I work with a lot of coalitions and the focus is usually on how they can get more people involved and paying attention to them. Every coalition could use more members, more supporters, more people attending meetings, and more people participating. The big question they always ask is, “How?”

My answer is always the same – START WITH WHY! Our natural instinct when communicating is to tell people WHAT we are doing or HOW we do it.

Is your coalition focused on reducing harm from alcohol or other dangerous drugs in our community? Or is it making sure access to education is equitable for all kids in our community? Some coalitions are centered around advocating for stable housing. These are all examples of WHAT coalitions are doing. People will appreciate the your organization is providing this community support, but if you want their help, you’ll need to get them to understand WHY.

Coalitions also spend a lot of energy and resources communicating HOW they do what they do. Does your coalition use evidence based strategies to come up with solutions? That’s not only an example of HOW your coalition accomplishes its mission, but it’s also a little too technical for the average community member to understand. Maybe you specifically talk about what your coalition does, like running a food donation and distribution center to fight food insecurity. While it is a little more accessible to the everyday person, it still only describes HOW you do what you do without explaining WHY it’s important that it gets done.

For people like me who are already engaged members of a community coalition, the WHAT and the HOW seem extremely interesting, but this is not the most impactful way to get stakeholders engaged. WHAT and HOW work for us because we already know the WHY. That’s why we’re involved in the first place.

Simon Sinek is considered the champion of communicating your WHY. In 2009, Simon presented; “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” for Ted Talks. His video has over one million views on YouTube and is the third most watched Ted Talk of all time. Later that year he wrote the best selling book “Start With Why”. You can find the video below and, in just fifteen minutes, it can change the way you communicate with your stakeholders forever.

Now that you have watched the video and you are a communications expert. You can turn your WHAT into WHY. Instead of saying, “We are reducing harm to minors from alcohol and other dangerous drugs,” you can say, “We are improving the lives of children.” Instead of making sure access to education is equitable for all kids, your WHY could be, “Every child has the right to a good education and equal opportunity.” If you cannot write down WHY your organization is important in one sentence, you are probably not connecting with your community as well as you’d like.

Hopefully, this post has helped you understand WHY people should care about your organization and how to communicate that message to your stakeholders.

Action Steps

1. Review your coalition’s website, newsletter, social media and printed materials, and identify WHAT, HOW & WHY.
2. Be able to describe in a couple sentences WHY your organization is important
3. Next time you are preparing an email or flyer, think about WHY!

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