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What I Value in My Work
by Gordon Talley

I believe that a nonprofit institution works best when its community of employees, clients, and donors share a strong commitment to mission. Articulating that sense of purpose and finding ways to achieve buy-in is my essential task. In the last analysis, communication vehicles such as magazines, newsletters, annual appeals, and case statements—as well as press releases, press conferences, videos, and special events—are motivational tools.

A good example is the campaign case statement. In the old days, this served to define the needs of the institution and set forth how the money would be spent. Today, that seems pedantic and unpersuasive. We still need to do these things, but they aren't enough.

I prefer to think of the task of a case statement as being to identify the mission or vision that will be advanced through the fund-raising campaign and then to reduce that to one or two simple and direct metaphors that are both easy to grasp and evocative. That is, we must reveal the emotional reason to believe—and to act.

Discovering these emotional truths requires subtle questioning and listening. As a curator I interviewed told me, "You'd make a good shrink." Searching for the reasons to give to a nonprofit is a process of developing trust and asking the sorts of questions that let creativity come out. The result is a brochure that the people interviewed feel they participated in and that expresses what they value most about their institution.

This implies that the selection of whom to interview is an essential step toward success. I often suggest that the process of developing a case statement include a "white paper" to be circulated among trustees and major prospects. This work then becomes the basis for a full case statement, although the white paper may be all that's needed as the institution solicits its nucleus fund. The act of being interviewed, reviewing the draft(s), and helping decide what is important helps secure participation, involvement, and commitment to the cause.

Which brings me to my final point. Process is far more important than product. I see my contribution to institutions as not only writing but also helping create a structure and system that can continue to motivate. Effective communication is much more a way of planning how to involve people in your story than simply telling them information.

R. Gordon Talley
25 Magazine Street
Cambridge, MA 02139-3960


All information on this site Copyright 2006 R. Gordon Talley unless otherwise noted.