Just as light needs to include a full spectrum in order to show the world around us in its true colors, an organization’s communication needs to include a full spectrum of messages in order to best illuminate its work. At LightBox Collaborative, we look for three types of messages in any organizational story: purpose, impact, and approach messages.
We’ve noticed that that while most nonprofits do a pretty good job with purpose messages and approach messages — talking about their mission and how they do their work — they often give short shrift to the vitally important impact messages.
It’s easy to understand how this happens. Purpose messages explain the problem the organization is in business to solve, the reason it exists; these messages describe the cause that inspires many of us to work at a nonprofit. Approach messages are about the work the staff is eyeball-deep in every day: the programs or services the nonprofit offers. These messages are easy for most of us in nonprofits to talk about.
Impact messages, though, are the ones that help you tell the most compelling story about your organization. Impact messages explain what your organization offers, not in terms of programs and services, but in terms of impact and results.
For example, perhaps your organization developed a new math curriculum aimed at helping kids from low-income families improve achievement and access to higher education — an important purpose. Maybe you came up with creative ways to recruit 50 volunteer math tutors from local colleges to help out — an effective approach.
But the best story is in the impact message: you provided tutoring for 200 students at a middle school and their math scores improved by an average of 20 percent. Individual students talk about enjoying math, and parents talk about how homework is getting done.
Impact messages can be a challenge to develop. They require that an organization find time to quantify and evaluate what it is doing. This also means listening carefully to your community to learn what people think about your work. The effort is worthwhile because impact messages help audiences understand why the work of the organization matters.
We recommend that nonprofit organizations work hard to develop compelling impact messages as part of a full spectrum of communication. Impact messages can be the beacons that enlighten your audiences about the difference you are making in the world.
(Image courtesy Flickr user Lauren Manning, Creative Commons)
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Cynthia Scheiderer is a LightBox Collaborator with a flair for crafting powerful impact messages.