The Power of the Problem

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

Marketers know all about framing problems.

For example, take a popular commercial from Adobe in which an antiquated encyclopedia publisher suddenly experiences a spike in sales. The publisher increases book production dramatically to meet the perceived demand. At the end of the commercial, we see a baby on a tablet tapping “order” repeatedly on the company’s website.

In this short vignette, Adobe demonstrates the problem of not understanding customer data. The implication is that a business can make serious and costly mistakes without the right analytic software.

Adobe didn’t simply produce an ad with a spokesperson saying, “Our product is great because it helps you understand your customers better.” No one would buy the product.

The short, compelling story in which the problem—not just the solution–is clearly demonstrated makes its pitch more powerful.

Nonprofits, too, need to frame the problem they are solving. Too often we talk about “what” we are going to do before describing “why” it is important.

A clearly articulated problem tells donors why your work is critical, urgent and worthy of support.

How do we harness the power of the problem?

  1. Don’t assume donors understand the problem. A clearly articulated problem statement helps donors see why your solutions (i.e. your programs) are worthwhile.
  2. Get input from everyone in your organization. Your problem statement should take into account social, political or economic realities. Everyone in the organization can contribute to uncovering the nuance of the problem.
  3. Describe what will happen if your nonprofit does nothing. What will it mean for society, your state, or the country if no one addresses the problem?
  4. Tell a story. Marketers rely on stories to sell products. Why? Because they are compelling, people remember them and they inspire action.
  5. Put the problem in the right context based on the size and scope of your nonprofit. If your mission is to feed the homeless in your community, then the problem is not global poverty.

Your success in harnessing the power of the problem, as well as creating and delivering unique solutions, will distinguish your nonprofit from competing organizations.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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