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What’s Your Story?

Assemble three senior executives in a room and ask them what their nonprofit’s “elevator pitch” is and you often get three very different messages. The Chief Development Officer, who is talking to donors and funders on a regular basis, may tell a slightly different story than the Chief Marketing Officer, whose focus may be more on promoting programs and services to the community. Both messages can be different from what the Chief Executive Officer, who is looking at the big picture, is communicating to his or her constituents, including the Board of Directors.

Karen Addis Karen Addis

That makes perfect sense given that professionals approach their communications based on the audiences they interact with. The problem is these diverse stories ― and, in some cases, mixed messages — often leave your key publics confused about what your organization is all about.

But there is a solution, albeit not an easy one, and that is to develop key messages and supporting points that tell your organization’s story and ensure that everyone uses these key messages when talking to their audiences.

More specifically, the goal is to develop three key messages, and no more, because research has shown that people can remember up to three main points. (The same is true when delivering a speech ― there should be no more than three main ideas or people will not retain what you’ve said).

Key messages fall into three broad categories that get to the core of your nonprofit’s mission:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • Why it’s relevant

Supporting points are the sub-messages that can be tailored to different audiences as needed. In some cases supporting points may overlap, and that’s okay. Supporting points, sometimes referred to as “proof points,” are the statements that back up your main message — they prove your main message is indeed true. The beauty of supporting points is you can have as many as you want.

But be forewarned: developing your organization’s key messages is not a quick or easy task, which is why many nonprofits hire outside consultants who can serve as objective, third-party sounding boards (and referee the squabbles that may take place among senior staff!)

But it is well worthwhile. Once completed, everyone has one script from which to speak. And, more important, staff is delivering that “elevator pitch” with one unified voice to tell your nonprofit’s story so that all audiences clearly understand what your organization is about.

The preceding is a guest post by Karen Addis, APR, a senior communications executive with more than 25 years of experience providing strategic communications counsel and support to a range of clients, including numerous nonprofit organizations.
You can follow her on Twitter at @karenaddis or connect with her on LinkedIn at

Topics: Communications