Mind Your M&Ms: Five Steps for Successful Non-Profit Communication

By Tony Connor, Director of Product Marketing, PIR

This article is part 2 of an 8-part series called “Bootcamp for Mission-Driven Organizations”.

Like the famous chocolate candy that melts in your mouth but not in your hands, your non-profit’s M&Ms—mission and messaging—must have staying power in order to help you raise awareness and funds for your cause. We know, almost instinctively, the M&Ms for certain non-profits. Habitat for Humanity helps build homes. The American Red Cross is where we can donate blood and support disaster relief. And Color of Change fights for racial justice. But why do we know these things? 

What are these organizations doing right to capture the public’s hearts, minds, and attention spans? As discussed in our previous post, honing a clear mission statement and creating engaging messaging to support it is the first step. This can be challenging, but at its core, effective communications about your M&Ms can help promote your organization’s unique offering. According to the Forbes Non-Profit Council, “All nonprofit organizations start out with a pledge to make a difference in their communities and spread awareness for their mission. It’s essential to highlight that point of differentiation for your target audience.” 

Once you’ve created and honed your mission and messaging, it’s time to tell the world about them. For that, we offer five steps to best communicate your M&Ms:

  1. Have a delectable strategy:
    A solid communications plan is an essential ingredient in promoting your M&Ms. Typically, communications plans comprise your objectives, target audiences, mission and messaging, methods, and metrics to evaluate your success. If your organization has a communications team or can hire one, you can ask them to draft a plan for your review. Check out online resources specifically for non-profits, such as
    this article by NCVO Know How (www.ncvo.org.uk) and this piece by Compass (www.thecompassforsbc.org) to help you get started.
  2. Be difficult to resist:
    Once your plan is in place, create communications so persuasive your audience is compelled to consume them. Start with the elements of a good story. Captivate your audience with an attention-getting opener, like this example statistic from
    www.dosomething.org: “More than half of bullying situations (57%) stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied.” Follow it up with a solution, like this one: “Our anti-bullying education programs bring kids together to learn effective intervention techniques.” And close with a call to action, such as: “To help more students make a positive difference inside and outside the classroom, please donate here.” Remember to make donating easy with a donate button or quick link to donate on every communication.
  3. Deliver some nutrition:
    What is the “why” behind the “what” of your M&Ms? For non-profits, the why is often the effect of your work. A great way to demonstrate your why is to highlight one person (or community, or animal habitat, etc.). This principle is at work when political candidates talk about “
    Joe the Plumber” or shelters show cute pictures of a dog and tell you his favorite food. Studies show people are more likely to connect and respond to personal stories. According to this article on www.npr.org, “Solid information in any form is good. But that’s not necessarily enough. A vivid, emotional story can give that extra push to make it feel more real or more important.“
  4. Serving size is important:
    There can be too much of a good thing. There can also be too little. According to the “
    Rule of Seven,” audiences need to hear the same message seven times before they will take action. While experts may disagree on frequency, varying from 3 to 20 times before communications sink in, research indicates that people will show a preference for an idea, message or movement simply because it feels familiar. This is called the mere-exposure effect, and studies of it reveal that up to 20 exposures is optimal; more than that can actually make your audience no longer hungry for your M&Ms.
  5. Have (well-aligned) refills on hand:
    Lastly, it’s important to replenish your supply of succinct bites of information through various communications channels. If you’ve created an
    effective messaging document, you should have plenty of creative, cohesive language to serve up in emails, newsletters, texts, phone calls, and on social media. To learn more about how to leverage different mediums, click here

The best part about having M&Ms is sharing them. We hope this article has given you a good start on how to share your organization’s mission and message and savor the sweet success of raising funds and awareness!


Hemingway is rumored to have told a complete story in only six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Incredible narratives don’t require a lot of verbiage—you can tell your organization’s story impactfully and without filler. Learning to write incisive yet inspiring copy will make your pen mightier when it comes to fighting for your cause. Here are some great resources for non-profit copywriting, grant writing, and social media writing.

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