Your Messaging

Don’t be a “best kept secret.” Get visible.

If donors or members of your team describe your organization as “the best kept secret,” you are in real trouble. But, it doesn’t have to be fatal. There are things you can do to build visibility and raise your organization’s profile.

Start with your message. Does your organization have an agreed upon message that has been shared with all your spokespeople? If not, this is the best place to start on your communications journey. What do your target audiences need to know to persuade them to take action?

Talk it through, and be creative. Pull together key communicators (CEO, development and communications officers, etc.) into a task force to figure out the message. For reference you may want to take a look back at what you have been saying online or in print. You might be able to distill the messages from this previous work if it is still relevant. If not, you need to start with what you want to get people to do and work backwards.

Try to limit it to three messages, and make sure to include an “action message.” Nonprofit spokespeople frequently avoid telling their audiences what they can do to help address a problem. To do a job as a communicator you should always include that call to action – give, join, call your representatives, tell your friends, etc.

Ask whether:

  • The messages align with your organization’s programs or the narratives you are trying to advance?
  • Can they be used by your team in story-telling?
  • Will people understand them? You can try them out informally, in focus groups, or in formal interviews. If you are generating blank stares, you probably should head back into that brainstorming room.

Working with Planned Parenthood on a campaign to make sure sexually active teens could continue access to contraceptive and abortion services, we tested a message about protecting “minors’ rights.” People in the focus group looked really perplexed. Finally, someone spoke up and asked: “just what does teenage sex have to do with mining?” Hmmmm. It was back to the drawing board with that one. It never hurts to ask people “out there” what they think and how they react to the proposed messages. You may want to incorporate their feedback into your final version.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts for developing your message:


  • Simple
  • Sayable
  • Emotionally resonant
  • Convincing
  • High-level
  • Broadly understandable
  • True
  • Believable


  • Complicated
  • Read-only
  • Feeling-free facts
  • Whining
  • In the weeds
  • Jargon
  • Spin
  • Questionable