November 15, 2014

Where does your cause fit in?

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Think of all of the causes with which you are familiar (and with which your organization competes for funding and resources). Where does yours fit in?

In the broadest sense, causes fall into two categories: those in which your audiences are interested emotionally (what inspires us with compassion, what appeals to our hearts) or rationally (what informs us, speaking to our minds).

There are many reasons that motivate your audience’s interest in your cause; it’s rarely one extreme or the other, with many personal nuances in between. We’re informed by what speaks to our minds and thoughts; we’re inspired by what appeals to our hearts.

The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities can be used to position and gain perspective of your organization within the context of other meaningful causes and supporter motivations. It can be a useful reference point for evaluating the mix of inspirational and informative messaging in your design and communication planning.

In general, people support causes, and not institutions. Knowing what your perspective should be, competitively and experientially, is valuable. Your design choices and marketing communication will be more powerful if you understand what your perspective is, and your point of view when you speak.

Practically speaking, you need to position your organization as the voice of the cause, within a crowded and noisy marketplace. You will need to demonstrate content expertise of the cause, and support it with communications about the organization.

Donor Motivations in the Cause QuadrantCause Quadrant National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities Donor Motivations

The top half of the quadrant includes entities that impact people directly: health, human services, public/society benefit, foundations, and education. This is considered the greater good segment of entities.
The lower half of the quadrant includes entities that influence culture and special interests. These include animals; environment; religion; international; and arts, culture and humanities. This is considered the cultural good segment of entities. Horizontally, those that fall on the left appeal primarily to our hearts, and those that fall on the right speak primarily to our minds.


Listen to an audio excerpt explaining the Cause Quadrant:


Your challenge is to stop thinking of your cause and organization like a brand and define your personality in order to create your identity and find your voice. Remember, a cause is not a brand. Yours is a mission-driven organization, advocating on behalf of a meaningful cause, operating with character, values, and a culture that give your audience reason to believe in your cause and support your purpose. Your organization must become the voice for those who have no voice.

Design and communications are what help you demonstrate meaningful, lasting impact. Design makes stories visible. It could be that your story appeals to your supporter’s heart, and how it is presented speaks to their mind.

Whatever your approach, the most meaningful cause can have a powerful voice, if it understands the perspective from which it speaks.


This is an excerpt from Part One, Chapter Six: "You Are Here: The Cause Quadrant," from Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto.

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