The buzzword blazing through marketers’ social media right now is messaging. Whether you are in the for-profit or nonprofit sector, everyone is talking about the message and why it’s essential, from fund development to overall visibility. 

In the fund development world, messaging is your nonprofit’s pitch to funders. Its purpose is to provide a strong case for support to encourage partnership or investment. It’s your organization’s origin story, mission, and ideally, aspirational obituary

Messaging is a critical aspect of fund development. I am constantly reminding my clients that they will not win grants by pulling on the funder’s heartstrings alone: it takes a vision that can be articulated and activated. We have gotten so used to writing emotional stories and poverty-stricken narratives to try and get funders to support us. No more, friends. Remember: poverty porn does not raise more money– and it perpetuates the harmful structures that your organization is likely trying to dismantle. As responsible fundraisers/organizations/leaders/consultants,  we must create strong, clear messaging through asset framing. 

Here are the common mistakes I see communication professionals make when creating messaging and storytelling on behalf of their nonprofit organization: 

Mistake #1: Their vision for change is underdeveloped, unclear, or nonexistent.

It is CRI-TI-CAL to have an understandable vision. How we position our words makes a difference in building the confidence in front of potential and existing funders. The most successful messaging is specific and clear. When creating your case for funding, paint a clear picture of who you are, whom you serve, and what you plan to do to alleviate barriers. 

Mistake #2: They use industry-specific language or jargon in grant proposals.  

Imagine you are a grant reviewer: you do not have time to sift through the fluff. When I first got started in grants, I used a lot of jargon specific to the industry that the average grant reviewer would not understand. I quickly realized that I’m writing for my audience, not for me, when it comes to writing for funding.

Make clear points quickly. We all have an internal bias that influences how we perceive things and, thus, how we communicate. So, it’s essential to adjust your lens to your audience. In grant writing, we have two audiences: the client and the funder. Let’s explore.

#1. Be client-centric: Are you using people-first language? Are you using experience/perspective-first language? Tell the story in a way that tells funders what your clients encounter that is not disempowering to those that your organization seeks to serve.

#2. Be funder-aware: If the funders are generalists, is there ease of readability in your proposal? Can you articulate impact  that mirrors what they want to invest in? 

The words you write have more impact than you can imagine. As we all do our part to advance equitable philanthropy, we must be mindful of what we produce, our motives, and how they will impact our clients, communities, and partners. 


Obituary: For the purpose of this blog, an obituary is your nonprofit’s “purpose piece” – it’s your written vision of what your organization hopes to accomplish, even long after you’re gone. 

Poverty Porn: The exploitation of historically underserved, underrepresented, and minority groups through written communications and visual media with the goal of raising money. 

Client-Centric: An asset-based lens in which we place clients as the heroes and center of their own stories. We speak to and leverage their unique value in creating change. Consider, how will the subject of this messaging feel when they read this about themselves? If it feels harmful, take a step back and pivot your messaging. 

People First Language: Writing with the acknowledgment of the person first before the challenge or barrier they face. 

Experience/perspective-first language: Similar to people-first language, experience-first, or perspective-first language is a way to center the human. A person’s identity does not equate to their lived  experience. Consider the term homeless person. An experience-first term that can replace homeless person is person experiencing homelessness. 

Generalists: For the purpose of this blog, a generalist is a non-niched donor or reviewer who has a basic level of understanding of and supportive stance for various causes. 

Sheleia Phillips, MPH, CHES is the Founder and Principal Consultant of SMP Nonprofit Consulting. A servant leader, Sheleia has dedicated herself to the growth and development of nonprofits for the past five years. As a Grant Writer and Fund Development Consultant, Sheleia has secured over $3 million dollars in grant revenue for youth development, education, and health programs. Read more about Sheleia here


Published On: May 12, 2022|Categories: Creating Relevant and Engaging Messaging, Storytelling|