January 8, 2016

Three Reasons Why Nonprofits Need Purpose

Natalya Sverjensky • Guest Blogger

Technology has transformed what it means to create, scale and sustain a cause. Building a movement used to take decades. Now, with the right digital tools, it can happen within weeks.

But in my work as a partner at Within People, we’ve found that technology needs certain conditions to deliver impact. At Within we help people find purpose and grow. We believe digital engagement is a much more effective tool for change if the organization using it is fit for purpose – from the inside out.

Here are three ways having a clear purpose can help position your organization to create lasting change – unlocking the opportunity to engage your audiences in ways that are authentic to what you stand for.

1. Purpose helps build a culture that lasts

If you’re the founder of a nonprofit, or you work for one, you’ll know what founders care about most: making an impact. It’s this deep personal commitment that gets a mission-driven organization off the ground, often with scarce resources. Yet over time, ‘purpose drift’ can and does happen. This leads to a cultural disconnect within the organization.

We see this disconnect manifest in struggles to hire or retain the right people. We see it even more when the leadership can’t find focus – reacting to donor influence instead of uniting stakeholders around a common intent. The old saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ endures for a reason.

Purpose gives staff a powerful reason to believe in what they do every day. For the new generation of Millennials, having a sense of purpose they can believe in is even more important than what they get paid to show up. When you build a culture united by a clear purpose, it creates the foundations needed to form authentic connections with the audiences you want to reach.

2. Purpose helps build your brand

Many nonprofits struggle to build lasting momentum around their cause. In particular, moving beyond engaging ‘the usual suspects’ is the dream. And more often than not, we find storytelling is part of the problem.

For organizations working on deeply complex issues like climate change or inequality, it can be tempting to lead with the facts to raise awareness of the problem. Technical jargon, lengthy explanations and proof points about your organization only make it harder to spark interest. All the social media in the world won’t make that story one that people will choose to tune into in our increasingly noisy world.

When you tell a story anchored in your purpose, you invite a wider audience into your cause. That’s because purpose is grounded in the impact your organization seeks to make. Articulating purpose creates an emotional connection to your stakeholders – helping you shift the story you’re telling from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and inspire action.

3. Purpose helps establish clear engagement objectives

Have you ever claimed your audience for communications is ‘everyone’? If so, rest assured you’re not the only guilty one. Mission-driven organizations that tackle tough challenges appreciate the need for systemic change. But striving to communicate to everyone within the ecosystem of your cause is a recipe for inactivity.

Purpose gives your organization a clear role in creating an impact. This anchor helps make decisions around who to engage, what to engage them on, and why. Further down the line, having that clarity on engagement objectives is essential to building the right digital experience for your organization.

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