organization closer to achieving its mission. Be sure to openly communicate with them to recognize them for a job well done and make sure they feel fulfilled in their role.

5. Keep your volunteers updated.

Something that’s occasionally overlooked is the idea that volunteers should be treated the same way as your nonprofit’s employees. They offer value, just as your staff does. For that reason, volunteers should know about changes in the organization just like employees do.

Keep volunteers informed and let them know about important developments or challenges that have come up at your nonprofit. In turn, this will help raise engagement and make these individuals feel valued.

You can do this by:

  • Inviting volunteers to certain staff meetings
  • Including them in staff email correspondence
  • Communicating key changes that affect their volunteer positions

The more you involve your volunteers in developments at your nonprofit, the more they’ll feel valued and like they’re a part of your team. This can lead to longer-term engagement and retention, and can also help you build stronger relationships with your volunteers as supporters of your organization.

6. Segment your communications.

We’ve talked about how it’s important to communicate with your volunteers in general and keep them in the loop. However, sometimes certain pieces of information don’t apply to all of your volunteers.

Our last crucial tip for communicating with volunteers at your organization is to segment your communications. InitLive’s volunteer engagement guide notes that sending out irrelevant communications to volunteers will waste their time and lead to frustration.

Just as you would tailor your communications to donors in order to maintain a high donor retention rate, you should also segment your communications for different volunteers so they receive information that’s relevant to them. That way, you won’t waste their time with details that don’t apply to their role or shifts.

In order to do this, consider using a volunteer management solution that helps keep your volunteers updated with automated notifications that apply specifically to them. This way, you’ll be able to keep your volunteers informed, but they won’t need to read every single scheduling issue or other memos that have come up from another team.

The more you respect your volunteers’ time, the more they’ll respect your organization and want to stay involved.

Your volunteers help your organization stay on its feet and keep your day-to-day operations running smoothly. That’s why they deserve to be treated as an essential part of your team, and why communicating with them is so important. Once you’ve mastered your communication strategy with your volunteers, they’ll keep coming back to help you reach your goals.

Be sure to keep these tactics in mind as you build up your volunteer base and continue serving your mission. Best of luck!

Promoting Your Virtual Volunteer Opportunities: 4 Pro Tips

With people and organizations moving to the virtual landscape in the COVID era, there are new ways to empower and engage your supporters. Whether you’re looking to increase virtual event attendance or expand your volunteer base, developing a volunteer management strategy tailored to attracting online engagement is crucial.

In the digital age, effectively promoting your virtual fundraising opportunities is essential for mobilizing people to support your organization’s mission. 

Effectively managing your volunteers has a beneficial payoff for your organization. With a well-planned strategy comes increased engagement, meaningful relationships with your volunteers and community, and boosts to revenue over time. Plus, developing a strong plan will save your team time and expand your events’ turnout. 

Surprisingly, many growing organizations neglect developing a concrete promotional strategy for their volunteer programming. This component is often overlooked due to other priorities taking precedence. Some consider it to take too much time to address, or sometimes volunteer management is an issue not yet on their radar. However, remember that your organization can get ahead and grow your impact by making effective volunteer engagement and management a point of focus. 

Because virtual volunteering is at the forefront of an organization’s recruitment strategies and has staying power, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Digital platforms reach a broad audience regardless of location and can exponentially grow your organization’s reach. However, effectively promoting these opportunities is the challenge, as virtual volunteer involvement is still new for many supporters. 

Here’s what to consider when forming your strategy for promoting volunteer opportunities:

  • Using dedicated volunteer management software.
  • Tapping into the power of peer-to-peer recruiting.
  • Taking a targeted approach to marketing.
  • Promoting new ways for volunteers to grow their impact. 

This year, aim to seek out new ways for your organization to stand out online. Promote your organization’s opportunities strategically while forming meaningful connections with those who support you. Here’s how to promote your nonprofit’s virtual volunteering opportunities to your online audience of supporters. 

Use dedicated volunteer management software.

Anchoring your recruitment efforts with dedicated volunteer management software is a crucial aspect of your growth in the digital age. This software simplifies the management of those who volunteer with and support your mission. It will also provide invaluable data by tracking volunteer engagement. 

With this information, it’ll be easier to refine your marketing strategies over time by showing you what does and doesn’t work to attract and engage new volunteers. The long-term value of investing in management software is beneficial as it helps your organization increase volunteer engagement and retention to better support your cause.

For example, tracking engagement data can help you discover:

  • Which marketing outlets most effectively attract volunteers
  • Trends in volunteer feedback
  • Common characteristics of your most engaged volunteers

With these crucial metrics at your fingertips, your organization has untapped growth potential. Reading into trends and understanding behaviors will help you place your promotional efforts in the right place at the right time.

For instance, if you find that social media is your most effective source for volunteers for a particular type of virtual volunteer opportunity, you can anchor your future outreach strategies with social media. Or, if you find that volunteer sign-ups dropped for a recent event or campaign, you can look back to your marketing strategies to see exactly where your promotional efforts underperformed.

Tap into the power of peer-to-peer recruiting.

Your current volunteers are some of your most valuable assets when it comes to recruiting new volunteers. Provide them with the right tools to recruit volunteers to support your cause! Whether it’s on-the-ground or virtual support, every member is a crucial part of your organization and can act as a powerful ambassador when equipped for the job.

An effective way to gain traction with potential volunteers is through digital communication. This can take many forms on a variety of platforms. Encourage your volunteers to actively share their experiences on their social media platforms and by digital word of mouth; texting.

You want to ensure that your volunteers provide valid links to connect potential supporters with your online pages. Volunteer opportunity networks (like Mobilize) also help with this task too. It provides your volunteers with easy social share buttons and copy-and-paste codes to share via text or email. 

Be sure to include your organization’s social media handles as a point of contact, as well. Here, you might offer a range of engaging content:

  • Testimonials and stories from past volunteers
  • Impact reports and photos or videos of previous volunteer events
  • Volunteer shout-outs
  • The general buzz and conversation around your mission and work

Through social media, potential volunteers can get an accurate and immersive look into what it would be like to volunteer for your organization. Be sure to work these into your broader social media strategies to see the best results over time.

Finally, thank your volunteers for spreading the word. People respond well to appreciation and will be compelled to keep recruiting on your behalf. This directory of thank-you templates from Good United is a handy resource to get started. 

Take a targeted approach to marketing.

In the last year, marketing communication has shifted largely online, especially with people working from home. This sudden change forces nonprofits to rethink communication strategies, especially their approaches to marketing their events and efforts to their volunteers. 

Just as your organization has altered its strategy for communicating with employees internally, make sure your external communication to volunteers is also following today’s best practices. To stand out in a crowded online space, targeting your message specifically to them will be your best bet.

Start by refining your email strategies. With email being a cornerstone of digital communication, messages that seem irrelevant or spammy are much more likely to get ignored by your volunteers. Combat this by keeping your end-user in mind. Write your subject lines and openers to acknowledge that they’re people behind the screens, too. Rather than blasting general announcements about new opportunities to all of your supporters, take a more targeted approach when possible. 

There are helpful resources to refer to for tactful audience-centric messaging. This will help make your messages more effective and prevent them from feeling like generic or irrelevant appeals for support. 

These emails can be personalized by direct your users to the most relevant opportunities based on what you already know about them. An example of this could be tracking which types of opportunities a volunteer has engaged with in the past to promote specific future opportunities to them. This will further enhance their relationship with that supporter and encourage them to continue to support your cause.

This messaging practice can further be used to encourage non-volunteers to get involved. When someone donates to a particular campaign, consider how that campaign’s specific messaging and goals motivated them to give. What action words and attention grabbers did they use to reach the end goal of the user donating? Use those insights to determine which types of volunteer opportunities and messaging tactics will be most appealing to them.

Promote new ways for volunteers to grow their impact.

Giving current volunteers ways to grow their impact on your mission is another vital part of effective long-term volunteer management. When you’ve built strategies to retain volunteers over the long haul, also use them to attract new supporters. Beyond expanding your volunteer base, find creative ways to expand their opportunities with your organization. An investment in their engagement is a powerful motivator.

When you expand opportunities for your volunteers, it can look like a variety of methods. For example, you can provide current and potential volunteers with opportunities like:

  • Volunteer grants that can help them boost their impact on your mission through matched donations from their employers.
  • Training programs and additional development opportunities to learn new skills related to your work.
  • Special membership perks for stand-out members, such as long-term volunteers, and those who are proactive in recruiting new volunteers.

By offering ways for volunteers to grow their impact over time, you essentially give them a reason to stick around. In addition to simply offering a range of different volunteering opportunities, Tactics like these are key to engage and retain supporters over the long run, which is itself one of the best ways to market your programming to potential volunteers.

With new and effective methods to promote your organization’s virtual volunteer opportunities, you can grow your reach and impact. Digital platforms have taken precedent with volunteers and organizations alike to recruit, retain, and motivate volunteers. 

It’s crucial to remain at the forefront of effective volunteer management strategies. If strategic volunteer management is a new undertaking for your organization, brush up with Mobilize’s complete guide, which walks through even more marketing and recruiting tips.

Regardless of the exact tactics you roll out, the main idea is to come up with the best ways to effectively inform others of your opportunities, as you want to expand your reach as much as possible. Your organization’s online presence has the potential to reach a broad audience regardless of location. Your impact can grow in exponential ways as you deepen relationships with your supporters. 

Creating your strategy is as simple as using the right volunteer management software to expand your organization’s mission’s reach and impact. Be sure to supplement it with peer-to-peer recruiting and targeted messages. 

With the new year, there is ample opportunity for creative and practical ideas to bolster your digital presence. With this, your organization’s volunteer base will expand and further the impact you have in your community.

13 Nonprofits Honored for Outstanding Taglines: 2009 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards Winners

The Back Story

A nonprofit’s tagline is hands down the briefest, easiest and most effective way to communicate its identity and impact.

But this high-impact, low-cost marketing tactic is often overlooked or under-emphasized by nonprofits.’s 2008 survey of nonprofits showed that 7 in 10 nonprofits rated their tagline as poor or didn’t use one at all. The majority of nonprofits not using a tagline indicated that they had not thought about it or couldn’t come up with a good one.

The Nonprofit Tagline Awards program is designed to address this missed opportunity, and guide nonprofits to craft an effective tagline.

The 2009 award winners demonstrate how powerful taglines can work as a first step in branding or as a highly-effective tool to refresh a nonprofit’s messaging, emphasize its commitment to its work and/or revive tired positioning.

Winning taglines plus much more are featured in the 2011 Nonprofit Tagline Report and Online Tagline Database:

  • The 10 Have-Tos for Successful Taglines
  • The 7 Deadly Sins – Examples of what not to do.
  • Searchable Access to more than 4,800 Nonprofit Tagline Examples to put to work for tagline brainstorming.

2009 Award Winners

Arts & Culture: Big Sky. Big Land. Big History. — Montana Historical Society

The Montana Historical Society takes its state’s most elemental and distinctive characteristics (Big Sky, Big Land) and deftly melds them with its mission in a way that generates excitement. The result is a tagline with punch and focus. And a big hit with voters.

Associations: Building community deep in the hearts of Texans —TexasNonprofits

TexasNonprofits’ tagline tweaks the title of an iconic American popular song from the 1940s and brilliantly connects it to the spirit, passion and mission of the state’s citizenry. A great example of how word play works in a tagline.

Civic Benefit:
Holding Power Accountable —Common Cause

Common Cause’s tagline leaves no doubt about the organization’s mission, unique value and commitment. It’s definitive, with a powerful economy of words. An excellent example of the tagline clarifying the nonprofit’s focus, when the organization’s name alone doesn’t do so.

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste® —UNCF -The United Negro College Fund

This 38-year-old tagline from UNCF still rings strong. It elegantly delivers its straight up, powerful message. When your tagline is the boiled-down essence of your argument for support, you’ve achieved tagline bliss. That’s why this one is a classic.

Environment & Animals: Because the earth needs a good lawyer —Earthjustice

Earthjustice capitalizes on what people do understand – that a lawyer protects rights – and uses that framework to dramatically position its role and impact in the environmental movement. And it does so with humor. If your tagline makes people smile or light up, without stepping on your message, then you’ve made an emotional connection…Bravo.

If you want to be remembered, do something memorable. —The
Cleveland Foundation

It’s a rare tagline that manages to recruit people to its cause both unabashedly and effectively. That’s exactly what The Cleveland Foundation pulls off here. Clear, concise, and…memorable! A model for any organization promoting philanthropy.

Health & Sciences: Finding a cure now…so our daughters won’t have to. © —PA Breast Cancer Coalition

The PA Breast Cancer Coalition’s tagline is both emphatic and poignant. It strikes a deep emotional chord, and conveys the focus and impact of its work without being overly sentimental. “Finding a cure,” a highly used phrase for health organizations, is bolstered here by the appeal to solve a problem now so future generations won’t suffer from it.

Human Services: Filling pantries. Filling lives. —Houston Food Bank

With simple but effective use of word repetition, the Houston Food Bank clarifies its work and impact. It delivers on two distinct levels—the literal act of putting food on people’s shelves and the emotional payoff to donors and volunteers. An excellent example of a mission-driven tagline.

International, Foreign Affairs & National Security: Send a Net. Save a Life. —Nothing
But Nets

Short, punchy and laser-sharp, the Nothing But Nets tagline connects the action with the outcome. It’s inspirational in the simplicity of its message and its reason for existing. The kind of tagline nonprofits should model.

Jobs & Workforce Development: Nothing Stops A Bullet Like A Job —Homeboy Industries

Homeboy Industries’ tagline is a mini-masterpiece, telling a memorable story in just six words. It stops you in your tracks, makes you want to learn more and sticks with you afterwards. That’s the kind of potent nonprofit messaging every organization desires.

Media: Telling stories that make a difference —Barefoot Workshops

If your organization’s name is vague, it’s critical that your tagline be distinct. Barefoot Workshops’ tagline sums up the transformative power of stories to create change in people and their communities, so clarifying the organization’s focus. Saved by the tagline!

Religion & Spiritual Development:
Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. —The people of The United Methodist Church

The work of religious organizations often operates on several planes at once — a challenge for any organization and its messaging. Here, The people of The United Methodist Church delivers a tagline trinity that supports its applied faith mission and is warm, enthusiastic and embracing.

Other: A head for business. A heart for the world. —SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise)

If an organization’s identity contains within it a distinct contrast between its key characteristics, that’s often good tagline material. Here, SIFE surprises with its crystal-clear tagline that conveys not only what’s unique about it but also capitalizes on the contrast between profit and compassion.

7 Steps to Increasing Action (Case Study)

Have you seen this print ad campaign from Action Against Hunger (AAH)? It’s a great example of how to fail in motivating your audiences to take the actions you need to move your mission forward.

The first ad features a line-up of paper dolls, with one figure much thinner than the others — but no clear call to action. The second ad features this pizza box with mini pizza inside (much less than you and I are used to eating), highlighting that the 3.5 million children under 5 worldwide who die from hunger on annual basis don’t have enough to eat. Readers are asked to visit AAH’s website (for what?) or text in a small donation.

New York Times  writer Jane Levere covered the campaign in her recent advertising column in The Times, and called to get my take on the ads — generously designed pro bono by G2 USA — that will run in high-end consumer magazines including Esquire, Saveur and Harper’s Bazaar. Ultimat Vodka is the cause partner, and purchaser of the ad space (pricy, believe me). Stylistically they’re much like the typical consumer ads in magazines like these — spare, graphically-compelling, more about aesthetics than anything else.

If you read through to the very end of Jane’s column, you’ll see that she quoted my questioning the choice of corporate partner. She also featured my characterization of the ads as abstract in her headline, but what she didn’t include is the balance of my recommendations for productive calls to action, and those are far more important.

Note: It’s common that a journalist focuses on points you made but weren’t what you emphasized or thought were most important. You’re contacted as a subject expert to help the journalist do her job, not to tell the story you want to tell.

Take these seven steps to motivate your network to act now:

1) Be concrete and specific. Abstraction is deadly.

  • These ads are abstract and high-styled, typical of high-end consumer advertising. They mimic the look-and-feel of what I promise you most of the other ads in these magazines look like, so are easy to miss.
  • A concept or abstraction is far harder to grasp than a story about an individual like you or someone you know. Abstraction is a burden on the reader flipping through.  Make it easy for folks to get it.
  • Plus, pizza is not nutritious (nor is vodka)!

2) Feature a single individual, rather than a group or — far worse — daunting stats that seem absolutely insurmountable.

  • Stats on the enormity of problems like child malnourishment (3.5 million children under 5 perish every year from poor nutrition) are daunting, and tend to generate the response…well, I can’t do anything about a problem that’s so huge.
  • Instead, feature one child who has been restored to health through the proper nutrition.
  • Relating to a single individual enables your network to relate to her — one-to-one — far better than to even a small group of kids. Think about how you relate when speaking to a group of 10, versus a one-to-one conversation.

3) Avoiding negative imagery (a.k.a. starving child) is spot on. But focus on a positive story  — with specifics — of someone who’s life is improved as a result of your organization’s work!

  • Bring her (let’s call her Anna) to life with a photo.
  • Add specific details about how AAH’s work has helped restore Anna to health, and what her day is like now–the “after” (now, everyday after school, Anna plays soccer with the girls and boys in her neighborhood, until her grandmother chases her in to sweep the hut and get dinner started for her four younger brothers and sisters).
  • It’s details like this that make Anna’s story real, and enable your prospects to relate this story to the children in their own lives.

4) Write to a single person (let’s call her Judy), not the many you hope to motivate to act. This transforms the interchange to a one-to-one; more conversation than lecture.

  • These ads seem written to the “general public.” Can you imagine speaking the words of either one? You’d never do it.
  • Keep a single member of your target audience (let’s call her Judy) clearly in mind as you craft your concept and content — Judy’s wants, values, morning schedule, face, etc. — to connect. Crafting a persona is a valuable and easily doable way to close the gap with your target audiences, and get to know them so you can shape your messages most effectively. Here’s my how-to guide to persona creation.

5) Reach out to Judy’s heart first, head second.

  • The ads are all head, with their abstract imagery and their stats. They are designed to engage a reader via logic.
  • You’ll be much more successful engaging Judy emotionally (so she can immediately gauge whether there is a match, or not). Her emotional connection (or lack thereof) will direct her rational response.

6) Emphasize a clear, easy-to-do call to action.

  • The paper doll ad has no call to action. The pizza ad features a clear call to action but it’s in small type and the last element in the text block. You really have to work to find it.
  • Any outreach without a clear, doable call to action is a waste. You don’t have to convert (motivate her to give, sign, volunteer) Judy in any one call to action, but you do want to move her forward to the next step.
  • If you want Judy to take that next step, you have to ask her to do so. And make it easy for your her to find and digest the call to action — large and simply-stated is the way to go.

7) Start at the end and work backwards. What is the benchmark you’re trying to hit with the specific marketing project you’re working on now?

  • I’m unsure what AAH is going accomplish with these ads. Building awareness is a valid high-level goal, but is not a benchmark (can’t be measured).
  • There is a chance that AAH will bring folks in the door for the first time, but if they don’t text that $10 contribution, there’s no way they can follow up with these potential supporters.

I want to emphasize that this ad space was an opportunity that AAH was right to accept — premium timing in premium media.

It’s often challenging to direct pro bono contributions, especially on the creative side. Jane Levere cites the originality of the creative direction for focusing on abstract images, rather than those of starving children — that the ads are something that magazine readers are likely not to have seen before for a nonprofit. However, they’re similar to all the consumer ads that run in those media — so are likely to be overlooked. It could have been much different: I see many nonprofit campaigns that are original, sophisticated and effective — in imagery and content — without using the “starving child” approach.

Do these ads work to engage you, and would you be motivated to visit the AAH website or make a text donation? If not, how would you to increase the effectiveness of these ads to motivate action? Please share your point of view here.

The 9 Have-Tos: Your One-Stop Checklist for a Powerful Nonprofit Tagline

Your organization’s tagline has the potential to be the most potent message you have, because a good one is easily remembered and repeated—exponentially expanding your reach.

Assess your tagline against this 9-point checklist of tagline have-tos to see how it measures up. If there’s more work to do, this process will highlight specific areas for improvement. Dive in:

1. _____ Must convey your nonprofit’s or program’s impact or value:

  • Increasing physical activity through community design – Active Living by Design
  • Protecting Your Retirement. Securing Your Benefits. – RetireSafe
  • Informing Grantmakers, Improving Our Community – Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers

Make sure you use your tagline for all it’s worth. If your tagline lacks this positioning value, it’s a bust. Descriptors don’t make the grade.

2. _____ Must be broadly and easily accessible and memorable, avoiding jargon and acronyms:

  • Starve Fear. Feed Hope. – National Eating Disorders Organization
  • A Passion to Help. The Ability to Deliver. – Americares

3. _____ Must be specific to your organization, not easily used by another nonprofit. This is a particularly tough one, but differentiation is the name of the game. Otherwise, it’s just a “me too”:

  • A Community Transforming Technology into Social Change – NTEN
  • Equal Play – Women’s Sports Foundation
  • Smart Policy. Sound Science. Stronger Communities. – Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs

The Nonprofit Tagline Database features one tagline (People Helping People) submitted by three distinct organizations. If there is any overlap among these audiences’ target audiences, they are losing out on tagline power.

4. _____ Must be eight words or less, which is all you have of your audiences’ attention. Simplicity plus brevity = clarity:

  • We Help Neighborhoods Play – Silken’s ActiveKids Movement
  • Where volunteering begins. – VolunteerMatch

NOTE: There are exceptions to this rule, when more than eight words are required to get the gist across:

  • Helping donors create thoughtful, effective philanthropy throughout the world – Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (a complex service and concept, justifying nine words)
  • More than a store. We build healthy families and communities one job at a time. – Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota (15 words, a lot but the organization is trying to correct misperception about its work and impact)

5. _____ Should make an emotional connection:

  • Helping Preserve the Places You Cherish – LandChoices
  • When You Can’t Do It Alone – Jewish Family & Children’s Service

6. _____ Should capture the spirit or promise of your organization or program:

  • Finding the Ways that Work – Environmental Defense Fund (committed to taking on environmental issues with persistence and innovation)
  • Grounded in tradition…open to the Spirit – Memphis Theological Seminary

7. _____ Should clearly complement and/or clarify your organization’s or program’s name without duplicating it:

  • It’s a Moving Experience – Museum of Transportation (MO)
  • Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet – Sierra Club

The Sierra Club’s name is somewhat obtuse as the reference to California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range doesn’t communicate anything about what the organization does, or the geographic breadth of its work and programs.

Don’t presume your audience brings any particular context to digesting the tagline.

8. ______ Should take the tone that will connect with your audiences, while being true to your organizational “self.” Effective taglines may be humorous or earnest, tangible or conceptual.

  • Humorous: To Life (from Fiddler on the Roof) – Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County (Caution: This tagline succeeds due to the cultural common ground shared by the Federation and its base. That’s a prerequisite for integrating humor into your nonprofit’s tagline or other key messaging.)
  • Earnest/Straight Ahead: Investing in Peace and Security Worldwide – Ploughshares Fund
  • Tangible: We Stop Polluters – Potomac Riverkeepers
  • Abstract: Ideas into Action, Action into Service – American University

9. ______ Should be authentic. Make sure your organization can stand behind your tagline, 100%. When you do, you build credibility. When you don’t, you lose any you may have.

How Does Your Tagline Add Up?
Add one point for each box checked:

8-9 points: 5-Star Tagline
5-7points: Good, but still some tweaking to be done.
4 or less points: Get back to the drawing board. The “musts” are a must.

What do you need to know or build skills in to ensure your tagline connects, or to craft taglines for key programs or campaigns? Please share here.

Let me know and I’ll develop more content and training in those areas. Thanks!

The 4 Cornerstones of Your Nonprofit Message Platform

You have to connect with your target audiences to move them to act…to give, to sign, to participate, to volunteer and more. Your organization’s messages are your greetings—the first step in building these vital relationships and a must-do for keeping them vibrant over time.

But without relevant messages, it’s impossible to connect.

Crafting compelling messages that are easy to remember and repeat is one of the most overlooked—and under appreciated—methods of ensuring you reach your nonprofit marketing goals.

In fact, 76% of nonprofit communicators like you say their messages are irrelevant to the people they want to give, volunteer or take another needed action.*  Their target audiences (like yours?) remain unmoved and their goals unmet.

That’s a huge loss, as effective messages have a significant ROI (return on investment). When your messages don’t connect, you generate just a huge who cares. And who-cares messages alienate current supporters, as well as prospects on all fronts. Who wants to dig into something that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with them?

There’s No Choice—Learn How to Get to Relevant Messages

Creating engaging messages requires a minor (if any) financial investment and a moderate investment of time, and offers tremendous returns. I hear from so many of you who believe in the power of messages, but just don’t know where to start.

In response to your requests, here’s an updated guide to crafting the four cornerstones of your organization’s messages—your message platform.

4 Must-Dos Before You Shape Your Message Platform

Take these four steps to ensure relevancy, the essence of messages that connect.

  1. Build your message team of colleagues, leadership, volunteers and supporters. You’ll want their insights to shape your messages, their relationships to test them and access to their networks by training them as fantastic messengers down the line.
  2. Clarify your top one to three marketing goals—how will you use marketing to reach your organizational goals, and the actions you want folks to take to get you there.
  3. Identify who is most likely to act and/or has the greatest influence (your target audiences; no more than three groups).
  4. Get to know what’s important to your audiences (wants, values and preferences) so you can articulate what’s in it for them and ensure no barriers stand in your way to engaging them, and learn how best to reach them.

The 4 Cornerstones of a Relevant Nonprofit Message Platform

Now you’re ready to draft, or refine, your organization’s messages.  These four components are the cornerstones of your organization’s message platform.

Be aware that although these elements are presented in a linear manner here, the message development process is cyclical. For example, what you learn in building out your key messages and related support points may highlight an element that needs to be incorporated into your positioning statement. Design your timeline, and roles and responsibilities, for this process with that in mind.

1. Tagline

Extends your organization’s name to convey its unique impact or value with personality, passion and commitment, while delivering a memorable and repeatable message to your network.

Running no more than eight words, the tagline is your organization’s single most used message.

An effective tagline provides enough insight to generate interest and motivate your reader/listener to ask a question, without providing too much information so that she thinks she knows everything she needs to and doesn’t want to read more or continue the conversation.

How to Use
Exactly as written
in print, online and verbal communications, including business cards and email signatures.


  • Organization: Community Food & Justice Coalition
  • Tagline: Food for People, Not for Profit
  • Organization: Maryland SPCA
  • Tagline: Feel the Warmth of a Cold Nose

2. Positioning Statement

Connects your organization with those you want to engage by 1) linking it with what’s important to them; and 2) differentiating it from others competing for their attention, time and dollars.

A one to three sentence statement that positions your organization most effectively in the environment in which you work. It conveys the intersection of what your organization does well, what it does better and differently than any other organization (uniqueness), and what your network cares about.

Key components of your positioning statement are:

  • What you do.
  • For whom (whom do you serve).
  • What’s different about the way you do your work.
  • Impact you make (something tangible, like a stat, is compelling here, see example below).
  • Unique benefit derived from your programs, services and/or products.

Most, importantly, this is not your mission statement. Your mission statement is internally oriented and serves as your organizational road map. Your positioning statement connects your mission with what’s vital to your network, so must be externally oriented.

How to Use
Exactly as written in all print and online communications (with the exception of the occasional narrowly-focused flyer or mini-site).


  • The Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) builds grassroots campaigns to combat the unjust consequences of toxic pollution, discriminatory land use, and unsustainable energy policies. Through leader development, organizing and advocacy, EHC improves the health of children, families, neighborhoods and the natural environment in the San Diego/Tijuana region.
  • The Rural Women’s Health Project (RWHP) designs and delivers health education training and materials to help rural women and their families strengthen their understanding of critical health and family issues. By blending innovative techniques with a collaborative approach, RWHP has built a record of success in improving the health and well-being of the communities they serve.


3. Key Messages or Talking Points

Succinctly elaborate on your positioning statement and provide the necessary proof required for validation, while enabling you to tailor your messaging to specific groups within your network.

A set of four to six key messages that build on the information conveyed in your positioning statement and respond to most common questions asked by your current and prospective network.

Most talking points should run no more than two sentences. Develop a set at the organizational level first; and follow (if needed) with sets for specific target audiences, programs and/or campaigns.

Be prepared with supporting points (a.k.a. proof points) for each talking point.

How to Use

  • Use in both written and verbal conversation.
  • However, talking points do not represent the exact words that must be used (especially in conversation), but rather convey the essential ideas to be conveyed. They can be customized for greater impact–to the specific interchange, the interests of the person you’re speaking with or emailing, and/or the topic of conversation.

Note proof points associated with the talking points in some of these examples.

  • Advancing Equality (see pp. 13-16)
  • Beverage Container Recycling
  • Walk to School

4. Elevator Pitch Catch

From the moment the first elevator sped upwards in 1853, people have been polishing their elevator pitches. The idea was that if the big prospect ever strode into your elevator, you’d be able to dazzlingly explain your organization and your role there by the time you reached your floor.

But that traditional elevator pitch is dead!  Here’s why, and guidance on how to persuade people to give, volunteer and support your cause today:

1) Today, we work constantly to move people, not just the prospect and not just in the elevator.
We’re working to persuade fans, colleagues, our children and friends—who are all overwhelmed by media and messages—all the time. It’s a tough sell.

2) Your conversational partner—or child, program participant, colleague or board member—doesn’t care what you want. She cares mainly about her own needs, wants, passions, habits and dreams, and those of her near and dear.

It’s not selfish, it’s human. We have to filter somehow.

If your pitch relates, great. If not, nada. And the only way to find that match—if there is one—is to a) get attention, b) learn about what’s important to your partner.

Enables you to listen and learn from any social contact (not just those that take place in an elevator). If there’s interest in your issue and/or org, you can turn it into a “first step” conversion opportunity (asking for more information, scheduling a call, etc.) in 60 seconds or less.

A conversation customized to the interests of the person you’re talking with, the context of your conversation and the first-step “ask” you’ll be making and/or other factors. Takes no more than 60 seconds to deliver; 30 seconds is ideal.

These are the four steps to get there. Start with step one and end with step four, but the order of steps two and three can vary:

  1. The lead-in. This is where you introduce yourself and your role in your organization to set up the conversation. It’s intended to spark the interest of the person you’re speaking with.
  2. The question. This is the hook, an open-ended conversation that allows you to assess the interest level of your conversational partner. Remember to pause after you ask, to wait for an answer.
  3. The differentiator. Proceed here only if you get interest in response to your question. Your differentiator identifies your organization as providing a unique resource valued by the person you’re speaking with (build from what you’ve heard), one that deserves immediate attention.
  4. The first-step call to action. This is the request to schedule a follow-up call to discuss the matter further, make an online contribution or participate in a meeting on the issue, thereby making the conversion. Make it specific, clear and doable (e.g. don’t ask too much, especially in an initial conversation).

NOTE: It’s vital that the “pitcher” is adept at following the lead of his conversational partner to make the most of the short period he has. Role playing is a proven way to build this skill.


Hi, I’m Mora Lopez. I’m a senior at Santa Fe High School and a volunteer with Open Door. We host workshops at our school so that adults can learn English. We’re the only free adult ESL class in town.

Do you know that out of the 30 million adults who are below basic reading and writing levels, almost 40% are Hispanic? PAUSE, continue only if there’s clear interest.

Our participants report back that learning English has made a remarkable difference in their lives, both professionally and personally, and we want to grow the number of students we can handle.

Would you like to share your email address? That way we can keep you posted on the program as it continues to grow.

Now It’s Your Turn—Next Steps

Your next step is to inventory your organization’s current message platform against this checklist:

  • What elements are in place as defined above (or near enough)?
  • For those that are in place, were they created based on the four “must-dos” outlined at the beginning of this article?
    • If yes, you have some of the four cornerstones already in place.
    • If no, you’ll need to start at the very beginning, with your positioning statement.
  • For those cornerstones you need to revise, or create for the first time:
    • Start with clarifying your communications goals.
    • Identify those you need to engage to meet those goal, and get to know them.
    • Start shaping your cornerstones based on this framework.

What’s holding you back from effective messages? Please share your message challenges here.

*Findings from our 2012 survey of more than 1,500 fundraisers and nonprofit communicators. Just 24% of respondents said their messages connect with their target audiences. 

Humor Them: Sharing A Laugh Always Connects (Part One)

Humor is powerful. But the humor you enjoy in your favorite TV shows and YouTube videos or that book you’re laughing out loud out at is just a hint of the impact humor can have.

Humor’s value goes far beyond entertaining to help people deal with pain, stress and other challenges. Clown Care, Big Apple Circus’ community outreach program, is a classic example. The program brings the delight of classical circus to hospitalized children at 16 leading pediatric facilities across the U. S.

There’s more. Humor is also the WD-40 of relationships, soothing the bite of criticism and sparking connections among people from different backgrounds and points of view. Laughter can transcend age, race, gender, belief or class barriers.

When done right, that is.

Proving It: Humor Can Work Wonders
A classic 1993 Journal of Marketing study that examined multinational effects of humor on marketing worldwide found that messages are “more likely to secure audience attention, increase memorability, overcome resistance, and enhance message persuasiveness.”

But humor works only when it’s:

  • A strong match with your objective and call to action
  • Relevant to your objective, and
  • Seen as appropriate.


It’s Tough to Weave Humor Into Nonprofit Marketing…
You know how challenging it is to integrate humor into messages focused on issues and causes. We see a lot more of it in consumer marketing, where the issue covered isn’t so serious or meaningful.

When we take ourselves too seriously, an occupational hazard for nonprofit staffers, we’re unlikely to weave humor into our messages. And it can be hard to get the OK to use humor, especially when it deviates significantly from your organization’s usual tone or it’s the first time.

But Worth the Effort

The folks in your network are humans, too, and enjoy a good laugh just like you do.

And, just as when you share a laugh with a colleague or friend, that grin or guffaw can draw the two of you closer together, enriching your relationship.

Humor brings people together!

It also relaxes your audience, releases tension and puts them in a more receptive mood. After you’ve made them laugh, they are far more likely to listen to you.

6 Steps to Sharing a Laugh That Connects

Follow this path to shape humor that connects for your organization:

1) Know what your organization and your base have in common, and play on that in your humor.

That’s the point of connection for all messages, but especially for humor. The only way to find it is to know your audiences well.

Here’s a strong model which I found on my LinkedIn page last April Fools Day:

This works because the LinkedIn team knows what we have in common: We both know who Albert Einstein and Robin Hood were (being that LinkedIn is mainly a professional networking social media tool, and the assumption is that participants have completed high school or above in most cases). We shared the joke!

Humor based on common experience unites the group. So dig deep to learn as much as you can about your base. Personas are a great place to start.

A joke told without deep understanding of your audience is dangerous. How do you know that they won’t be offended, or just not get it? If you can’t get those insights, skip the laughs…for now.

2) Find a genuine, believable way to integrate humor into your content.

If you’re incorporating humor because you think it’s the funniest thing in the world and bound to get laughs, but it has nothing to do with your core topic, then skip it. It might be hilarious, but it’s not relevant.

In fact, it will only distract your audience from what’s really important in your outreach.

3) Delivery is everything.

When you integrate humor into a video, e-newsletter, Facebook post or conversation, it’s crucial that you fine-tune delivery…from where it falls in the flow of messages, your tone, the pause before or after…

No one delivers it better than The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in their humor-based outreach to teens.

Knowing that teens and young adults are likely to have less experience (and less comfort) in discussing issues like birth control, The Campaign leans heavily on humor in their print and video campaigns.

Take a look at Itchy Situation, an  old-style-cartoon video The Campaign created to bust myths on how to know if your partner has a STD (sexually-transmitted disease).

The video uses humor to open the conversation on this squirm-inducing topic and warns “even if you have special x-ray glasses or the observation skills of ninja, you still can’t tell if someone has an STD just by looking.”

The message gets across, clearly and memorably.

4) Test it first

Take a look at comedy writers. I’ve learned a lot from 30 Rock, and those writers do it right.

Tina Fey’s team doesn’t just toss a new joke on the live show. Instead, they try it out on colleagues and see how it rolls. If it flies, it’s used. If it doesn’t, it’s trashed.

Although you don’t have a team of humor writers to work with, you do have colleagues, families and friends. So draft up your humorous blog post or that joke you want to tell at the fall gala, and test it out tonight at dinner or tomorrow at your meeting.

Those numbers are going to be small, so if you want a broader yea (or nay), drip the joke or the humorous part of the post out via your organization’s Facebook page. That feedback will give you an immediate sense of your humor is going to generate laughs or fury.

Keep Facebook’s demographics in mind if you use this test. More seniors are there than ever before, but many aren’t.

No matter your testing technique, listen closely to the feedback. It may be that the subject is wrong for the situation, your delivery needs work or your language choice needs altering. Any of those issues could cause your humor to fall flat.

5) Keep it brief and use only periodically.

Humor is a “less is more” tactic. That ups the ante—it has to be right.

The exception is when you are reaching out to a well-known and narrowly-defined audience segment (or group) whom you are certain will respond positively to your humor. Then you can share laughs much more frequently, as The Campaign does.

6) Wrap it up while they’re still laughing.

Don’t push it.

Instead, pause, return to your more typical tone (although serious shouldn’t mean deadly) and cycle in humor from time to time when the opportunity arises.


Don’t forgo humor just because you’re scared, or your boss is.

Follow this step-by-step approach and you’re  likely to be able to share a good laugh. There’s nothing like it to strengthen connections.

I’ll be back with more models of nonprofit humor that connects in Part Two! Keep posted.

Please share your take on

  • What are humor use do’s and don’ts can you add?
  • How is your organization using humor? Does it work?
  • What humor wins, or huge fails, have you seen from other organizations?

Getting to Aha! The Nonprofit Marketer’s Top Challenge

Poor Messages Hold You Back from the Change You Seek, but Survey Findings Signal Huge Opportunity to Boost Connection and Action

The overwhelming response to our recent Nonprofit Messages Survey highlights how vital it is for your organization’s messages to connect quickly and strongly with the people whose help you want—and how rare that is today.

The way your nonprofit talks about its work, results and ultimate impact is a core competency critical to your success. Relevance is the heart of memorable, motivating messages—Aha! messages. If your messages are irrelevant (more than 7 of 10 nonprofits describe their messages as off target), your organization will fail to motivate the actions you need to move your mission forward—to give, volunteer, join or advocate.

The bad news is that most nonprofits (there’s a 76% chance that means you) admittedly are doing a poor job, despite their efforts. Marketers and fundraisers like you say their key messages are not connecting to the people who need to hear them, and generate a ‘so what, who cares’ rather than an Aha!

The great news is that fixing the problem is highly do-able and promises vastly greater success in advancing your mission than you’re experiencing now. It’s incumbent upon executive directors, board members and  marketing and fundraising leaders like you to lead the charge to make your messages relevant.

Here are the survey findings, and several ways to cut the mess from your messages right now:

Challenge: Most Nonprofit Messages Don’t Connect Strongly with Key Audiences—Who Cares?

Seventy-six percent of the 1,566 nonprofit leaders who completed the survey said their messages connect with their target audiences only somewhat or not at all. Looking at the flip side, only 24% of nonprofits rate their messages as connecting well; a discouraging success rate.

However, the number of organizations whose messages do connect represents a 12% improvement since the last Nonprofit Messages Survey in 2009. This jump in message relevance suggests that making Aha! messages a priority is making its way onto nonprofit agendas.

Aha! Actions

  • Relevance rules, but there’s no way to be relevant to everyone. Forget trying to reach the general public—you’ll waste time and money, and will fail to engage those whom you really want to.
  • Narrow your target audiences down to a max of three groups; those who can do the most to help you meet your marketing goals and who are most likely to do so.


Challenge: 84% of Nonprofits Characterize Their Messages as Difficult to Remember—What did you say?

Most organizations report that their messages suffer from lack of inspiration (70% generate a ‘so what’) and poor targeting to audience wants and needs (70% spur a ‘who cares’). Twenty-six percent of nonprofits describe their messages as confusing. Ugh!

Few communicators laud their messages for their strengths: Only 16% of organizations characterize their messages as powerful.

Here are some comments from survey participants explaining why their messages are irrelevant to their target audiences:

  • “Always about us, not about the people we’re communicating with.”
  • “Too long and filled with jargon.”
  • “Superficially inspiring. People respond strongly the first time they hear them, but not over time.”
  • “Lack clarity, because we have too many cooks in the message kitchen.”
  • “Good for each program but weak or nonexistent for the org as a whole.”


Aha! Actions

  • Find the sweet spot of relevance that is the overlap of your organization’s wants, your audiences’ wants and what you do differently from other organizations.
  • Learn everything you can about your three target audiences, so you can focus messages on the right sweet spot.
  • Implement tested get-to-know-you techniques doable for every organization starting with personas, a marketing advisory team, a listening strategy and online surveys.


Challenge: Taglines Trail in Effectiveness—71% Not Remembered or Repeated
When asked which of their message cornerstones is least effective, 71% of marketers and fundraisers point to their organizational taglines. That finding marks a huge opportunity for increasing message impact in eight words or less since your organizational tagline is used more than any other (from in conversation and on your website to business cards and email sigs) and is the message most likely to be remembered and repeated. Next to your organization’s name, it’s the most important message you have.

Note: A strong tagline is the easiest and most effective way to communicate your organization or program brand, the best way to freshen up your messaging, emphasize your commitment to your work and/or revive outdated positioning, and a powerful method of building interest in your fundraising campaign, program or special event.

Aha! Actions

  • Scan the taglines of colleague and competitive (for the same attention, dollars and/or time) organization to see what makes them work or flop. You’ll find nearly 5,000 searchable taglines in the Nonprofit Tagline Database.
  • Review the have-tos, deadly sins, what makes a winning tagline and more guidance in the Nonprofit Tagline Report.
  • Assess your final drafts against the 9 Have-tos Tagline Checklist.


Challenge: What’s Getting in the Way—Relevance Blocked by Lack of Focus and Expertise

The leading obstacles to messages that connect are 1) messages are a low priority, compared to other marketing and fundraising tasks (28%); and 2) lack of expertise (27%).

The irony here is that while so many of you are putting message massage aside to get marketing and fundraising campaigns out the door, you’re undermining those same campaigns by featuring irrelevant messages.

I understand the pressure you face to just do it. And there’s no way you can hold everything while you take time out to research and refine stronger messages. But I urge you to take some time to craft Aha! messages, as you continue to get campaigns out the door at a bit slower pace.

Aha! Actions

  • Make messages a priority.
  • Build time for message development into all marketing initiatives, from the organizational to the campaign level.
  • Bring your leadership and colleagues on board at the beginning, harvesting their message ideas and clarifying what it takes to craft messages that connect.


Challenge: Inconsistency Triumphs, Leaving Confusion and Annoyance in Its Path

Here’s the rub: Less than half of nonprofits report consistent use of their message platform (organizational tagline, positioning statement, talking points and elevator pitch outline). That means that even though most organizations have taken the effort to craft messages, they are not used consistently across channels (website, email, social media, direct mail), audiences or programs. As a result, fewer prospects and supporters will recognize or repeat those messages.

But the impact is worse than that—inconsistency breeds confusion and annoyance. When your audiences have to decipher what organization is reaching out to them (because the messages are unfamiliar) and what you’re trying to say (because it’s new to them), you’ve failed. They just won’t do it in our noisy, cluttered message sphere, and will be dissuaded from paying attention the next time you reach out.

Instead, make it easy for your network to recognize that a communication is coming from your organization by being consistent—in language and tone—in your outreach to each segment.

Aha! Actions


Three Steps to Aha! Messages
The potential is huge, the process is doable and tested. Here are my recommendations for your first three steps to Aha! messages:

1. Ensure that your organization’s strategy and goals are crystal clear
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hired to develop a message platform (tagline, positioning statement, talking points and elevator pitch outline) for a regional nonprofit but can’t get to ground zero because there’s no agreement on organizational direction and goals.

Without clear organizational goals, you can’t define the right marketing goals or target audiences. And there’s no way to create Aha! messages if you don’t know whom you’re talking to. If this is your situation, your problems are bigger than ‘so what, who cares’ messages. Get on it!

2. Build understanding and support of leadership and colleagues—You need their insights and reach
The two most-cited barriers to Aha! messages (lack of focus and lack of expertise) underscore the ‘so what, who cares’ message crisis.

Your success in motivating your network to act comes from messages that connect. Refusing to invest the time and money to learn how to craft and test time strongly undermines your marketing and fundraising goals. Aha! messages are an investment your leadership can’t afford not to make.

Reach out broadly here: Nonprofit marketers, fundraisers and executive directors are your most message-focused colleagues, with individuals in those roles comprising 78% of survey respondents. Make sure you involve the rest of your colleagues in Aha! message development from the very beginning.

Cross-organizational participation is even more vital once your messages are ready to roll. Your colleagues are your primary on-the-ground messengers via their workday conversation and communications. And they’re a valuable ongoing source of insight on audiences’ perspectives. Bring them on in, today!

3. Start with your tagline—Less is more
It’s always harder to write something shorter than longer, and your tagline is as short as it gets. It is the absolute essence of your messages. Moreover, your tagline development process will build the insights you’ll need to craft a potent positioning statement, key messages or talking points, and your elevator pitch outline.

Relevance is the Be All and End All of Aha! Messages
When aiming to increase relevance, it’s imperative to go beyond delivering a relevant message here and there. The real challenge is to consistently deliver memorable and motivating messages that pierce the ‘so what.’ Aha!

What are Your Hopes, Challenges and Strategies for Your Organization’s Aha! Messages? Please share your organization’s message story here. Thank you!

Communicating on Difficult Issues (Case Study)

Question: As a small domestic violence service agency in rural Pennsylvania, we face a real communications challenge. Whenever we publicize our existence or events or what have you, our communications are seen as bad news, i.e. that there is domestic violence in our county. How do we make sure the public is aware of this important issue and of the help that is available without “turning off”? The general public often holds erroneous beliefs about the cause, prevalence, etc. of domestic violence.

– Cheryl Miller
Training Coordinator/Legal Advocate
Clarion County, PA

Dear Cheryl,

You’re facing a classic communications dilemma – talking about an issue that makes people uncomfortable. Many audiences don’t want to hear it and respond with the “it has nothing to do with me, so I don’t want to know about it” mind-set. So how do you communicate in a way that ensures your audiences really listen to what you’re saying, and respond in the way you wish?

Keep in mind that, in most cases, the underlying foundation of difficult issues is the soft, or the human, issues – attitudes, opinions, self-image, values, beliefs, and feelings about how the world is organized and people’s place in it. This context is difficult enough to tackle in a one-to-one, face-to-face conversation, much less through broader communications strategies.

However, Cheryl, you’ve already identified the challenge (an important first step), and there are definitely some concrete steps you can take to build public awareness of the issue and ensure that county residents know that SAFE is there to help.

Clearly Define Your Communications Goals

The first step is to precisely define your communications goals so that you focus your communications work in the right direction. Here’s what I think your goals are likely to be:

  • Raise awareness that SAFE is there to help victims of domestic violence.
  • Educate the public about domestic violence so that people are able to identify their situation as victims or abusers.
  • Motivate behavioral change among abusers and abuse victims.
  • Change policy to improve protection for and support of victims of domestic violence.

In order to achieve these goals, SAFE must:

  • Create and/or retain a positive reputation in the community so that the legal and social welfare systems, county government, education and religious institutions, donors, and others view SAFE as an ally, rather than an adversary.

Pinpoint Who You Really Need to Talk To

Next, look closely at your audiences and see just who composes that “general public.” For many nonprofits, the general public remains a vast, undefined secondary audience. For an organization like yours, focused on a problem so often hidden, the general public is a primary audience. Having volunteered in domestic violence shelters, I know that it’s impossible to predict who may need your help. So you need to get the word out there quite broadly.

In addition, in order to meet your communications goals, I’d suggest targeting the following audiences, who can serve as intermediaries:

  • Caregivers: Social service agencies, the medical community;
  • Clergy and teachers: School and religious institution staff;
  • Legal: Police, the judiciary;
  • Children’s and family-oriented organizations: Church groups, Girl and Boy Scouts;
  • Community organizations: Library, civic clubs;
  • Press.

Also, for realization of your policy goals, you’ll want to reach legislators at all levels.

Hone Your Messages

When you’re talking with audiences who don’t recognize that your issue IS an issue, or those who actively recoil from it, it’s critical to put yourself in their shoes and get to know their point of view. That’s the only way you’ll create messages that they’ll relate to, emotionally and rationally.

Start by creating a profile of your target audiences, including their attitudes, beliefs, habits, and interests. If you can, attach the profiles to people you really know, to reinforce your understanding.

Next, create a set of core messages that concisely convey what you do, what its importance is, and what you want your audiences to do about it – in a way that your audiences will hear. I don’t know enough about your community to know everything that’s important to citizens there, but I know that linking your work to the following benefits will have a positive impact:

  • Healthy and happy families;
  • Reduced drain and expense on social service agencies and the judicial system;
  • Overall stronger community.

These are benefits everyone has to appreciate, Cheryl, and you can probably list many more generated by your work. These benefits should be at the core of your messages and communications.

Get the Word Out

Now that you have your messages, honed to reach the audiences you need to reach, how do you get the word out?

Cheryl, we don’t have room for a complete strategy here. But let me suggest the following approach, in addition to your existing communications program:

Because you’re working with difficult and sensitive issues, and are striving to build a positive reputation for SAFE, it makes sense to enlist intermediaries (whom you train) such as those listed above, to get the word out. These intermediaries, from physicians to the clergy and Girl Scout leaders, already have relationships with your audiences, are trusted, and are likely to be heard far better than direct communication or education from SAFE.

Nothing is better than conversations on difficult issues because conversations can adapt to attitudes that emerge. Printed materials don’t offer that flexibility but ensure that you are getting your messages out, broadly, in the way in which you feel most comfortable.

I’d suggest running training sessions for your intermediaries to ensure that they are clear on what domestic violence is, how to know if someone you know is being abused, and what the services are that SAFE and other organizations provide to those in trouble.

These folks are the best “distributors” of your messages and printed materials. Of course you have to ensure that your intermediaries carry your messages out to your audiences, rather than their own. In addition, I’d ask these intermediaries to talk about domestic violence and SAFE in their own communications, such as newsletters.

And of course, Cheryl, you should continue to produce your own public education materials and do some direct communications yourselves via mail, email, your web site, postering, and other vehicles.

You’ll find former victims and abusers to be powerful spokespeople. Again, when SAFE steps backstage, letting others talk about the work it does and the issue of domestic violence, you’ll be “un-demonized.” This approach offers the opportunity to situate domestic violence services as a means of strengthening the community.

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17 Nonprofits Honored for Outstanding Taglines in Taggies (Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards Program)

The Back Story: Great Taglines Promoting Good Causes

A nonprofit’s tagline is hands down the briefest, easiest and most effective way to communicate its identity and impact, or to lead its fundraising campaign, program marketing or special event promotion.

But this high-impact, low-cost marketing tactic is often overlooked or under-emphasized by nonprofits.’s 2008 survey of nonprofits showed that 7 in 10 nonprofits rated their tagline as poor or didn’t use one at all. The majority of nonprofits not using a tagline indicated that they had not thought about it or couldn’t come up with a good one.

The Nonprofit Tagline Awards program is designed to address this missed opportunity, and guide nonprofits to craft effective taglines.

This year, for this first time, voters selected program, fundraising and special event tagline award winners, in addition to the strongest organizational taglines. The addition of these three new tagline types gave more organizations a chance to showcase their best efforts to engage their target audiences.

The 17 winners, reviewed in this brief video, were selected by more than 6,100 voters from 70 finalists, identified by our expert panel of judges. The finalists were drawn from 2,700 nonprofit taglines entered in the 2010 program.

The organizations behind the winning taglines range from the regional (Indiana State Council of the Emergency Nurses Association) to the national (Youth Service America) and global (Episcopal Relief & Development). All did an admirable job in putting a few select words to work to build their brands, programs and fundraising impact.


Register now for Your No-Charge Copy of the 2011 Nonprofit Tagline Report and Access to the All-New Online Tagline Database with more than 4,800 Taglines

The report and database feature more on the winning taglines plus:

  • The 10 Have-Tos for Successful Taglines
  • The 7 Deadly Sins – Examples of what not to do.
  • Searchable Access to more than 4,800 Nonprofit Tagline Examples for use in tagline brainstorming.

2010 Award Winners


Fundraising Tagline: Oregon Zoo Foundation: Capital campaign to fund lions’ return after 10-year absence—Bring Back the Roar!

This memorable tagline plants a strong seed in one’s mind–You can hear and see that lion roaring. It’s fun, pithy, emotional and unique with a clear call to action (an absolute must for fundraising messaging).

Program Tagline: Massachusetts Dental Society (MDS): Awareness campaign to educate the public about the important relationship between oral health and overall health—Your Mouth Can Say A Lot About You

MDS’ tagline is strikingly personal. As a result, it provokes immediate interest (with a touch of emotion, my mouth?), generating an unavoidable urge to know more about the program.

Program Tagline: Youth Service America (YSA): Semester of Service—Serve a Semester. Change the World.

YSA engages hearts and minds in its passionate focus on improving the world. Its tagline opens a world of possibility to students, and invites them to act.

Special Event Tagline: Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research: Kids Can Cure Fun Run, LA Cancer Challenge—Little Feet. Big Strides.

This tagline is extremely engaging and visual. It fosters an emotional connection by declaring that small children can make a difference, while highlighting the direct impact that those who run it have on the cause.


Organizational Taglines

Arts & Culture: Coffee House Press—Where good books are brewing

Nonprofit literary publisher Coffee House Press prides itself on its measured acquisition and editorial process, and the active discussions percolated by its publications. Its clever mash-up of a tagline clearly and succinctly conveys both aspects of its unique way of doing business. The surprise of the mixed imagery (books, rather than coffee brewing) makes it easy to remember.

Association: Indiana State Council of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA)—E.R. You Watch It… We Live It!

The Indiana ENA’s tagline draws a clear connection between its mission and its service delivery and is emotional, fun and highly memorable. The tagline’s reference to E.R.—the longest-running primetime medical drama (15 years)—has broad appeal as long as the show stays in reruns.


Civic Benefit: Drums Not Guns—Instruments of Mass Percussion

This tagline is a clever play on words (instruments of mass destruction), but remains clear and powerful. That’s a delicate balance to strike, and this tagline does it well as it paints a crystal-clear picture in your mind of this organization’s focus.


Education: Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Clemson University—Because Curiosity Knows No Age Limit

The Osher Institute’s tagline is both poignant and emphatic. It is a definitive and positive statement on seniors’ characteristics and capabilities, likely to engage the very seniors who are prime prospects for participating in the Institute’s learning opportunities.

Employment & Workforce Development: Volunteer Blind Industries—Our Vision Does Not Require Sight

Volunteer Blind Industries’ tagline surprises with its play on the word “vision.” This tagline makes the organization’s focus clear in a concise and compelling way, with a touch of inspiration.



Environment & Animals: Save the Strays Animal Rescue—Finding good homes for great dogs

Working smoothly in concert with the organization’s name, this tagline conveys the essence of Save the Strays’ impact. Our judge for this tagline category called this tagline “emotional catnip for every dog lover.”

In fact, she was so moved by this tagline that she went to the organization’s website to learn more, and ended up making a donation. That’s tagline success.

Faith-Based & Spiritual Development: Religions for Peace—Different Faiths, Common Action.

This tagline’s impact is based in its clever use of contrast and comparison. It clarifies what Religions for Peace does, and how it works, in just four words. Powerful!

Grantmaking: Greater Menomonie Area Community Foundation—Connecting People Who Care…With Causes That Matter

The Community Foundation’s tagline emphasizes the value it adds to giving, while clearly educating those who don’t know it on its role in the region.

Although we’ve heard from a few other community foundations that use this same tagline, that fact alone doesn’t counteract its impact. One key criterion for a high-impact tagline is that it isn’t used by other organizations hoping to engage the same target audiences. Since community foundations serve specific regions, that criterion is met.


Health & Sciences: United Hospice of Rockland, Inc. (UHR)—When time matters most.

UHR’s powerful tagline is a heart-stirring message that’s hard to forget. This tagline works because it is so simple, yet profound.


Human Services: Canine Companions for Independence (CCI)—Help is a four-legged word

This tagline tells the story in a style that is honest, compassionate and smart. The play on words works here because it catches you a bit off guard and gets you thinking about what CCI actually does.


International, Foreign Affairs & National Security: Episcopal Relief & Development—Healing a hurting world

This brief tagline quickly highlights the way in which Episcopal Relief & Development approaches its work, as it motivates compassion and a desire to learn more. It’s straightforward but emotional, a proven combo for taglines that connect.



Library: Edmonton Public Library—Spread the words.

Edmonton Public Library’s tagline is another example of effective surprise as a familiar saying takes an unexpected turn.  Who would have thought that one little “s” could make a tagline sing—and zing?

Other: Charity Navigator—Your Guide To Intelligent Giving

This tagline is unique and clear to its mission, and conveys an air of wisdom and refinement.

You immediately sense via the word “Guide” that the Charity Navigator service is an asset to you.  The phrase “Intelligent Giving” feeds egos (who doesn’t want to be intelligent?) while it underscores the difficulty in wading through information to make an informed and wise giving choice.