Does your organization start with “why?”

Writing Why_03

For the next week, place a post-it note in your workspace. Stick it somewhere prominent, where you’ll notice it before taking calls or writing your newsletter. On that note, write in bold letters your organization’s why.

Nonprofit leaders think about their why a lot and may even have it down to a snappy sentence or two. But often, when asked about our organization’s work, our brains naturally dive into the what and how. When we start with our why instead, we’re far more likely to inspire folks to engage with our cause.

That’s what author Simon Sinek pointed out in his 2014 Ted Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” He found that most organizations package information about themselves in the exact wrong order, leading with the fuzziest information and keeping their why close to the vest. However, he found that the organizations that clearly named the why behind their mission inspired more engagement.

Let’s imagine an organization that works with unhoused communities. A what-first campaign might say, “We work to reduce homelessness in our city.” On the other hand, why-first messaging sounds like, “We work to expand access to housing and resources for unhoused people, to create a world where every human being has the promise of safety, dignity, and rest.”

People are more interested in knowing your why — in hearing about the world your visionary team hopes to create — so they can imagine themselves as a part of it.

So try using that sticky note this week, and notice what happens to your organization’s voice when you let your cause take the lead.

Bill Cummings

Bill is a seasoned nonprofit founder, leader, marketer, fundraiser, and storyteller. He is the founder and former executive director of Lemonade International and has served in leadership positions with Zoe Empowers and Restore NYC. He works with clients on organizational strategy, branding, fundraising, and communications.