In a previous post, I offered an overview of the elements of a nonprofit brand messaging platform, which includes your positioning, personality, key messages, and more. Let’s now take a closer look at key messages (or brand narrative), including a basic definition, how to structure them, and their relationship to your brand positioning.

Key messages: what are they?

In her book, Brandraising (#1 on my list of branding books for nonprofit communicators), Sarah Durham describes key messages as “Central ideas that must be communicated in order to articulate the organization’s positioning.”

Your key messages are what you need to say about your nonprofit organization, encompassing your organization’s story at a brand level. Your key messages should be crafted with all of your priority audiences in mind because nonprofit marketing is about much more than fundraising.

Having key messages as part of your brand messaging platform means you’ll have a framework for what to convey over time. Your communications will be connected and cohesive when you draw from this framework, which should be designed to ensure a well-rounded approach to communicating about your nonprofit organization.

Your key messages are what you need to say about your nonprofit organization, encompassing your organization’s story at a brand level. Click To Tweet

Your nonprofit’s key messages should form your brand narrative

You’ll sometimes hear key messages referred to as proof points, brand pillars or your brand narrative. I use “key messages,” but sometimes swap in the term “narrative” because it is what your key messages should describe:

  • Your nonprofit’s IDENTITY: Messages that describe the core of who your organization is. Identity key messages usually capture the “big idea” from your positioning statement.
  • Your WHY: These are the messages about what your organization stands for, why it exists, and the challenges it addresses.
  • Your HOW: Your “how” key messages articulate, at a very high level, your nonprofit’s approach to providing solutions and addressing challenges.
  • Your organization’s IMPACT: These messages explain the difference your organization has made or seeks to make.

When developed according to this structure, your key messages form an overarching narrative about your organization. Here’s an example suite of key messages I developed for a long-term client, AlphaPlus:

AlphaPlus key messages

LEADERSHIP – We champion the use of technology in adult education to create equity and access to learning, and enhance learning experiences.

SUPPORTING INSTRUCTORS AND ADMINISTRATORS – We help adult literacy educators to integrate technology into teaching, and we help program managers and coordinators to integrate technology into program administration.

GUIDANCE: DIRECT SUPPORT – We provide direct, customized support through tools, training and tailored coaching; building confidence and empowering adult education professionals to develop innovative new approaches.

GUIDANCE: SHARING KNOWLEDGE – We facilitate learning and networking by curating resources, and exchanging knowledge, best practices and hands-on experiences within Ontario’s Literacy & Basic Skills (LBS) sector.

TEAM OF EXPERTS – Our specialized team members have expertise in the use of digital technology in education, as well as experience in and understanding of the adult literacy education field.

BUILDING CAPACITY – When educators and organizations incorporate relevant technology into adult education curriculum and program administration, they can increase relevance, responsiveness and reach.

The relationship between key messages and positioning

When developing brand messaging platforms, I find it helpful to focus on the connection between an organization’s brand positioning and key messages. To show what I mean by this, let’s look at the positioning statement I developed for AlphaPlus.

“AlphaPlus is Ontario’s leader and guide to incorporating digital technology in adult literacy education, building capacity throughout the province.”

When I developed the AlphaPlus messaging platform, I worked back and forth between the positioning statement and key messages (as I always do). I created a positioning statement that distilled the narrative I was crafting, and a set of key messages that served as proof points supporting the positioning. Here’s a look at the connection between the AlphaPlus positioning statement and key messages:

The IDENTITY component of the positioning is captured in the key messages about AlphaPlus’ role as a leader and guide, and the WHY is embedded in messages about creating equity, access to learning, and enhancing learning experiences.

Text of AlphaPlus positioning statement and leadership key message with arrows showing the connection between the two.

HOW AlphaPlus does its work is captured in the key messages about the AlphaPlus team, who they support, and the components of that support, including services and knowledge exchange.

Text of AlphaPlus positioning statement and HOW key messages with arrows showing the connection between the two.

The IMPACT AlphaPlus is making, and seeks to make, is captured in the key message about building capacity.

Text of AlphaPlus positioning statement and capacity building key message with arrows showing the connection between the two.

In an upcoming post, I’ll detail how to use your key messages or brand narrative in communications planning and implementation, building on today’s basic description of key messages and how to structure them. For now, if you need help with developing your nonprofit organization’s messaging platform, check out my brand messaging platform development service and get in touch.

How your nonprofit's key messages form your brand narrative Click To Tweet

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