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Your Organization’s Story: What’s the Problem?

Posted by on May 16th, 2016
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Messaging    Tags: , ,

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

If things go well, your Belief Message will be 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 problem. So ask yourself this question:

Why does your organization exist?

And now be more specific. 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.

Take a look at this video from the organization, Girl Effect. It does an excellent job of emphasizing why they exist.


Just like Girl Effect, 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:

Remember Youth Outside? Below is a reminder of their Belief Message, followed by a Problem Message that points to one of the problems Youth Outside exists to solve.

Belief Message

But you know, there’s a problem…

Problem Message

This Problem Message begins by saying that there are too many hurdles keeping youth from the outdoors. That’s the problem. The rest of the message explains what those hurdles might be and begins introducing a way to clear them, setting Youth Outside up as the only or best organization to do so.

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.

That means that in order to secure the support you need you must emphasize in the most clear language possible, what problem you are singularly focused on solving. Stating the problem makes you sound like an expert. And stating the problem 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 will introduce Impact Messages and how you can use storytelling to illustrate the impact of your work.


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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