Why does your organization exist? (2 of 15)

The question Why? on a cork notice board[This is part two of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]

The first branch: Why does your organization exist? (Part I)

Kids ask “why?” as they are learning how the world works. It has become a joke that we adults find it annoying to have every explanation met with this question, but I’m here to tell you, “The kids are right.” Asking “why?” is foundational to understanding anything.

The first question in the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree is “Why does your organization exist?” In some cases, the answer can be less intuitive than you may think.

For instance, let’s look at Alcoholics Anonymous. The founder’s personal why became the organization’s why and permeated the culture and structure of the organization.  At first, however, he didn’t have a clear understanding of why he was starting the organization.

When Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous he was trying to help other alcoholics. Early on, however, he found that talking to other alcoholics was what he needed to stay sober. He realized that his true motivation was to help himself through helping others. He then realized that what his fellow alcoholics might really need was an opportunity to help others themselves. A peer-to-peer approach replaced his initial model where he was criticized for preaching at people too much. No one likes to be preached at! His new approach, built from a more authentic understanding of his motivations, saw alcoholics flocking to the new organization.

This shift in understanding of his own motivations had repercussions for how the organization was run.  He taught something of an altruistic pyramid scheme where you helped yourself by helping others. The stress placed on anonymity is not just about protecting privacy. It is also about the importance of not letting the organization have a figurehead with a bullhorn. Each group is still independently run rather than being controlled by the central organization. This all gets back to their why.

The question of why you exist can be broken down into two parts: the motivating belief driving your mission and the perception of need. In this post I’m focusing on motivations.

In Erica’s video Heads and Hearts, she talks about her motivations for volunteering with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Spoiler alert! She was motivated by her heart, not her head.

If your organization has not clearly defined why it exists, reflecting on personal values is a great place to start. Have your board, staff, and key supporters pick their top two or three personal values and ask them to explain how those values motivate the work they do in your organization. (If you need help getting started, you can find a value-defining tool here.) Look for the common values that are driving your organization in its mission. Pulling these together is like looking at the repeating theme in a jazz piece. If you just overlaid each musician’s riff, you would get a noisy mess. Instead, you want to pull out the common thread that runs through everything.

Let’s take a look at Chirp to see what this would look like. Chirp is the nonprofit school Roxie, Claxon’s mascot, is starting for her fine, feathered friends.  Not sure what I’m talking about?  You can download it here.

The leadership of Chirp all thought about their values and wrote about how those values influenced their desire to work with Chirp.

Roxie values joy and expressiveness:

I want to make the world a better place. It is already amazing, but I know it can be better. One thing that I think would help is if everyone could tell others about the wonderful things they have discovered. I want to be able to tell my family about the beautiful valleys and the lake I found when I was out flying today. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Now that they have been through the Chirp program, I can. And, they can tell me about the great places they have found for digging for worms. Life is great!

Albert values learning and carefulness:

Whenever I have a puzzle or decision to make, I find it helpful to talk the matter over with others. It is easy to be biased by your own point of view and so I try to seek out those with a different perspective. Unfortunately, it is hard to find other birds with the breadth of vocabulary necessary to accurately explain their position. I am sure there must be so much knowledge locked away in the brains of my avian friends. I wish I had access to even a portion of that wisdom. Once more birds learn a full vocabulary, it is my hope that Chirp will expand its educational offerings beyond the language arts. The world’s greatest scientist or economist might be a bird, but we don’t yet know what they have to say because they lack the words.

Myrtle values cooperation and friendliness:

I just love meeting new friends! There are so many nice birds out there. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding them because they use so few words, which is a shame because I can still tell they are real nice. I can’t help but think, if we could just talk to each other – really communicate – we could accomplish so much. I’ll bet we could throw the most fabulous aerial dances! I love working with Chirp because I have been able to meet, and eventually talk with, so many new friends.

Jacques values curiosity and personal growth:

In my travels around the world I have met many birds. I wish I could know more about their lives and hear their stories. Alas, so few of them are able to share their vision for the bird society. I value the work Chirp is doing because I want all birds to have the verbal tools they need to explore relationships with other flocks.

Looking over these four statements, the birds of Chirp agreed that they all wanted to hear what each unique bird had to say. “We are teaching them a full vocabulary because we don’t want to miss a single word they have to share.”

In my next post, I’ll talk about the second part of clarifying why you exist—describing the need. In the meantime, have some conversations about motivations. Look for the common threads and see what you learn! And, hang on to your list of value words. You may find it helpful when you build your organizational lexicon.

Roxie’s Tale

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