The people you serve know what makes you great

publication date: Mar 6, 2012
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas
Fairly often, I run proposition development sessions with clients. We start by sharing examples of those who articulate their message well, understanding what the organization does and what it does better than anyone else (why they're unique), and what the benefits are for their supporters.Jonathon Grapsas photo

Then we turn all of this into some easy to understand, easy to share, "sticky" messaging that draws people in and finds the right trigger to garner their support.

That sounds pretty straightforward. Sometimes it is. Other times it's a little muddier. But we get there in the end.

Recently I facilitated a session where a beneficiary - someone directly affected and helped by this organization - attended. It's also worth noting that in addition to the fundraising folks, we had the CEO come along, which in the right context can help enormously.

Hearing your story from someone you've helped

The elements of the workshop I listed above can be really hard work if we can't crack what is at the heart of what the organization does, and why that's unique, special and better than the mob up the road.

Enter someone who literally knows the ins and outs of said organization. His life has been seriously changed by the work it does. He gets the nuts and bolts of why its work is so critical, and knows all too well what it would be like without it.

That completely changes the dynamic and output from the session. No longer are we hypothesizing about what impact we may have, or second guessing ourselves as to whether we are truly offering someone no-one else is.

Their words better than yours

I know when I was in hospital, I couldn't have possibly made such a quick recovery without X and Y. Talking to other Z survivors enabled me to do A and B. No-one else offers C in a way that allows you to get support from other people who have been through it. That's what makes it so useful and helped me get back on my feet.

For example, three weeks after I was admitted to hospital, I spoke to a lady called Margaret and she had exactly the same problem I had. She walked me though everything I needed to do, and next thing you know, I was up and ready for the next stage of rehab. If program C wasn't done in such a way I'd hate to think where I'd be now.

That's better than -

I think the thing that sets us apart is our programs A, B and C. They offer peer support services through online and face-to-face forums. We're the only organization in the province that runs them like this.

Perhaps we've uncovered the unique aspect of our work in the latter example, but the firsthand account from a service user digs deeper and provides real insights into how peer supports actually help, not how we think they could, in theory, be useful.

Key things to remember
  • Every time you run a new campaign, offer a new way to give or want to change the way you position your work, take time first for some proposition/key messaging work. Without it, you won't stand out from the rest. What's the single most important thing you want to get across?
  • Include a variety of stakeholders in any proposition sessions: fundraisers, CEOs, service workers and service users (beneficiaries). All provide a different view as to why what you do is better than the group up the road.
  • Spend time understanding the fundamental difference between the benefits and features of becoming a supporter. Ask yourself, "So what?" when you come up with what you think may be a benefit. For example the fact that a monthly gift comes directly out of my bank account is not a benefit to me. The real benefit is that it makes it easy, one less thing I have to worry about. The difference is subtle, but very important.
  • A proposition is not a tagline. It's the essence of what you're trying to tell someone. It's a message that may be succinct, but doesn't have to be. It should be as long as it needs to be.

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at Flat Earth Direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon spends his time working with charities around the world focused on digital and direct response campaigning.

If you'd like to chat to Jonathon you can drop him a line, follow him on twitter @jonathongrapsas or check out

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