Nonprofit Marketing: What is your mess, moment or mission?


Most nonprofits STRUGGLE to connect with new donors. They are either trying to survive, feel like they are competing for limited dollars or are so happy they are not in the first two and become complacent.


Few can say they are in THRIVE mode…where energy, and resources and donors are flowing to them. They want to increase their influence to increase their income to increase their impact. But they don’t know how to increase influence. Here’s why:

Nonprofits are born out of three things or a combination of three things. A mess, moment or mission.

Mess: a bad time or period of life like addiction, disease, homelessness.

Moment: a moment that shapes and changes lives like going to camp. Or relieving a difficult moment like finding scholarship money.

Mission: policy, advocacy and changing the larger structure.

Our messages are rooted in those messes, moments and missions. We tell people: Here’s other people’s messes, help them out of it. Help us make moments for others. Help us create across the board change. YOU can help US.

The messages are rooted your organization’s messes, moments and missions. And the messages don’t connect.

The connection stops because it doesn’t speak to your audiences. What if the message was: WE can help YOU.

Your audiences, each individual person, has their own mess, moment and mission. I have mine, you have yours. I tell my story when I do presentations so people understand that what I do is aligned with who I am. Alignment is one of the first steps to creating influence, and I always model what i teach.

My mess is that I was a later in life child. My mom had five kids in six years, just over six years later, here I come. My family nickname was Michelob, because their slogan at the time was “The unexpected pleasure.” Now my family thought this was hilarious but as a kid, I didn’t know how to filter this. I call it the Crime of Existence. I am fundamentally flawed because I was a mistake. My very existence is wrong.

Behold the photo of a note I wrote to my family when I was 8. Look at that case for giving…for giving me pizza when I already was in bed! To be transparent…I never got the pizza! So yes, my FOMO was strong as a kid. Everyone got to eat pizza but me! Everyone got to ride their bikes to Qwik Trip but me!

This informed my childhood in two ways. 1. Because I often felt left out or left behind, I develop a strong sense of empathy. 2. I decided no one would forget me and I demanded A LOT of attention. I became the family comic relief. (It is no accident that I speak and coach nonprofits…I used those two experiences to my advantage.)

Then I had my moment. The day I was sitting in my therapist’s office talking about how someone criticized me. She said, “Maryanne, criticism is the same as praise.” To which I replied, “Well that’s ridiculous because one makes you feel good and other other makes you feel like crap.” And she said, “Praise and criticism are just other people’s opinions of you.”

And that’s when it hit me. All of my clients are overly dependent on praise and terrified of criticism. They want to please everyone so they aren’t saying anything interesting and are getting lost in the clutter.

And thus, my mission, Courageous Communication, was born.


What is your mess, moment and mission? What are the messes, moments and missions of your supporters?

To increase your influence, send messages that resonate with your audiences messes, moments and missions and see if there is alignment. Do we share an affinity for a mess we’ve been through, a moment we shared or a mission we are on? If so, let’s talk. If not, that’s ok.Here’s an example. “Through the years, we have helped countless seniors. Your gift will bring comfort and hope to those who need it.”

That’s lovely. And boring.

Instead, how about connecting through their senior messes, moments and missions. Share your expertise in caring for older folks. Show how much you know and care by using that to help others. Not just ask for money but be of value to them. “How to keep your senior parent active.” “How to know when it is time for assisted living.” “You want to create great memories for the seniors in your life, we do too.”

To attract new people, first be of value to them. Help them solve their own messes, create their moments and realize their missions. Sharing your expertise is the best way to increase your influence. You show what you know and help others. WIN WIN!

If you are ready to move into the THRIVE category, I can teach you how to create those messages that connect, that allow you to increase your influence so you can increase your income because I know you want to increase your impact. This is what the Superstar Fundraising system does: gets you out of your own way, so you can really connect with those people who truly share your mess, moment or mission.

I am here to help you in any way.

My mess: having to go to be while everyone else got pizza! The horror!

My mess: having to go to be while everyone else got pizza! The horror!

Maryanne Dersch