A Nonprofit’s Guide to Problem-Solving: Be More Painkiller, Less Vitamin

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was important for nonprofit leaders to be good stewards of dollars and resources. Now it’s essential. More than ever, nonprofits need to find ways to be more efficient and impactful. Nonprofits can spend less while getting more. One of the ways to do this is to spend fewer resources on messaging that doesn’t resonate with your audience. Here is a nonprofit’s guide to problem-solving.

Focus on what matters.

As we all know, it seems like the news cycle is all doom and gloom. Fear and negativity dominate the discussion and there seems to be no end to our current ordeal insight. During uncertain times, people want solutions and they want to know there are difference makers out there.

Author of the international bestselling book “Sell Like Crazy,” Sabri Suby, recently wrote about how brands can be a ray of sunshine in the current storm. Suby runs Australia’s fastest-growing digital agency. He lays out how nonprofits can actually thrive during times like these.

He said the secret is to understand that, in tough moments, people don’t want candy or vitamins. Rather, they want a painkiller.

Substance over sweets.

Candy, as Suby describes it, are organizations that are nice and that people enjoy, but they have no substance.  They aren’t positioning themselves as a solution to a burning problem. So, while they get support in good times, they’re not seen as essential in more challenging seasons.

And while Vitamin-like organizations are known to have a very positive impact over time, they’re not seen as solving issues of urgent need. Therefore, like Candy organizations, they are not positioned well to grow during economic contractions like the one we’re experiencing now.

Painkillers, on the other hand, are causes that offer immediate solutions to critically important, timely problems.

Be aware of the times.

Suby suggests, when situations are dire, you don’t want to position your organization as anything but a painkiller. Think about it this way, he says: “If you’re feeling crippling pain, your focus goes to finding immediate solutions.” In other words, you might actually be a vitamin type of cause, but you better find someone or something you serve who has an urgent need or you will miss this opportunity to capture attention and support when people likely have more time and empathy than during stronger economic cycles.

Learn from the best.

Charity Water is an organization often admired for its messaging and positioning. One of the reasons they have been so successful is their mission was founded on a painkiller-based platform – the recognition that many diseases being treated in third-world countries were caused by unsafe drinking water. And though they have bold goals of providing clean water for 100 million+ people, now during COVID, they’ve shifted to messaging focused on delivering lifesaving resources to vulnerable communities. Beyond that, they’ve also shifted from just drinking water to the need for clean water for handwashing as well as their ability to provide sanitation and hygiene training.

They’re not the only ones with timely and powerful painkiller communications. I’m seeing performing arts venues encouraging people to buy gift cards to support them as they sit in a moment of great uncertainty as to when people will be able and willing to gather again. I’m working with an organization that provides the Deaf with translations and they’re now shifting their communications to help the Deaf overcome language barriers to meet their basic needs.

Now’s the time a lot of people are feeling pain. A vitamin won’t help. Candy is out of the question. They’re looking for painkillers.

If you would like more content on how to make your nonprofit thrive during tough times, check out this blog post.


Bill McKendry

A veteran marketer, speaker and messaging expert for nonprofit causes, Bill is the founder and chairman of DO MORE GOOD as well as the founder and chief creative officer of HAVEN | a creative hub. Recognized in 1999 when he headed Hanon McKendry as the top professional nationally doing cause marketing work by the American Advertising Federation (AAF) and inducted into AAF’s Hall of Achievement, Bill has cultivated a reputation as an expert in key success principles for nonprofit marketing and communications

March 4, 2021

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