Civic Champs sits at the intersection of startups and nonprofits. As a startup, we have had the privilege of participating in world-class accelerator programs like Techstars and MassChallenge. These programs taught us many of the concepts and building-blocks critical to launching and sustaining a successful technology startup company. On the nonprofit side, we have learned from our customers the challenges nonprofits face. Many of these challenges are very similar to those we face as a tech startup. Both startups and nonprofits rely on investors and fundraising to get off of the ground floor, aim to provide a solution to a problem, and have to use marketing strategies to raise brand awareness and encourage their audience to buy into their mission.

A business selling quick-release dog collars and a non-profit animal shelter share the goal of keeping dogs safe and the need to find ways to appeal to dog lovers so their work may continue. Since many of the goals and needs are the same, I want to share the concepts and strategies entrepreneurs implement in startups and translate that to the world of nonprofits as a new series of blog posts. My hope is these posts can serve as thought-starters for nonprofit leaders and I welcome any advice or guidance on what I might be missing or have gotten wrong.

Today I want to cover the topic of language-market fit. As Matt Lerner wrote for the Venture Capital firm First Round Capital, finding language-market fit can lead a 5-10x increase in your conversion rate of prospects as they feel like you have "read their mind." For nonprofits, this could mean a 5-10x increase in donor and volunteer conversion.

What is language-market fit?

Language-market fit is a strategy that involves tailoring your language to address the specific needs and pain points of your target audience.

Instead of just listing features of a product, for example, which will likely include some descriptions that the target market may be unfamiliar with, language-market fit means a company will use clear language that resonates with their audience to articulate how their solution solves a specific problem their customer is facing.

Organizations that are looking for a content writing service are likely doing so because creating their own content is challenging or time-consuming. Seeing advertisements for content writing companies that mention phrases like “publish more SEO rich content and double your traffic” or “get great writers to create publishable content in as little as one business day” will be attractive to these businesses because they are promising a solution to a problem.

Every product and service that a business offers to consumers is meant to meet a specific need. Language-market fit is all about making sure businesses lead with how their products and services fulfill these needs while ensuring that the language you are using resonates with your target audience. 

Ultimately, this strategy gets customers to look at a product or service and think “This is exactly what I need!”

Language-market fit and nonprofit organizations

Language-market fit isn’t just beneficial for startups and other for profit organizations. It’s also a great way for nonprofit organizations to clarify their brand, their mission, and connect more deeply with volunteers and donors.

Understanding the underlying motivations for why someone would want to volunteer with your nonprofit or donate to your organization is crucial for building and growing a thriving volunteer or donor program.

Maybe people want to volunteer with your organization because they have a personal connection to your cause and are interested in furthering your mission. Maybe they are mainly interested in making new friends and building a sense of community. Maybe they are interested in learning new skills that they will be able to use outside of a volunteer context.

Being attuned to each of these motivations is critical so you can adjust your messaging and fit your language to the subtleties of your target market. 

A person who is volunteering as a form of community building will be especially attuned to opportunities to work in teams, team bonding, and team-building activities that your organization offers. That is a source of value your nonprofit is providing to volunteers. In this case your nonprofit is providing a solution to a lack of community, the framework of language market fit encourages you to make that clear in your messaging. 

On the other hand, someone who wants to volunteer because they are passionate about your cause and want to make a difference will be especially eager to hear impact statistics and stories that illustrate how their individual donation or volunteering makes a difference. Some volunteers may be interested in both, but it’s important to first identify the key reasons why volunteers show up to put in time with your organization. Then you can tailor your messaging to encapsulate that reasoning. 

Once you identify why your volunteers are choosing to serve with your organization or why your donors want to donate to your organization, you will be able to use language that will appeal to them when crafting your event sign-ups, marketing materials, and other resources.

Tip: It is much easier to message to a specific target audience than to the general public. Pick which audience is most important to you and tailor your messaging for their key initial audience first.

Getting started

To use language-market fit to show your volunteers and donors that your nonprofit organization can meet their needs, there are a few steps you should take:

Ask questions

Don’t just assume the motivations of your donors and your volunteers. Ask!

Send a survey to your donors asking why they chose your organization, why they feel passionately about your cause, and when they feel most inspired by your mission. Set up a time to ask your volunteers why they decided to work with your nonprofit. Focus on listening to the exact language and words they use those insights to shape your messaging. Also make sure to ask for clarifications for anything that sounds vague or general (e.g., "What does 'social' mean to you in this context?").

This will help you find the needs that your organization was able to meet.

Draft your marketing materials

Once you know the reasons why people send donations to your nonprofit or choose to volunteer with your organization, you can start drafting copy that will resonate with those reasons. Identify patterns from your interviews: what were commonalities across answers; do certain words, ideas, or phrases emerge? What were the demographics of folks you spoke with and how does that information correlate with their answers? Draft some amended messaging for your nonprofit based on these answers. 

Put your language to the test

Talk with donors and volunteers to test for comprehension and see whether or not your language is effective. Gauge understanding by quickly showing someone (give them only 5 seconds) your new headline and see if they remembered what it said and what they think the headline means. Then you can use A/B testing if you need to select the best new headline out of a set of finalists.

Testing Civic Champs' tagline

At Civic Champs, we know the value of language-market fit. That’s why we’re asking you to let us know what you think about our current taglines. Drop a comment below to let us know your thoughts!

Learn more about how Civic Champs can help your nonprofit organize your volunteers when you visit our website.