Theory of Change and Message Clarity

Nonprofits are great at saying what they do. They’re generally terrible at telling others why they do it and what societal change they’re out to accomplish. Starting from the mission statement and descriptions of programs, nonprofits then turn toward themselves and their own needs with basic messaging that tends to follow these patterns:

Donors: We desperately need your help serving our communities. Please consider making a donation today.

Volunteers: Your skills are needed to support us. Please consider helping our mission.

The problem here, even when paired with examples of how your programs help people and your communities, is that is doesn’t explain with any clarity whatsoever what you are trying to achieve. An astonishing number of nonprofits get stuck on what they do. Do you simply help the homeless or do you want to end homelessness? Do you simply help at-risk youth (itself an unclear term) or do you want to end the marginalization of young people in our society who don’t fit societal “norms”? From there, your mission and programs show how you contribute to impacting that outcome.

What is the social change you seek to make? Who is the audience you are trying to help? What steps are needed to help them? How are these measured?

These are vital questions that connect your work to the overall goal and shows your impact with clarity. It forms a roadmap and can stand as the backbone of all your messaging — from social media, to appeals, to grant proposals, to advertising, to providing focus to your board and staff.

Gone are the days when nonprofits can simply “do good.” Today, your audiences demand more (more data as well). Having a clear focus and purpose is vital to ensuring your mission stays on track.

I offer help to nonprofits in designing a solid theory of change to better align their mission and programs to ensure clarity and success.