Be mindful of the fact that every time you attempt to communicate more than one thing, you’re splintering the attention of those you’re talking to—whether they’re customers or colleagues. If it’s necessary to deliver multiple messages, find a common theme that unites them all and push hard on that idea. You want people to remember what you say—and the more you cram into your communication, the more difficult you make it for them. Remember that a sea of choices is no choice at all. The more you can minimize your proposition, the more attractive it will be.” Ken Segall, Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success

I think about this quote often because it’s incredibly difficult to simplify your message. Nonprofits can struggle with this for a variety of reasons. One is because the need is so great and there are many reasons to support your mission. It’s hard to pick and choose.

Even so, the fact still remains people have a limited capacity to receive messages. Here are three questions that when answered will give you some effective messages for donors.

1. What is the greater problem your organization seeks to address?

Nonprofits are great at communicating what they do. Fewer are great at communicating the greater problem or opportunity at hand. This is what people can galvanize behind.

Here’s an example of an answer focused on what they do: “We host support groups for families who have lost a child

Here’s an example of one focused on the larger issue at hand: “The pain of losing a child is beyond words. No one should endure it alone. We comfort families mourning the loss of a child and help them find purpose in their grief.

Try to keep it simple and avoid using jargon. Use words and phrases everyone can understand or relate to.

The audience will also find more meaning in what you do when they better understand the bigger picture.

2. What is the most important data donors need to know?

Many nonprofits doing an amazing job communicating data. It’s essential to make a compelling case for support. However, too much data will splinter your message.

Here are some questions that will help you identify what data points to share regularly:

  • What data best supports the seriousness of the problem?
  • What data best communicates the size or scope of the problem?
  • What data best demonstrates your organization’s success, expertise, or ability to lead in solving the problem?

3. What role does philanthropy play?

Donors want to know they are making a difference, and you need to understand the importance of giving in order to communicate impact well.

Start by understanding why charitable giving is important to your organization. What do donors allow you to do through the nonprofit model that makes it better than, for example, if a for-profit business tried to solve the same problem? If you’re a large organization, you may consider how to answer why more resources are needed.

Finally, understand the cost per unit for your organization. Meaning, know how much it costs to put a student through your program or provide food/water/shelter to a homeless dog per day. This will allow you to help donors make more informed decisions about their giving, and you’ll be able to help donors see the positive difference they’re making through your organization.

Need help finding the right message for your donors? Schedule a meeting with me to uncover your most effective donor communication strategy.


As always, THANK YOU for reading. Have a great day!

All the best,

Kenny Sigler, CFRE