Is your nonprofit using words as tactical instruments?

Not so long ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Dana Van Nest on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to it here or read it here, whichever floats your boat!

Dana knows her way around words. She writes. A lot. And really well. She works with clients on a mission to make the world a better place.

The idea of words as tactical instruments sprung forth during our conversation. (You can practically see the words springing forth in service to your mission, can’t you?!)

Writing can sometimes come across as blob-like. A bunch of words. On a page. Milling about.

But if you think about words as tactical instruments, that’s a different (and I believe more actionable) way of thinking about writing. It shifts things so you’re focusing on the power of each word to advance you toward a specific goal.

If the end game for a newsletter, annual report, website, speech, or mission statement is to move someone–a donor, volunteer, client, customer, etc–closer toward a specific goal–donating, volunteering, or being served, to name just a few–each word counts. And each one has the power to get you one step closer to that goal. And those goals advance you toward your mission and your vision for making the world more awesome.

When used as tactical instruments, words become willing and loyal pawns in the chess game of making the world a better place.

How flippin’ cool is that?!!!!

If picking each word that carefully makes your palms sweat, here’s what you do: look at the verb in the first and last sentence of whatever you’re writing. Verbs are action words. Will the verbs in those two sentences get you closer to your goal? If so, super. If not, get some word-spiration from the Wordifier.

Want to get better results from your marketing…with less stress and more joy? Get on Claxon’s list and get actionable insights, tips, and tricks delivered directly to the comfort of your inbox!

Marketing Your Nonprofit Association (when things are totally weird)

Associations rely on membership dues to pay bills. They need to market the value of those dues. Nonprofit associations are no exception.

How do nonprofit associations market their value with less stress and more joy…during a global pandemic that has them working their tails off to serve nonprofits in their states and advocate their hearts out on behalf of the sector as a whole?!

That’s what I asked Brandy Strand of Utah Nonprofits Association when I had her on the Marketing for Good podcast.

Brandy had some terrific insights (and is a pint-sized joy bomb to boot!). I paired her insights with research on trends in association marketing and here are the two things I’d recommend nonprofit associations focus on to boost their marketing efforts:

#1: Put Out Responsive, Flexible Programming

One of the most striking things about my conversation with Brandy was how in tune they are with their members’ needs. They survey them regularly and get real-time feedback in a variety of ways. This means they can adapt their programming and make members happy.

When you’re thinking about content–especially things like webinars which in the past may have often only been available if someone showed up live–think about how flexible you can make it. Record things so folks can soak it up when it fits their schedule. This will delight members in a good way…and, you guessed it…get them talking about you.

Brandy and her team are doing this, getting very positive feedback, and also building out an entire resource library that will serve their members for years to come.

Course-correcting takes effort, yes. But it’ll pay off in multiple ways as you’ll see in #2.

#2: Fuel Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Right now, we are relying more than ever on trusted peers and colleagues for advice. If your programming is responding to members’ needs, they will be delighted! It’s tough sledding these days so we’re even more likely to talk about something delightful because it’s a break from the monotony and chaos of working from home during a global pandemic.

Word-of-mouth marketing is FREE MARKETING.

Make it easy for folks to talk you up. Now’s not the time for messaging that is clever, coy, or cute. Stick to the point. If someone has to think too hard to get your point, they’ll tap out rather than tune it.

Keep your messaging straight-forward and the Calls to Action (CTAs) in your marketing as clear as possible.

Examples: For advocacy, “Call Your Representative Today”. For a webinar, “Register Now”. And, of course, make it clear that although you’d love folks to join you live, it’ll be recorded so they’ll be able to watch the webinar whenever it strikes their fancy.

(When you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear that Brandy and I had different definitions for CTAs, which is why you always have to be careful when using acronyms!)

Also, make it easy to share your content. Have links/icons to all your social media handles. Don’t make anyone forage. We’re all too tired to forage (unless it’s to the back of the freezer for some huckleberry ice cream).

By the way, these tips apply to all nonprofits right now. Just swap out donors for members in #1, follow all the advice in #2, and you’ll be ahead of the curve.

For more marketing inspiration and motivation, listen to the Marketing for Good podcast wherever you enjoy your podcasts!

Brandy Strand, Director of Community Relationships, Utah Nonprofits Association…4’10” of nonprofit awesomeness!

#MarketingForGood Drawing

How to Enter to Win:

  • Go to wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Search for Marketing for Good.
  • Subscribe, rate, and review. (Trust me, it’s easy.)
  • Before submitting your review, TAKE A SCREENSHOT.
  • Post the screenshot on social media using the hashtag #MarketingForGood or email it to
  • For the next 4 weeks, we will randomly select one lucky reviewer who will receive a free 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree or a copy of Pitchfalls.
  • All reviewers will be entered into a Grand Prize Drawing to win a free Coaching Session with me. (A $425 value.)

All in, this should take you about 3 minutes, depending on how much time you take on your review. My advice: don’t overthink it. It’s a podcast review, not your annual report.🙂


How will you reach your supporters? [12 of 15]

How? Letterpress[This is part twelve 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 a 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.]

Last week, we started our discussion of “How” with some tips for developing your message. Now, it is time to talk about how to deliver that message to your supporters.

The next branch of the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree says:

List the top three ways (e. g. flyers, events, Facebook) you will reach your ideal supporters over the next year. Assign who will be in charge of making each one happen and by when. You can keep track of the assignments and tasks on our handy-dandy Mechanism Manager.

If you’ve made it this far through the series, I’m guessing you are a methodical planner anyway. I don’t need to explain to you that each marketing task needs a point person and a timeline lest is fade into the dark, back corner of the storage closet of good intentions. So, I’m just going to focus on that first sentence.

The two key points you will want to consider for marketing mechanisms are

  1. You need to limit the number of channels and
  2. You need to focus on reaching your ideal supporters.

Three mechanisms is a good rule of thumb. Maybe you can get away with two. Maybe you need, and have the resources to support, four. The key is to enforce limits so you aren’t over extended. It would be better to do a superb job on a single platform than to be vaguely present on a dozen.

If you, like me, are delighted at last Sunday’s return of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, you may enjoy this article on how he “won the internet.” How did he do it? By focusing on just YouTube and Twitter.

Though limited in its use of social media, Last Week Tonight further provides a quality of content within the social media outlets it engages. In so doing, it challenges the perception that total social media saturation is the best digital strategy.

It also doesn’t hurt that he is brilliant, funny, and covers important topics.

Putting the focus on your supporters rather than mechanisms themselves is a helpful way to narrow the number down. Think about them and how they are most likely to engage in accordance with your goals. It doesn’t matter how popular a social media platform is if your supporters aren’t there and engaging in the way you want. For example, I have social media accounts, but event invites never make it onto my calendar from there. If you want me to come to your event, send me an email. If you have researched your supporters, you should know how to reach them. Use the best mechanism for each target persona, use it well, and then be done.


Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie, is marketing for new students using three target personas. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story.) Each persona can be reached in a different way.

Ruth, the Rockin’ Robin:

Ruth frequents Mrs. Timberlake’s bird feeder to stay abreast of the latest gossip. Roxy has agreed to take on the task of networking there. She loves telling other birds about Chirp so this is a great task for her. Roxie’s plan is to visit the bird feeder at least three times a week and she has created a designed experiment to determine the time of day when the other birds are most likely to engage with her.

Charlie, the Copycat Catbird:

Charlie prefers to be short and to the point and so has started using Twitter. He would appreciate practical tips he can use in his day-to-day life. In order to highlight how cool words can be, Chirp will begin a Word of the Day series on Twitter, noting a useful word and explaining its definition. Myrtle the duck will be leading this effort. She has agreed to post 5 times a week. To ease her task of thinking up words to post, she will be asking her fellow Chirp teachers to suggest words she can use.

Olivia, the Observant Owl:

Olivia plans to attend the annual parliament meeting of owls. Albert the owl will be attending this year to represent Chirp and extol to fabulous learning opportunities at the school. He expects to be able to recruit many of his fellow owls.

What is your message [11 of 15]

How? Letterpress[This is part eleven 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 a 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.]

We’ve covered “What” and “Who”. It’s finally time to work on “How”!

In the first part of the “How”, we tackle messaging.  Here’s what we’ll do:

  • Finish this sentence: We want to be known as the organization that…
  • Imagine you are at a cocktail party. What would you say if an ideal supporter asked: “What do you do?”
  • Describe your organization in 140 characters or less.

As you know from previous posts in this series, good messaging is rooted in a detailed understanding of what your organization does, targets specific supporters, and uses engaging words. But how do you actually create compelling messaging, you wonder? Good question. The 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree is here to help.

Let’s look at tree branch 3B. What do you say when someone asks, “What do you do?” This question has an unfortunate tendency to elicit lists of activities that make the listener’s eyes glaze over. There’s no reason you need to fall into that trap, however. Instead, pretend they asked, “What does your organization want to be known for?” This answer aligns with the first stop on the Engagement Cycle and is also your answer to 3A. As you develop ways to answer this question, keep your answer to 140 characters or less because that is the length people can remember (and repeat!)

If you’re reading this blog, you likely know that Claxon has a plethora of resources to help you craft messaging worthy of your organization. Here are just a few highlights:

Words, Words, Words!

  • The Wordifier is Claxon’s new tool that helps you amplify your words. The human brain is wired to pay attention to new information and ignore the old. We stop noticing the same, tired word. So, if you use the same word a lot, or a word that is used by a lot of other organizations, people will notice it less than one they don’t see very often. The Wordifier will tell you if a word is overused and it even gives you a breakdown by sub-section. Go give it a try.
  • The Language Lab is our new podcast. Sign up and every week you’ll receive a lovely little audio prompt to reflect on language and life.

Mission Statements

  • Whether you are officially writing a mission statement or coming up with a version to use in your messaging, we have some great makeover tips.
  • We didn’t invent reading ease scores, but we wish we had because we love to use them! You have heard advice like, “Your mission statement should only be one sentence.” The only problem with this advice is that sometimes people try to strain the limits of punctuation to cram as many words as possible into that sentence and end up with an incomprehensible mess. You won’t have this problem though because you can use reading ease scores to make sure your mission statement is understandable…rather than, gulp, technically incomprehensible like the ones in this post.
  • Follow this blog to get regular tips so you don’t use lame verbs like provide or mobilize.



  • Need some extra help? Our chief word nerd, Erica Mills, would love to be your coach. She can work with you one on one or we have group coaching sessions available. (The Winter session is full but you can get on the wait list for the Spring session, which will start in April.)


Let’s take a look at the messaging developed by Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story and follow links for demographic research.)

Mission Statement:

Chirp’s original mission statement is

To mobilize all birds everywhere; regardless of feather size, shape, color, or water repellency; by providing a first class educational experience in language arts which can empower them to talk to other birds with different (valued) experiences and viewpoints, ensuring optimal diversity, effectiveness, and sustainability for the bird community.

Yikes! That is cumbersome and it scores as a 12th grade reading level. Let’s see how they cleaned up that train wreck.

First, they tried starting with what they had and cutting out the unnecessary laundry lists, parenthetical asides, and things that just aren’t core to what Chirp does.

To mobilize all birds everywhere by providing an educational experience in language arts which can empower them to talk to other birds.

This is a little more concise and the reading ease score is improving a bit, but it is still at a 12th grade level. To help with this, they focused on reworking some of those big words and made educate the primary verb.

To educate birds and empower them to talk to other birds.

The grade level is down to 5.8 now, but it feels awkward. Then they remembered the earlier work they did on the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree. What is the most important thing they do?

To teach birds how to use words to communicate with other flocks.

This works a bit better as a mission statement and has a grade level score of 4.8. They checked the Wordifier and found that “teach,” “educate,” “talk,” and “communicate” are all in the yellow category. This means that they are used a lot. It would be better to use verbs that aren’t so common, but at least none of them are in the red category. Between “teach” and “educate,” “teach” is easier to say so they are sticking with that. “Talk” is a simpler word than “communicate,” but they felt that the two directional relationship implied in communicate helped the mission statement feel more engaging.


Chirp knows that the important thing about pitches is that you need more than one. You need something short and sweet you can use to introduce yourself, a bit more information if they are interested so they can understand you, then a pitch that will engage them in your work. You also need to tailor your pitches to different target audiences. Let’s look at how Chirp can shape its mission into pitches for different situations with its personas.

Ruth, the Rockin’ Robin:

  • Know pitch: We teach birds how to talk with birds in other flocks.
  • Understand: We do this by sharing how to use new words.
  • Engage: After completing our program, birds like you are able to use words to make new friends.

Charlie, the Copycat Catbird:

  • Know pitch: We teach birds how to be understood by birds in other flocks.
  • Understand: We do this by instructing them how to use new words.
  • Engage: After completing our program, birds like you are able to use words to make themselves heard clearly.

Olivia, the Observant Owl:

  • Know pitch: We educate birds in effective word use.
  • Understand: We do this by teaching how to use new words and avoid jargon.
  • Engage: After completing our program, birds like you have a rich vocabulary and the language knowledge necessary to learn from foreign birds.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the mechanisms you can use to spread your message…Facebook and Instagram and brochures, oh my!