How Your Nonprofit Can Stay on Message

Do you and your nonprofit colleagues know the audiences you want to reach and the messages you want to deliver? Congratulations!

Now you’re ready for your next challenge: You need to communicate your organization’s messages effectively, especially to reporters, community leaders and funders.

One of the best tools you can use to do this is the message box, a technique created by political campaigns. It’s a simple device that political operatives created to help candidates stay on message.

You can use the same technique to make sure your nonprofit delivers consistent, persuasive messages. A message box is a terrific tool to have handy when you’re talking to reporters, preparing for presentations, or getting ready for meetings with donors and other supporters.

What Every Message Box Needs to Do

A good message box identifies the specific audience you want to reach and your most important messages.

While you can create message boxes for different issues, you’ll want to start with one box that answers four questions: why your nonprofit exists, how you work, who is involved, and what you have accomplished.

Four Questions to Ask Yourself

How can you build your own message box?

Begin by drawing four squares on a piece of paper. Start in the upper left hand corner, move clockwise, and in each square jot down answers to these four questions:

1) Why does your organization exist? What’s the problem you’re tackling and the solution you offer, and why does it matter?

2) How do you do your work? Talk about your services, your approach, and your team.

3) Who is involved or can help? List your partners, past and current, and tell people how they can support you.

4) What results have you produced? Describe your outcomes and share stories of the people you serve or your partners and teammates.

Keep your answers short. You need to keep your text to one page. Use simple, easily understandable words and avoid acronyms and professional jargon.

Here’s a chart you can use to get started in writing your own message box:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 3.18.26 PM
Need an example of a message box? Click here for
a form you can download from the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, as well as suggestions about how to use it.

Ready to put your message box to use when a reporter calls? Don’t forgot to use these five tried and true media relations must-dos from my colleague Jenna Cerruti.

Mac Prichard

Mac started Prichard Communications in 2007 to serve nonprofits, foundations and public agencies after a long career working in the public and nonprofit sectors and with elected officials. Mac lives in Portland’s Ladd’s Addition where he is often spotted taking Instagram photos while walking his dog Kai, a Weimaraner.
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