When my daughter was young, I didn’t appreciate the seemingly endless why questions she asked. But today I appreciate the why. It is integral to making an inspiring case for a cause.

Yesterday I watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on How great leaders inspire action. The talk is 18 minutes long and well worth the investment of time. I encourage you to watch it. If you are in a rush, fast forward to the 15 minute mark; that’s where he brings in a nonprofit example.

Sinke’s message, applied to the nonprofit sector, is to make your case with the why, not the what and the how, at the centre. The natural inclination is to make a case for a cause by leading with the what and moving to the how and then to the why. For example, an organization might describe itself as a nonprofit (the what) that raises money to build wells in India (the how) to provide access to clean water (the why).  Sinek suggests that a great leader and organizations turns the narrative on its head and begin with a clear, strong why. A distinction is that the why is rooted in what we believe, not in what  we do, and what we believe motivates our action. He says, “People don’t buy (give to) what you do, they buy (give to) why you do it.”

Using this model (and borrowing from charitywater.org), the example above would sound something like this: We believe that water changes everything. Clean water means health, income and education. The what and the how are the mechanics of the case, not the big idea that people want to be a part of. In this video, charitywater.org does an excellent job of building a why focused case.

When people buy into the why, they are not there for you (or your organization) but for themselves. They are not there because you have a vision, but because they have caught the vision. They don’t donate to satisfy an obligation, but because they believe in what you believe in. 

Thinking of your organization, how would you finish this sentence: We believe_________________. And is that belief at the centre of your case for support, the stories you share, the conversations you have with donors and volunteers?

Febe Galvez-Voth

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2 thoughts on “Why?

  1. I loved this! Its a great reminder when writing. Looking forward to checking out the TED talk.

  2. Lauren, thanks for your feedback. Making the ‘why’ prominent in a fundraising message is key. Bringing the ‘what’ and ‘how’ into submission as secondary characters on the stage takes discipline on the part of the organization/writer. I speak from experience. 🙂

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