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Leverage Your Why for Sustainable Support and Growth

04 Sep Leverage Your Why for Sustainable Support and Growth

Simon Sinek popularized the concept of Why: the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us. (Check out his Ted Talk.) We like him because his idea of Why captures much of what we’ve tried to help organizations do over the years. According to Sinek, everybody knows what they do and how they do it, but few know how to articulate why they do it. That’s a shame because your Why is what inspires others to follow.

Sinek uses Apple as an easy-to-understand (though maybe now a bit overused) example of a company that has grown an army of passionate and loyal customers by expertly communicating its Why. After years of aggressive advertising, we know that Apple believes in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. And oh, by the way, they happen to make phones and computers. While other computer manufacturers were touting the literal and unemotional ‘Intel inside’, Apple was forging an emotional bond with like-minded consumers. That kind of loyalty is difficult to build but also hard to break.

It helps that Apple makes cool stuff and spends tons on awareness. But they figured out early on that people are inspired to buy their products over and over again when they form an emotional connection to the company’s values and beliefs. This isn’t just marketing-speak. Science proves that behavior and decision-making are controlled by the part of the brain associated with emotions like trust and loyalty. The rational part of the brain then kicks in to support the decision.

If we asked you why you go to work every day, your answer would probably be something like: To help the homeless. To improve our community’s health. To fight poverty. To educate children. This necessary and important work is what you do, not why you do it. Most organizations limit their communication to the what which minimizes the likelihood that people will connect emotionally to their cause.

Non-profit organizations are especially vulnerable to emotionless positioning and communicating because they often have fewer resources—staff and money—to dedicate to both. But generic and uninspired capital campaign titles and ‘we do this’ tag lines and messaging do little to forge the emotional connections that influence behavior.

It’s true that a tagline can only do so much of the brand positioning work, but as the first look into your organization’s soul, it needs to do more. If other organizations can claim your positioning (we call this the swap test) then it’s time to dig deep, identify the unmet needs of your constituents, and craft a genuine, values-driven story that distinguishes your organization from the multitude of others vying for the attention of the same donors, advocates, students and others.

When we’re getting to know a new client, we ask a few basic but important questions that help us move closer to the core of why an organization does what it does:

1. How do your values inform what you do every day?
2. Who do you care about, and what is their unmet need?
3. What stories can you tell that others can’t?
4. Can your organization pass the positioning swap test?

Identifying and communicating your Why—and the role your values play in determining it—is not necessarily difficult, but it requires intimate knowledge of your organization, honest introspection and, perhaps most important, the courage to lead with it. It also demands skillful story-telling and design—the kind that triggers the part of the brain where emotion lives. When that happens, you’ll begin to see a change in behavior and the kind of Apple-like loyalty that’s hard to beat.

Learn more about discovering your Why at

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