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Why Your Foundation Gets to Break Our Tagline Rules

Posted by on April 23rd, 2012
Posted in Blog    Tags: ,

We’re big believers in creating taglines that compel your audience to take action. So why do we let foundations break our rules?

When we facilitate our Taglines that Tell session with a nonprofit, we are insistent that a tagline must command the audience into action and support. In fact, one of our fundamental rules for nonprofits is to avoid taglines that start with an “-ing” word, because the gerund saps the magnetic power of the tagline.

Consider this hypothetical situation. A grassroots marine preservation organization is deciding between two potential new taglines:

  • “Protecting the Oceans”
  • “Protect the Oceans”

The way we see it, the former informs the audience that the organization is already taking care of preserving the ocean—the public can let them take care of all the dirty work. The latter, on the other hand, is a call to action—the audience becomes an important player in marine preservation efforts. We would strongly recommend the second option.

And yet, philanthropic foundations are the exception to our rule. Foundations are in a very different business than other nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits have to attract various audiences to reach their goals: donors, major funders, policymakers, other officials… the list can go on. Without this external support, many nonprofits cannot dream of achieving their mission.

Philanthropic foundations, on the other hand, are in the enviable position of giving money away. Although they have strategic objectives that need to be met, philanthropic foundations rarely need to court audiences in the same way as nonprofit organizations.

Foundations need their brand, messages, and tagline to communicate their specific giving profile, so that they can effectively and efficiently build partnerships with potential grantees and other foundations. For a foundation, an effective tagline communicates the vision it is advancing.

Since foundations are not actively trying to engage donors in their mission, the gerund (“-ing”) tagline rule doesn’t apply. A foundation’s tagline should serve to reinforce their brand and communicate its vision.

Let’s say a foundation is in the business of funding marine preservation initiatives and researchers, the likes of the hypothetical organization in our first case study. This foundation is also searching for their perfect tagline. In this case, “Protecting the Oceans” would be an appropriate choice, as it accurately reflects the foundation’s specific giving profile.

Here are some other taglines structures that work well for foundations:

  1. Starting off with the word “For”
    • Many foundations fund certain areas because they want to reach an envisioned future. Whether it’s “For healthy kids,” or “For greener cities,” foundations give to causes or individuals whose work will contribute to progressing towards a social, environmental, or political objective.
  2. Starting off with the word “Where”
    • Foundations are in the business of affecting change by investing in change-makers. When TechAmerica Foundation states “Where the Future Begins” they are making the statement that their investments in technical innovation will pay off in the form of prosperity, security and general welfare.
  3. Using the word “Advancing”
    • The Annenberg Foundation demonstrates this with their tagline “Advancing Public Well-Being Through Improved Communication.”

Do you think the challenges are different for other nonprofits? If you’ve worked with or for a foundation, what has your experience been? We would love to hear your thoughts.


Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.

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