so what

The question you are probably asking yourself, or at least should be asking yourself is:

Why do people donate time, money and other resources to my organization?

Most times when we meet with organizations, they describe their programs:

  • “We provide training around diversity and inclusion.”

  • “We accelerate the success of members, partners and stakeholders and amplify their impact through the power of coworking, community and collaboration.”

  • “We promote equity in high-tech career choices through workshops and mentorship.”

  • “We support low income families by providing a box full of essentials for the baby’s first year of life.”

  • “We promote annual arts events in rural communities.

We've all been taught to hone our elevator pitch. But it's not the "what" but the "so what" that motivates people to give.

I want you to try something. A little exercise. Next time you talk to someone about your organization, ask them to respond with "so what". And then again, "so what".

Keep asking "so what" until you get to the impact, the heart of the change you wish to create in the world.

That is the story you need to be telling. How your nonprofit is changing the world. Your "so what".

This is a chronic challenge in the non-profit sector, one that plagues organizations big and small, but usually disproportionately the small ones who have fewer resources.

After all, who has the time and space to think about these things? We know it in our blood. We live it day-to-day. We just get it. Shouldn’t everybody else?

But, you absolutely need to learn to articulate the “so what” of your organization if you want to engage more support and raise more money.

So how do you do that?

Tell them about the impact happening BECAUSE of your organization’s work. The outcomes!

In plain language, ‘outcomes’ are the benefits resulting from your organization’s efforts – they could be changes in knowledge, attitude, values, skills, behaviour, status or condition.

How do you articulate your impact? Here are some examples of words that are clues to talking about the "so what" as opposed to the "what":

Alleviated, augmented, decreased, diminished, eliminated, enlarged, expanded, extended, improved, increased, lessened, lowered, prevented, shortened, shrunk, reduced, raised, increased, decreased, incorporated, integrated, prevented, repaired, maintained, influenced, optimized, enhanced, achieved, more reliable, easier, better, cheaper, faster.

What do outcomes sound like? Here are some examples:

Freed up resources for improved front-line care; Created a more level playing field; Increased the capability and sustainability of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); Created breakthroughs; Enabled a competitive advantage; Enhance Canada’s brand recognition as an innovative business leader on the world stage; Enabled diversity and inclusion in our city’s culture and heritage offerings; Minimized climate change risks; Ensured safer sleeping environments for newborns; Increased workforce participation of new mothers from low-income communities; Integrated community partners’ efforts resulting in cost-savings; Decreased homelessness; Alleviated citizen fears of violence and increased a sense of safety and belonging; Improved literacy levels; Ensured transition to permanent work.

You can go ahead and give it a try!

Tania Arruda is a specialist in strategy, outcomes-based planning and policy, stakeholder mapping and progress reporting in the public and nonprofit/charitable sector. She has 25 years of experience helping organizations meet funder, stakeholder and client expectations, and maximize their results.

You can find out more about her at, and email her at so you can get information on her upcoming workshops.

Tania is our monthly masterclass guest for November 14, 2017 at 1pm. Sign up here.

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