What Does Success Look Like: A Case Study

One of the first questions I ask prospective clients when we're getting into the nitty-gritty of their programs is this:

What does success look like?


In other words, how does the world change if your mission is successful and there is no longer any need for your organization?

People often laugh when I ask it. After all, I'm forcing them to envision their own obsolescence. But it's important for a couple of reasons. One, it's way too easy when doing this work to get lost in the weeds. There is so much complexity to most of the problems we face, and we know intimately the obstacles in our way. The idea of success shrinks as we look for small daily triumphs instead of the big picture.

And second, far too often, we forget to offer ourselves and our donors the hope that we really can solve the problems we face.

A long-term client of mine has been struggling with their acquisition program. The reasons were complex, as prospecting usually is, and we weren't sure what aspect of the program to tackle first. At a meeting this summer, we decided it was time to go back to the beginning. 

I pretended to be completely new to the organization. I conducted short interviews with several key institutional leaders, pored over their most recent speeches and writings, and delved into the concerns of their constituency. Of course, this was all stuff I've done before, that I do every time I sit down to write something for a client, new or old. 

But this time, I forced myself to see it with fresh eyes, asking these key questions: Why does this organization exist, in simplest terms? What problem are we addressing? What does success look like? How are we making that success happen?

After working with this organization for so long, I'd learned too much. I knew too many fascinating details about the ins and outs of their work, the problems they face, the influence they wield, and the successes they've had. Lost in those details was the heart and soul of the organization -- and that heart and soul is the reason people give.

By pretending to be new, I was able to tease out the core of their mission, present that core to a prospective new donor, and show that donor the end game that would be possible with their support. 

The result? A 30% lift in response over the previous control package, with an increase in the average gift of $7.00.

If you are struggling to develop messaging for your organization, try taking a step back. Pretend you don't know all those insider details and ask yourself: What problem are we trying to solve? How are we solving it?

And the final, perhaps most important, question: What will success look like?