Why does your organization exist? (3 of 15)

The question Why? on a cork notice board[This is part three 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 II)

Why does your organization exist? Because you value something people need.

The second part of clarifying why you exist is to describe the need. In Part I I talked about values, but just because something is important does’t mean an organization should exist to advocate for it. For example, imagine an organization dedicated to safeguarding oxygen supplies. I doubt I could be persuaded to support them. I believe it is important that everyone have oxygen to breath. The importance for life is indisputable. I’m not too worked up over this issue though. Lack of oxygen isn’t a problem in the global air supply. In order to engage people’s hearts, you need to show them the need.

You are probably all too aware of the need for your organization, but others might not be. One way to get outside of your own head is to look around at the environment you are operating in. What are the goals and needs there and how do you fit within that? For example, if you are a local arts organization, you are a part of improving the quality of life for residents in your town. If you run an after school program, you are serving the broader educational needs of children.

In facilitating a conversation about the need for your organization, there are a couple of questions it is helpful to ask. As always, I’ll be using Chirp for examples. Chirp is the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie, a bird with moxie. Want the back-story? Of course you do. Download it here.

  1. Why do we exist? In asking this question you want to play the role of that inquisitive kid who doesn’t stop asking why. The conversation might look like this:

“Why does our school exist?” “Because birds need a full vocabulary.” “Why do they need a full vocabulary?” “So they can express themselves and communicate with different flocks.” “Why…” and so on.

Before starting this exercise, be sure to explain what you are doing and why. Not only is it helpful for getting people into the right mindset, but without an explanation, “why” questioning can be interpreted as an aggressive challenge to something that is an important core value.

For another example, see Erica’s discussion of Charleston Park Conservancy in a post on sharing your why. They do a fabulous job of communicating where they fit within the larger goals of the city.

  1. What would be different if we didn’t exist? You can also approach the question of why you are needed by imagining a world without you in it. How dreary! It’s fun to queue the It’s a Wonderful Life melodrama, but get serious about it too. In thinking about the things you do, it is easy to be vague. The starkness of not existing, however, can bring focus and clarity. That’s why this line of questioning is a great way to find hard numbers for the impact you are having. Think about things like:

Is there another city or target demographic for which an organization like yours doesn’t exist?

Are the other organizations like yours operating at capacity making it likely the clients would go unserved without you?

Are there outcomes your methods achieve that differ from those of other nonprofits in your field?

Messaging based on the answer to this question could look like this for Chirp:

Thanks to your support, 50 of your fine, feathered friends have completed our program and learned how to put words to their own unique chirp.

As you can see, the foundation we are laying now, in clarifying what your organization is about, will be super helpful when we get to the “How?” portion of the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree. Stay tuned!

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