Communicate With Purpose: Understanding the Power of 'Why'

 Flickr Creative Commons photo by Katie Sayer

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Katie Sayer

Organizations are often very good at talking about what they do.

But the groups that often have the greatest success connecting with donors, motivating activists, or getting media attention do not spend much time talking about their programs and services.

Instead, they are adept at articulating why they do what they do.

Nonprofits, for example, aren't just about providing meals or medical care or clean water. They are laser focused on showing people how their work can make a real and lasting difference -- and what they ultimately hope to accomplish.

Businesses, meanwhile, aren't just about selling products or services. The most successful companies are able to translate why those products and services matter -- and how they are improving the world.

If you're struggling to find your voice or having a hard time connecting with potential supporters or customers, it's important to take some time to think clearly about why you exist -- and then commit to ensuring that you articulate that 'why'.

The shift can be a game changer because while your ‘what’ may be interesting and informative, it’s your ‘why’ that can be truly inspirational – and spark people to action.

The Search for Purpose

There's a reason many organizations struggle to make this shift and default to talking about what they do.

It boils down to this:

What is easy. Why is hard.


It's easy, for instance, for the charity that provides meals to talk about how many meals it serves and the need to make sure its shelves are stocked with cans of vegetables and boxes of pasta.

But if you're looking to move people in a deeper way and advance your cause to achieve more meaningful results, it's important to move beyond just talking about the what (the cans and boxes) and being able to articulate the why -- purpose behind what you do.

Why are you working to feed people?

What is the larger impact of your work?

These questions require a deeper level of thought than the more simple question of "what do you do?". They prompt you to consider what motivates your staff, your donors and supporters. And, ultimately, these questions demand you get to the core of why your organization exists in the first place – and whether your collective actions align with your true purpose.

By taking the time to answer these questions, however, your organization can gain a clearer sense of its purpose. In turn, you have a much better chance to inspire people to take action on your behalf, change minds, and get attention for your work.

Weave Purpose Into Everything You Do

For the hypothetical hunger charity described above, digging deep to find out why you're providing those meals can lead to some inspiring discoveries.

For instance, it discovers that families that have access to regular, nutritious food are healthier, that their children are more likely to succeed in school, and that our society and economy is ultimately much stronger.

Helping families get good food helps improve our schools, our economy, and our society.

That's purpose!

But it's not just enough to know and understand that purpose.

You also have to know how to articulate that purpose.

Every day.

In every piece of written communications. In every fundraising conversation. In every board meeting.

It has to be front and center on your website, show up in every meaningful conversation on Facebook, and be a part of every pitch you make to the media.

Doing this requires discipline from your leadership and your communications team. It requires training your board and your staff. And it requires consistency.

But if you're wondering why some organizations are getting more media coverage, more donors or customers, and more support than yours, it's probably because they've taken the time to define their purpose -- and they have the discipline to make sure that purpose is embedded in everything they say and do.