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Daily Calendar Reminder: Start with Why

Posted by Miriam Kagan at Mar 22, 2012 07:17 AM CDT
Categories: Constituent Empowerment

Why do we all do what we do every day?  That seems like it should be easy to answer: depending on the mission of our organization, it might be because we care about animals, want to cure a certain disease, or depending on your role, maybe because you want to be the standard-bearer in the industry around social media, or fundraising, etc.

Often, it seems, however, we forget what we believe in as the minutia of what it takes to get things done every day takes over.  We start to campaign for campaign's sakes.  We worry about not meeting budgets because Boards will get upset.  We think of donors in terms of when was the last time they gave us a gift, rather than WHY they gave it to us in the first place.  And so the why we do what we do every day gets muddied.

I have been thinking about this since I watched an awesome TED talk by Simon Sinek about what he calls “the Golden Circle.”  His premise is beautifully simple: companies, individuals, and organizations that succeed lead with what they believe in and why they do what they do, rather than selling products, chasing glory, etc.  His examples are mostly commercial: why does Apple succeed over say, Dell or HP? Why did the Wright Brothers win the flight race when so many others were better positioned to take flight? 

Golden Circle

Simon's talk got me thinking about what we (the collective nonprofit space), do every day.  We certainly give a lot of homage to mission, but how well are we communicating what we believe in a way that appeals to the WHY not the HOW?   Donors and constituents may seem fickle. It's hard to tell what motivates them, so we like to throw the entire kitchen sink at them.  How much we've invested in XYZ, how many people/animals we've helped, what our 5-10-15 year annual fund goal is…but how much of that do you, as a donor or constituent of your favorite organization, actually remember? 

Compare this to the campaigns/causes that seem to come out of nowhere and explode, go viral, start a whole movement…and we all wonder: why? What is their secret sauce?

Listening to Simon's talk, it seemed to me that answer was clear. These campaigns communicate, with little effort and little need for explanation, what they believe in, and in a way that connects with those who believe in the same thing in a most fundamental way.

Think about some of the iconic or fastest spreading campaigns and causes of our industry:

Beat Cancer. Enough said right? We believe cancer can be beaten. (No note of how, where, what, just that it CAN be).  How much more do you need to know (put your constituent hat, not your “behind the scenes marketer” hat on)?

The pink ribbon.  Anyone wearing a pink ribbon communicates a simple message (regardless of which organization's pink ribbon they are wearing):  Breast cancer is bad.  I believe in curing it.

Charity: water.  Why the success? Because the founder fundamentally believes in his ability to make a difference and his network believes in him.

This kind of “belief” messaging is even more important for social media: there are short attention spans, limited characters, competing media, and so much clamor.  Communicating WHY you believe rather than what and how you are going to go about doing about it can be the key to capturing someone's attention.

So what do you believe? And, more importantly, how many times a day do you, your co-workers, your organization, say that out loud, post it in the office, start meetings with this in mind?


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