What nonprofits can learn about Mission Statements while on vacation in Paradise

nonprofit marketing, nonprofit messaging, research

Vicki, our Research Director, at the McBryde Gardens

Our Research Director, Vicki, recently returned from a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii. This is a story about what happens when someone who focuses on improving Mission Statements for a living goes on vacation.

While on Kauai, we toured the McBryde Gardens, a research garden of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. The tour guide rattled off their Mission Statement. This is from their website (as I couldn’t remember it and had NO IDEA what she said).

“The mission of the National Tropical Botanical Garden is to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions.”

According to readability-score.com this has a NEGATIVE (didn’t know that was a thing) Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Score of -8.1 with an average grade level of 22.1.

Then the tour guide said, “We have a long mission statement, but we save plants.”

Now that I remember!

If I was advising them I would augment to “we save topical plants”, as ‘tropical’ distinguishes them from other gardens.

If nonprofits are to put their Mission Statements front and center they should be statements that people can remember and repeat. That’s why we spend so much time working and re-working Mission Statements in Words on a Mission. (Watch this short video and find out why.)

Glad Vicki had a good time in paradise. Sad she had to run into a bad nonprofit Mission Statement even while on vacation!

Readability Statistics for this post: Reading Ease-52.7, Grade Level 9.7

Do you know many nonprofits in your state have a website?

In a post earlier this week, I shared a startling new finding from our Wordifier research: more than 50% of nonprofits don’t have a website.*

A state by state breakdown shows us how much this varies depending on geography. In Maine, for instance, 65% of nonprofits have a website. Whereas in New Mexico and Wyoming, a scant 29% do.

This map breaks it down state by state.

research, nonprofits, websites


The five states with the highest percentage of nonprofits with websites?

1. Maine: 65%

2. DC: 64%

3. Washington: 61%

4. Idaho & Puerto Rico: 60%

5. Vermont: 59%

And the five states with the lowest percentage of nonprofits with websites?

46. Alabama: 37%

47. Rhode Island: 36%

48. Arkansas: 33%

49 & 50. Wyoming & New Mexico: 29%

Makes you wonder: how easy/hard are nonprofits in your state making it for supporters to find them on-line? 

***If you want your nonprofit to stand out from the crowd–whether on-line, in-person, or in print–check out Claxon University.***


*Reminder about what we mean by “no website”: We mean when pulling our sample, we didn’t find an independent url for ~50+% of the nonprofits for which we were searching. Some might have had an online presence, e.g. Facebook pages or a webpage on a connected, but separate organization. For instance, it’s very common for Friends of the Library and PTAs/PTSAs to have a web presence as a page on the related organization’s site, but often not their very own site. Other organizations, businesses, social clubs, or even other nonprofits with a foundation or scholarship might have mentioned the 501c3 arm, or maybe just mention that they have a scholarship, but it is the parent organization that has the website, so that didn’t count.

Are you making them dream or think?

nonprofits, writing, language

“There are two types of writers: those who make you think and those who make you dream.” ~ Brian Aldiss

This is the opening quote in Paulo Coelho’s wonderful article, “On Writing”.

I love this quote. It begs the question: which is the better type of writer?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this. It’s largely personal preference. I contend there’s too much thinking and not enough dreaming going on these days (and I’m not quite sure where all of our thinking is getting us in many cases, to be quite honest…).

So, for me, writing that makes me dream is downright dazzling. It opens up my world and my heart.

But I also value a well-written piece that makes me think, or reflect, or sets me straight on my facts and figures.

I also think it’s not an either/or. Good writers can make us think and dream. Maybe not at the same time. But in equal measure and when the time is right for one or the other.

Now, you may cringe at the thought of writing and want to declare, “I am not a writer! Let The Writers (big ‘W’) do the writing.”

It’s highly likely, however, that you churn out words every day. So whether or not you consider yourself a writer is largely irrelevant.

What is infinitely relevant is figuring out how to make your words work for you. 

On this blog, you can find lots of practical tips on things like making your writing flow better and making your editing error-free. You can play with the Wordifier and find the very best words to amplify your words. All great resources and tools.

But none of them can answer the question about whether you’re writing to make people think or dream. You have to decide that for yourself. And it’s worth asking every time you sit down to write: will people respond to this because it speaks to their heads or their hearts?  (Hint: It’s usually the latter, rather than the former, especially for donors. Don’t believe me? Check out this and this.)

Heads think. Hearts dream. We need both to make the world go ’round. Write accordingly.

A Rant About Research & Ridiculousness

“So you actually did the research for the Wordifier yourselves? Woah, that’s a lot of work. No one does that.” 

This is what an Executive Director said to me after a recent speaking engagement.

She works for an organization that empowers women and girls around the world. (For the purposes of this post, let’s call her Ellie…because that has nice alliteration with Executive Director, doesn’t it?)

Ellie had just put the word “empower” into the Wordifier and found out international organizations use the word  more than any other sub-sector. She had a hunch it was overused, and they should probably look at other words, but now she had proof!

That’s the power of research–it can turn a hunch into a proven fact. And that’s powerful.

**Begin wee rant**

The social good sector invests very, very little in primary research, meaning research you collect by going out and collecting the information yourself about a topic of specific interest to you. For instance, at Claxon we were curious about how nonprofits used language so we pulled every single word off of a statistically significant sample of nonprofit websites. (You can read more about our research methodology here.)

Pretty much ever other industry invests heavily in primary research. Insurance, finance, accounting, education, consumer products, etc etc etc.

Let’s play this out.

Investment advisers don’t sit down with clients and say, “Well, I was thinking about it and, by golly, I think we should invest in this company here. Now, I don’t have any data to back that up, but I say we go for it.”

Um, no.

They say, “I’ve looked at 30 years of research and here’s how I interpret it, and, based on that, what I’d advise.”

True, in the social good sector, we tend to have fewer resources than some of these other industries (#understatement). But we’re also doing more important work. So doesn’t it make sense to have the very best information possible to do that work?!!!!!! (Ridiculous number of exclamation points purposefully added to communicate the ridiculousness of this state of affairs.)

Also true that there is value in listening to our guts. Our gut instincts tend to be very good guides. My contention is: guts+data=awesomeness.

I don’t see an easy, obvious answer to getting more funds so the social good sector can invest in primary research. It’s a long-term investment with no guarantee of near-term positive outcomes, i.e. you don’t know if what you learn will translate directly into feeding more people, curing cancer, or a better education.

But just because there isn’t an easy answer doesn’t mean we should give up. I’m certainly not going to! I’m going to keep my research soapbox handy, yes I am. Because I firmly believe more research will lead to more good in the world.

This belief is reinforced every time I talk to someone like Ellie or get an email from someone who has used the Wordifier, switched up their language and gone on to raise more money, recruit more volunteers and/or finally get their dream board member to say yes to being on their board.

**End wee rant**

Claxon invests in statistically significant research so that people like you who are changing the world know precisely how to change your words. Guessing is inefficient and time-consuming. Changing the world is a big job so you likely don’t have extra time on your hands. Am I right?

Thus, research.

Thus, the Wordifier.

Is this research expensive? Yes.

Is it worth it? Yes. Every penny. Every brain cramp. Every everything.

If you are interested in primary research specific on philanthropy and social good, check out the stupendously amazing work of Professors Adrian Sargent and Jen Shang over at Study Fundraising.

Claxon University’s course Words on a Mission also teaches organizations a lot about how to gather actionable information that will help them better dazzle their supporters and reach their goals. Worth checking out.



Are you short-changing your mission?

ClaxonU_LogoClass is in session.

(Sort of. Ish.)

More accurately, class could be in session if you decided to take Claxon University’s on-line course, Words on a Mission.

Now, why would you–a very busy person–want to take this course? Why would you–someone with pulenty on your plate already–heap on a serving of learning?

Because, truth be told, if your words aren’t making a difference, you’re short-changing your mission.

For years, I’ve been beseeching you to pay more attention to the 15,000 words you go through in a day. This isn’t because I’m a word nerd (although I admittedly am). It’s because you likely don’t have a gazillion dollars to spend on getting the word out about your mission. And, with 50% of nonprofit mission statements being technically incomprehensible, your mission statement likely isn’t doing you any favors in the engagement department either.

If you’re serious about your mission, you need to get serious about how you talk about it.

You really do.

With Claxon University, I’m making it as easy, fun and affordable as possible to craft compelling messaging and create a mission statement you adore.

Is your mission statement a no-go zone? Not a problem. There are so  many other ways to change up your words so you can change the world. Really. There are so many. And I’d love for you to know every single one because then you can engage more people, more deeply in your work. And how awesome would that be?!

So, please, stop short-changing your mission. It’s too awesome and you’re too awesome for that. Check out Claxon University. Take the course. Let’s make some amazing things happen.