Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Walking the Mission Talk

Is your organization’s mission something you talk about or something you do? I think that was the essence of a recent brilliant blog post by Harvard Business Review blogger and author Dan Pallotta. And I believe the answer to the question is fundamental to the success of your fundraising marketing program.

Through a number of examples and quotes, Dan establishes that organizations must not only have a mission; they have to be on a mission. Organizations much have a deep sense of purpose. While Dan’s post is great guidance for those setting organizational priorities, there is a clear (but unspoken) message for those involved in fundraising.

Commenters to the blog post pointed out the undeniable necessity of mission statements. But any of us that have had to craft a mission statement know that the related negotiation, compromise and intense wordsmithing can lead to that which is meaningless to anyone outside of the innermost circle of the organization. The cartoon above from Tom Fishburne and makes the point perfectly. What’s worse is that sometimes fundraising asks and associated collateral get gummed up by these mission-based mantras. We end up talking about what we stand for and not what we do.

Donors on the other hand are increasingly concerned about what results will be achieved with the funds they provide. To be successful, solicitations must speak to those concerns. While this may sound ridiculously obvious, I challenge you to review the copy on your website and in your last direct mail campaign and see whether it meets the “on a mission” test. Does it convey a clear purpose? Do you explicitly and unequivocally tell donors what you will do with their money? Even better, is there a way that you can be accountable to your donors? Is there an objective measure of whether funds raised are achieving the intended goals? Is all of this stated simply and directly? My guess is that the answer to every question will not be yes.

I understand that presenting what an organization does in the absence of what it stands for can be equally ineffective. There clearly has to be some balance. In addition, the reality is that marketing material also has to satisfy the needs (and sometimes demands) of those on the inside of the organization.

It's a fine line but Dan’s thoughts clearly provide a great rubric from which to evaluate our marketing material and to decide whether it walks the talk.