Developing Key Messages for Specific Target Audiences

Key Messages: Part 3, Laying the Foundation of a Rock-Solid Marketing Strategy

You wouldn’t talk to your BFF the way you talk to your accountant. So, don’t talk to your donors the way you talk to your clients, partners, or other important audiences.

In order to succeed at nonprofit marketing, you need to be able to grab your audience’s attention and engage them in a way that inspires action. If you can’t do that, they’ll leave the conversation early and you’ll end up leaving money on the table.

You’re marketing strategy is only as strong as your ability to engage with each audience you connect with.

beard beverages break cafe
Photo by on

That’s why the foundation of every rock-solid marketing strategy begins with your messaging framework.

[ctt template=”3″ link=”b5Q3N” via=”yes” ]In order to succeed at nonprofit marketing, you need to be able to grab your audience’s attention and engage them in a way that inspires action. If you can’t do that, they’ll leave the conversation early and you’ll end up leaving money on the table.[/ctt]

This article is the last in our 3-part series on how to develop a messaging framework.


A messaging framework is an internal document that guides and influences all your communications efforts. It serves as a reference point for all interactions with each of your target audiences (or key stakeholders) – including your donors, institutional funders, clients, volunteers, employees, partners, etc.

It’s a hierarchical system of fine-tuned messages that might look something like this:

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 11.14.55 AMIn Part I of this series we walked through the process of developing your positioning statement.


Your positioning is the cornerstone of your messaging framework. Like an “elevator” statement, it declares who you are, what you do, who you do it for and how you do it differently or better than the competition.


In Part II of this series, we defined core messages as organization-centric statements that answer WHY people should care, HOW you do what you say you do, and WHAT kind of impact you’re making.

Once you’ve established your positioning statement and core messages, you’re ready to develop key messages for your specific target audiences –  or what we’ll refer to from here out as key messages.


Your key messages are the foundation for change. They inspire action, whether you want to change a behavior, build relationships, raise awareness, increase funding, change public policy, and so on.

Your marketing, donor relations, and fundraising efforts are only as strong as your ability to communicate with your key audiences. And different audiences care about different things.

[ctt template=”3″ link=”V1u7W” via=”yes” ]If you can’t communicate messages that resonate with your audiences, you’re better off not talking at all. [/ctt]


There is a method to the madness when it comes to developing your key messages.

Here’s my 5-step guide to crafting messages that engage audiences and inspire action:

STEP 1: Identify and categorize your key audiences. Who matters to your organization? Surely your donors, clients/beneficiaries, partners, volunteers and employees are important. Who else? Institutional or organizational funders? Government stakeholders? Activists? Note: Once you break your audiences down into stakeholder groups, you can segment them even further if you wish (think monthly donors, individual donors, major donors, etc.) 

STEP 2: Understand your audiences. You’ve got to know what matters to your audiences in order to craft messages they’ll care about. The best way to do this by developing personas for each audience category. Audience personas are fictional representations of your ideal audiences. They help you understand your audiences better so you can tailor your content to their specific needs, desires, and concerns.

Begin by uncovering the basic demographic information of each group, but don’t stop there. Here are 6 questions I like to get to the bottom of when I’m developing audience personas:

  1. How does this specific audience view themselves? (Does Debbie Donor see herself as socially conscious? A good steward of the environment? A philanthropist? Does she consider herself to be well-educated?)
  2. What matters to them? What motivates them? What makes them feel good about themselves? (Does Debbie Donor want her friends and family to be inspired by her philanthropic activities. Does she want to be part of something bigger than herself. Does she like knowing she’s made an impact.)
  3. What do you want them to do? (Give, advocate, share a donor testimony?)
  4. Why should they do it? (What’s in it for them? Refer to answers from question 2.)
  5. How do they currently perceive you? (Too small to make a difference. Or conversely, too big and overfunded? A one-program organization? Small but scrappy? Impersonal?)
  6. How do you want to be perceived?

Call your audiences what you want, break them down how you will. The important thing here is that you understand what’s really important to each so you can craft messages that resonate specifically with them.

STEP 3: Know your SWOT’s: Conduct a SWOT analysis to assess your organizations strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. If you’ve developed your core messages (see Part II) you’ve probably already done this. It’s important to outline your SWOT’s again here because there may be strengths and opportunities you want to play up for certain audiences. Conversely, there may be weaknesses and threats you’ll need to address at times.

STEP 4: Develop your key messages. Now that you have a clear understanding of each audience’s needs, concerns and perceptions, you can begin drafting key messages that will resonate directly with them.

I recommend supporting these messages with proof points (i.e. facts and stats) as well as examples or anecdotes in the form of client testimonies, case studies, etc.

Here’s a format I frequently use:Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 5.32.06 AM.pngSTEP 5: Test your key messages against the 4 essential messaging principles outlined in  Part II of this series:

  1. Relevance: Are they relevant to your key audiences? Do they intersect with their interests?
  2. Simplicity: Are they simply stated and easy to understand? Is it easy to repeat? (Ditch the jargon and acronyms, please.)
  3. Memorable: Are they compelling statements that leave an impression? Are they easy to recall?
  4. Compelling: Are they strong, meaningful statements designed to inspire action?

Once you’ve crafted your key messages, you’re messaging framework is essentially complete, for now. Put it on a shared drive, walk your staff members through it and encourage them to refer to it when engaging with stakeholders.

Photo by on

Be disciplined and rigorous with your messaging. Use your key messages consistently with each audience.

You will get tired of hearing them, but that’s ok. Your audiences need to hear them repeatedly before they associate them with your organization. You’ll know your messaging strategy is working when you begin to hear your messages repeated by your audiences.

Finally, don’t forget, as your organization grows and evolves your messaging framework will need refining too. Consider it a living document that requires frequent updating.

Still with me? Make my day by giving this article a share on Twitter. [ctt template=”3″ link=”b6YMW” via=”no” ]Check out these 5 steps to crafting key messages that inspire key audiences to act.[/ctt]

Need help creating your messaging framework? We’ve got a one-day workshop for that. For more details, ping us here.

Do you have a process for developing key messages? Have any suggestions? I’d love to hear them. Go ahead, share them in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Developing Key Messages for Specific Target Audiences

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close