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December 5, 2023

Power in Five Words or Less: Increase Your Nonprofit’s Impact With Five Words

Jane Pfeiffer

Writing a mission statement can be torture. Oftentimes, there are way too many people involved, including a board of directors and the mission statement grows and grows and grows to be multiple sentences, a short paragraph, and covers absolutely everything that the nonprofit does today or tomorrow. And yeah, maybe it’s broad and it can say a lot of things, but no one’s going to remember it and it’s not going to be very powerful.

What I am recommending is that you look at a way that you can take your informal mission statement or your organization’s essence and pare it down into three or four words. We want words that aren’t descriptive, that create curiosity, that are unique to you, and that create some emotion or impact.

I have often used this example of a fictitious nonprofit that feeds children breakfast before school. If it was my nonprofit, and you asked me, “Oh, tell me about your organization.” and I respond with, “Yeah, we give kids a healthy breakfast before they go to school.” Great. We’re going to have conversations about “Where does that happen?” “What do you feed them?” “How do you make that happen?” We’re going to have questions about logistics. But if asked, “Tell me about your nonprofit,” and I say “We nourish the minds of tomorrow” and pause. We’re not going to talk about logistics. We’re going to talk about what you mean by that. Well, that sounds interesting. Tell me more. We’re creating curiosity. We’re talking about impact, and we’re inspiring and inviting people to kind of lean in and learn a little more or ask to continue the conversation.

If you don’t have an essence statement or a 3 to 4-word portion of your mission statement that you can use. You need it. Let’s break down how we get there. You can call it a three-word description, or you can use marketing language and refer to this as your brand essence or mini-mission, whatever you prefer.

But it’s the foundation of those things. It’s the foundation of your brand, the foundation of your mission, and the foundation of your organization. And everybody can remember 3 to 4 words. It’s the root of everything, and it just can’t be a description of what you do. Let’s use for-profit brands as an example because we know these brands and we know what to expect.

Nike, you would be familiar with their tagline, Just do it. But their brand essence isn’t about the products they create. It’s about authentic, athletic performance. It’s authentic athletic performance. It doesn’t say champion or coming in first. It’s anybody who wants to be their authentic self when performing a physical activity. That’s what their gear and their brand of their essence is trying to create.

Disney: creating magical moments. That can be at the movie theater, or it could be in a store, it could be at one of the parks, or streaming the newest princess movie. It’s about creating magical moments with Disney content or experiences with family, and loved ones. Again, their essence doesn’t say what they do. It says what their audience and their consumers get from engaging with Disney.

One more for-profit example and that’s Starbucks, rewarding everyday moments. It’s a treat, right? Nobody needs Starbucks. We can find coffee and breakfast foods and places to work, but it’s a special environment and something a little indulgent. And so we’re rewarding ourselves or others with that little break in the routine.

Now, if you look at these three essences: authentic athletic performance, creating magical moments, and rewarding everyday moments, there’s a formula. There is an action, a noun, and a potential. Now, that is not a do-or-die rule, but it’s a helpful guide. Here are a few variations for nonprofit sectors. Some are real and some are hypothetical. A children’s meal program, talked about that, nourishing the minds of tomorrow. Yes, we feed them breakfast, but that breakfast allows them to pay attention in school and stay awake. It gets them to come back to school the next day because they know they’re going to get a meal.

Let’s talk about reentry from being incarcerated, and living a life deserved. Everyone deserves love and respect. Another chance, another opportunity. An organization that’s helping with reentry is helping their constituents live the life that they deserve. Affordable housing, making homeownership possible. It’s a little less imaginative, but we’re talking about homeownership, what many of us assume will be in our future, possible for those who have never assumed or don’t even think it is a reality.

How can an organization make that possible? And then what becomes possible when that happens? To use Fieldtrip, united we create. United is the action. We come together with our clients and the communities that they serve. That becomes the we, we’re part of that. They’re part of that. We can’t do it alone or without them. And then we create. We create, yes, Brand assets, but we also create impact and a difference and something that matters. Keep in mind the formula and action, the noun or the what that you impact and then the potential nourishing minds of tomorrow, live a life deserved, united we create. Action, noun, potential. None of these examples describe what you do, what you sell, or what the program is.

That’s the point you need to focus on your impact, not your actions. Focus on inspiring, not explaining, and provoke curiosity so that people lean in and ask you to tell them more. If it doesn’t fit these criteria, it just won’t work. It’ll be words on paper. Just like that long mission statement, it’ll sit somewhere not to be changed, but not doing anything for you.

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