What are you looking for?

Messaging That’s Memorable Blog Series, Part 2: The Problem Message

Posted by on June 25th, 2021
Posted in Blog, Messaging That’s Memorable Blog Series, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Messaging, Storytelling   

As part of our blog series, Messaging That’s Memorable, we recently shared an easy way to write your organization’s Belief Message. That’s our term for the message you should use any time you are introducing your organization in person, print, or digital communications.

When things go well, your Belief Message is so compelling and intriguing that your listeners or readers want to know more. So what do you say next?

Simon Sinek’s fabulous TED Talk is a great introduction to what we call Problem Messages.

Your Problem Messages should focus on the “why” of your organization. Every nonprofit, including yours, was created to solve a specific problem. So ask yourself this question:

Why does your organization exist?

And now dig deeper. If your organization focuses on domestic violence, for example, your answer shouldn’t be, “Because domestic violence exists.” Any domestic violence nonprofit—of which there are many—can claim that. Instead think about why it’s important that your organization, specifically, be involved in this cause. In a constellation of domestic violence organizations all doing important work, for example, what problem is still left that creates the need for your organization? So now consider this question:

What’s the challenge that only your organization can solve?

The answers to this question are the basis for your Problem Messages.

Check out this video we did in collaboration with our wonderful client California ChangeLawyers. It does an excellent job of emphasizing why they exist.

Just like California ChangeLawyers, your organization probably addresses several problems within your cause area, so you’ll likely need several Problem Messages from which you can choose. We often think of these messages as beginning with, “You know, there’s a problem…”

Here’s an example:

In our previous blog post we shared an example from Wu Yee Children’s Services, an agency that advocates for early childhood education and educators. Below is a reminder of their Belief Message, followed by a Problem Message that points to one of the problems Wu Yee exists to solve.

Belief Message

Wu Yee Children’s Services believes nothing is more essential than excellent child care and education for all our children, right from the start. Every day we partner with parents, as well as countless individuals and organizations across San Francisco, to provide a network that strengthens and connects a diverse, resilient community around our children. Because when we stand up for children, we stand up for one another.

But you know, there’s a problem…

Problem Message

We know children are learning from the moment they’re born, and that ages 0-5 are critical to their educational path. Yet as a society we don’t value the very people vital to these early days. Early childhood educators and caregivers have been grossly undercompensated for years. While training and educational requirements continue to increase, pay and benefits have not. In fact, most early childhood educators with bachelor’s degrees make 50 percent less than elementary school teachers. Couple that with the increased cost of living in San Francisco, and it’s no wonder many move on to other careers or communities. If we want our children to have the best start possible, we have to support teachers and caregivers with livable pay and benefits that reflect their critical value.

This Problem Message begins by saying that despite knowing that the early years of education are vital to a child’s success, we don’t always value their teachers, who are often underpaid caregivers. That’s the problem. The rest of the message explains how those hurdles add up and begins to introduce the need for advocacy for early childhood educators—a place where Wu Yee shines. 

For many nonprofits, boldly claiming that you are the only organization that can solve a problem can feel a little uncomfortable. You’re not a sneaker company, after all. You don’t need or want your peer organizations to fail so that you can succeed. But don’t forget that you are competing for support, especially among organizations that exist within the same cause area. Supporters and partners must understand why you are an important “voice at the table.”

That means that in order to secure the support you need you must emphasize in the most clear language possible, what problems you are focused on solving. Stating the problem shares your subject matter expertise in a way that helps others understand what’s really going on in your sector. And positions you as the trustworthy expert who can solve it.

As Simon says in his TED talk video, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” So in your Problem Messages, tell them. 

The next post in this series introduces the Impact Message and how you can use storytelling to illustrate the impact of your work. Click here to access this four-part blog series.


Sarah R. Moore, our Director of Brand Strategy, joined Mission Minded from a career that has spanned both the private and nonprofit sector.

See all posts by