Nonprofit Communication: Features Versus Benefits

I recently had the pleasure of working with a homeless services nonprofit (not named to protect the innocent).

Their challenge was engaging donors beyond the first gift – and their donor retention rates were in the basement.

During our first meeting, I asked: “Tell me what you do and why your organization matters?”

The Director of Communications looked a bit surprised, as if I didn’t do my homework before the meeting. She then proceeded to rattle off the various legal, healthcare, and career services that are well documented on their website (I did, in fact, do my homework).

Mustering my courage, I replied: “That’s great! But so what?”

This was followed by an awkward moment of silence, which I filled with “I’m not doubting the great work you guys do. But what you’ve told me are the features of your nonprofit. I want to hear the benefits.”

Nonprofit Communication 101: Benefits = Impact

Eventually we arrived at the benefits, the ultimate impact their donors seek: Transforming lives, transforming families, and ultimately transforming the community. They give second chances. They ignite hope in lives that were previously hopeless.

Theodore Levitt said it best:

People don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill. They want to buy a quarter inch hole.


I lease my car, so every three years I get to hear a list of features from the car sales person:

  • Vehicle Stability Management (VSM)
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
  • Traction Control System (TCS)
  • 4-channel Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)
  • Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD)

No wonder they offer me a coffee.

Maybe you have the same challenge? Maybe you assume that donors will naturally be able to translate your list of features into benefits.

It’s obvious to you and so it should be obvious to them. Right? Wrong!

The next time you sit down to rewrite your website copy or annual appeal, ask yourself: “So what?” Keep asking that question until you arrive at the ultimate benefit your nonprofit provides to people.

John Haydon