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What are Key Messages and How Can Nonprofits Use Them Effectively?

December 1, 2021 | Beth Singer, Principal

If your organization is like most nonprofits, you are continually reaching out to stakeholders to:

• Educate

• Change minds

• Move people to action

• Recruit for an event

• Ask for financial support

This is why we work with our clients to develop and execute strong key messages — a set of concise statements about your mission or event, presented in a specific style your target audiences can connect with on three levels: emotional, tactical, and intellectual. It’s a powerful, and sometimes overlooked, tool in your communications toolbox.

First, know your audience.

Do the research to understand your stakeholders’ culture, what motivates them and inspires them to act. It is critically important to craft your key messages in specific language that reflects their values and on platforms they can relate to. As branding and messaging consultants we get out there and talk to your target audiences and learn where they hang out. This information becomes the foundation of message development. We never skip this important discovery phase because it tells us so much!

We craft every piece of your campaign or brand to support your key messages.

Here’s an example of a successful print campaign we designed, in which every aspect reinforced the key messages:

The New Israel Fund (NIF) was embarking on a $40M Legacy campaign in honor of their 40th anniversary. NIF is dedicated to ensuring ALL citizens of Israel — Arabs and Jews alike — have equal rights in a shared society. Their existing donor pool (generally aged 65+) has demonstrated consistently that they hold these basic civil rights and a love of Israel in common (these are their values), and they share a vision of an Israel that is inclusive, equitable, and truly democratic. It made perfect sense to unpack those values, reinforce donors’ vision, and suggest that the continuation of NIF’s work and mission would be supported by their generous legacy.

Thus, we named the campaign to reflect the key messages: “Values. Vision. Legacy.”

Cover of the “case-for-giving” brochure

Interior spreads of the “case-for-giving” brochure

Cover of the small self-mailer brochure

Interior spreads of the small self-mailer brochure

The campaign is a powerful reminder of what Israel’s future can look like. Every piece of copy and all the visuals unwaveringly stay on message to demonstrate donors’ values and vision, and NIF’s mission. And because of the 65+ age group of the recipients, the campaign primarily took place in print — a comfortable medium for the target audience.

The results? Staying on message for 18 months enabled NIF to exceed its goal of $40M. And because of the enthusiastic response, NIF extended the campaign and its goal to $50M!

Remember everyone is busy!

Not every person will see every communication your nonprofit puts out. In fact, chances are low that your constituents will see more than a fraction of what you release into the world.

Audiences need a lot of touches to internalize who you are, what your nonprofit is about, and what you want them to do — 6-8 touches, according to Salesforce and others who are in the business of converting interested parties into leads.

Even though you might be sick of the messages because you’ve said them multiple times on multiple platforms, it’s likely that your audience members have only noticed them once or twice. Therefore, it’s crucial to stay on message for several months or even years, especially in the case of a multi-year fundraising campaign.

Key messages are emotional, tactical, and intellectual. The most successful campaigns and brands hit all three equally.

Here’s an example of a successful recruitment campaign for a fundraising event:

Website registration page masthead


Social media images for organic posts

Video for paid social media advertising

Paid social media ads

One of our newest clients, American Friends of ALYN Hospital, was holding their first-ever charity bike ride in the U.S. to raise money for one of the world’s premier children’s rehabilitation hospitals, located in Israel. Previously, their riders went to Israel for a well-known, intensive, 5-day cycling experience, but because of the pandemic, the ride could not take place there.

The first thing we did was interview members of their current audience: devoted cyclists who care about doing good in the world. They love to ride (what matters to them), and they are committed to helping children with disabilities have better lives (their values.)

From this, we created a tagline for the ride: “Doing good is how we roll.”

Throughout the recruitment campaign on Facebook, Instagram, email, and bike shop flyers, we applied the key messages consistently: It’s going to be a great, safe ride. You should be there because you are a rider who cares about doing good.

The results? Rider registration exceeded its goal by 64% and fundraising surpassed expectations by 21%.

Clarity, simplicity, and consistency are your friends.

If you do your research, speak to your audience in language they can relate to, and stick steadfastly to your key messages, chances are very high your nonprofit will get the results it hopes to achieve over time. But if you let external pressures pull you off message, you can muddy people’s understanding — or worse, make them indifferent to your organization or event, because they’re just not sure of what you want them to do or why they should care.

Remember that your ultimate goal is to make a secure and lasting connection with your audience — one that gives your nonprofit top-of-mind presence and brings up positive feelings without any prompting. Just keep your key messages center stage, and you will exponentially increase your chances of achieving your nonprofit’s goal.




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