"Dumbing Down" Your Mission Statement

In this episode of the Nonprofit Jenni Show, I spoke with representatives from nonprofits which have very longwinded mission statements, or at least a long list of programs they provide for the community. I asked these professionals how they handle the challenge of creating one concise marketing message when they have so much to offer.

Please note: I highly encourage you to listen to the Dumbing Down Your Mission podcast episode before reading this blog post! My blog lists some great “action items” for you to take after you listen to the podcast, plus additional resources you can check out if you have further questions. However, my podcast guests give so much additional rich information which isn’t included in the article you’re about the read.

My first guests were Susan Sizemore and Misa Acox, who are responsible for FiftyForward's branding. This nonprofit hosts 8 categories of programs--that's right, not just 8 programs, but 8 groups of programs. When I asked Susan and Misa to summarize what FiftyForward does in the community, Susan said she views the organization as an extension of family for seniors. Misa said she describes FiftyForward as a continuum of care for seniors of across the age spectrum.

To help focus the nonprofit's marketing message, FiftyForward's Communications Committee was tasked with creating a tagline that represents the spirit of the organization and entices people to learn more about the nuts and bolts of what the organization does. After tons of discussions, surveys, and research into other well known taglines, the organization landed on "Love Life at 50+." Susan advises other organizations who want to create a tagline to "find the heart of what you do" to make the messaging clear.

Misa, who is responsible for all of FiftyForward's graphic design efforts, says she worked with other professionals in her field to create the visual branding of the organization. They were thoughtful about colors and fonts that would be easy for their target audience to read (obviously, vision deteriorates with age) and they created a recognizable look with two bold shades of purple and green. The uniformity of each FiftyForward design makes the organization's social media posts, news magazine, and signage immediately recognizable.

My next guests were Jennifer Abernathy and Mandy Hansen of Tennessee Respite Coalition. Although the TRC's mission is only 10 words long, it usually takes a few minutes to explain what the organization does because many people don't understand the key words that make up its mission statement. Jennifer breaks down the wording of the mission, which is "to enhance the quality of life for family caregivers through respite."

  • Respite: This word can actually be used in several different ways, which can cause confusion when people see the organization's name for the first time. And more often than not, people have never even heard the word "respite" before meeting Jennifer and Mandy. But for the TRC, "respite" means temporary rest, or getting a break from your normal work.
  • Caregivers: This word can also be used to mean different things, but the TRC is referring specifically to people who need to take care of a family member full-time for some reason. Maybe their family member is an older senior with dementia who would be unsafe without full-time care, or someone with special needs who needs full-time attention.

In order to preemptively address potential confusion, Jennifer and Mandy often put the dictionary definition of "respite" in large print on the front of all marketing materials. This way, people are immediately drawn into a conversation about the type of respite provided by the TRC, and to what type of population. The TRC also uses lots of photos showing diversity in clientele so people understand the wide scope of need across all ages, genders, and ethnicities.

I asked Jennifer and Mandy how they ensure their volunteers and board members are equipped to succinctly explain their organizational mission, and they suggested providing talking points or an elevator speech. They also are fans of the "Mission Moment" idea, where staff and volunteers will tell a story in each board meeting to highlight a client who recently received much-needed support from the TRC. This way, everyone is continually engaged in the mission and understands how to use stories to explain the purpose of the organization.

My last guest this episode was Allison Plattsmier of NeedLink. NeedLink's mission statement is a mouthful: "NeedLink Nashville helps our neighbors meet basic needs in times of crisis by providing short-term assistance and links to other resources." Allison told me when she's asked what NeedLink does, she starts her answer with another question. She'll say, "Have you ever been in a situation where you were laid off unexpectedly?" or "Have you ever had an unexpected medical bill or car repair come up?" This way, her audience immediately empathizes with NeedLink's clients even before they know what services they can receive from the organization.

NeedLink also tries to quantify their impact whenever possible to illuminate the need for their services. For example, they use the often-quoted statistic that 100 people are moving to our city of Nashville every day. "Well," Allison says, "We have 100 new people in our lobby every week who can't afford to pay their bills." Using this one number in two very different contexts helps people understand what NeedLink does and why the mission is so important.

Allison also told me that NeedLink recently created a new logo to help them visually explain their four basic services. They help pay for gas, water, electricity, and rent, so the logo includes four symbols to represent each type of bill.

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