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What Does Your Organization Do? How to Answer This Question with a Compelling Story

Reprinted from The Storytelling Nonprofit Blog

Standing out from the nonprofit crowd is something of a fundraiser's dream. But standing out is about more than superficial design or the success stories you share. Successfully standing out boils down to understanding who you are as an organization and being able to explain that in a compelling narrative.

This process begins with two key questions:

  1. What are you known for?
  2. What do you want to be known for?

The next step in this process goes a level deeper beyond perceptions and ambitions to explain what your organization actually does.

"So, What Do You Do Anyways?"

I'm sure that on more than one occasion someone has asked you to explain what is it that your nonprofit does. This is the question where you can consistently shine once you know what your organization's BIG story is.

BIG story = a narrative that explains who you are, what you do, and why.

This is a very conceptual story that most organizations don't nail down. Instead, they focus on telling the supporting stories.

Supporting stories = stories about the people who make up your organization's community such as clients, staff, board members, volunteers, donors, etc.

If you work on the fundraising side of things, the BIG story will likely tie in very well to your fundraising priorities and could be an extension of your case for support. Let's take a look at what this looks like in action to understand why it is so important that we have a good answer to the question of "What do you do?"

Example: NonProfits Serving Individuals with Cancer

There are thousands of nonprofits serving individuals with cancer, so I thought this would make for an interesting example. Cancer touches many lives and oftentimes it's the personal connection to the cause that compels individuals to donate. On the surface, it's tempting to say that the type of cancer that the nonprofit focuses on is what makes it unique. For example: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, etc.

Sure, each of those types of cancers defines a smaller, niche audience. But that still doesn't provide us with a compelling emotional reason to believe in and support that nonprofit's work.

Example: Canadian Cancer Society

Based on the front page of their website, their answer to "What do you do?" is this: they fund research and prevent cancer.

Example: BC Cancer Foundation

Based on the front page of their website, their answer to "What do you do?" is this: they are the fundraising partner for BC Cancer Agency and they fund more cancer research in British Columbia than any other charitable organization.

The common problem with both of these descriptions: neither of these answers describes why they do what they do. Because there isn't a more interesting narrative that calls people to be inspired and get on board, they probably lose a lot of website visitors very quickly.

Want an example done right? Check out F Cancer's video on their home page. (FYI—if you're at work, you might want to wear headphones while watching this).

Take Action

Take a look at your mission and vision statements. How well do they work together to answer the question "What do you do?" What is the bigger "why" that propels your work forward?

What-Does-Your-Organization-Do-How-to-Answer-This-Question-with-a-Compelling-Story_Vanessa-Chase.jpgVanessa Chase, The Storytelling Nonprofit
© 2014, The Storytelling Nonprofit. Reprinted with permission.

Vanessa Chase is a fundraising and communications strategist. She founded to help nonprofits connect in more meaningful ways with donors through stories and stewardship. She works with non-profits throughout North America, including BC Children's Hospital Foundation, A Rocha Canada, Union Gospel Mission, Cancer Care Connection and Hope for the Nations. Vanessa is an internationally recognized speaker and has been invited to speak at the Association of Fundraising Professionals, BBCON 2014, Association of Donor Relations Professionals, and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Topics: Communications