For Impact


8 Common Messaging Challenges

Story | | Nick Fellers

Some quick reminders and primers coming into this post:

  • Message is what is HEARD, not necessarily what you SAY.
  • A potential funder needs to be engaged around the message at three levels – the WHY, the WHERE (the money goes) and the HOW (they can help – supported by a funding rationale). See Altitude Framework PDF.
  • A message or a story never lives in a vacuum. It sits within a context of the audience and the storyteller. Sometimes a message is great but we need to change the context.

When it comes to 1:1 Sales (major gifts, grants, campaigns, planned gift, etc.) here are 8 common messaging challenges we see:

  1. The engagement starts at the wrong altitude. Engagement begins at 30,000’ with changing, saving and impacting lives. We see most fundraisers diving into the programmatic work, the WHAT, versus starting with the WHY. We do a lot of coaching to get people up to the 30,000’-changing-the-world-level.
  2. No simplicity. If you’re not able to state 30,000’ on a napkin, not able to communicate three priorities, not able to articulate a simple funding rationale – then your message isn’t simple.
    Special note: One way to simplify your message is through the use of visuals!
  3. No engagement. Several times each month I look at an organization’s message and say, “That’s actually pretty good! I’ll bet you’re just not *engaging* anyone with the message.” Instead of a messaging problem, you have a connection problem. This could be because we’re not out visiting with anyone, or it could be because we’re out talking and not listening. Listening allows us to onramp our message in the right way and at the right time with each prospect.
  4. No funding rationale. No math or no story to support ‘the ask.’ This is identifiable when we have a funding goal only and we’re either saying, “Can you give?” or we’re just picking a number out of the air. Read more on Funding Rationale. See also 9 Types of Funding Pitches.
  5. No WOW. Only commentary here is that most organizations do have a WOW factor, but often don’t see it because they focus too much of their story on what’s not perfect.
  6. Story is not awesome. By this I mean your 30,000’ narrative is not representing your transcendent purpose or your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). Note: here I speak of the gravitas that you already possess. I’m not encouraging you to make something up for messaging purposes.
  7. Framing is about the INCOME. Not the IMPACT. We should be communicating how funding supports specific projects, priorities and programs. To have xyz impact. I hear too many people say something like, “We need funds for staff salaries… admin… overhead.”  This is framing everything around your excel spreadsheet and not the purpose of the expenditure.
    Another example is the message that’s all about the business plan or growth plan. WHY do you exist and WHAT do you hope to achieve with said business plan (around the IMPACT)?
  8. All CAUSE, no CASE. (Or, all problem, no solution.) This refers to a message that is heavy on selling the need. So much so that we never really engage with the plan to address the need.
    Note: Hitting all three altitude levels actually makes a simple and complete case for support.