The question your messaging begins with will likely determine the results.

Years ago, author Simon Sinek released a leadership book titled Start With Why. His hope was to help people encourage others to do things that inspire them — and maybe even change the world. Sinek originally covered this topic in a TED Conference presentation, which has been viewed by more than 1 million people on YouTube.

In his talk, Sinek explains how this concept applies to organizations as well as individual leaders. He points out that successful organizations and leaders motivate their staff and supporters around the concept of “why” — a single purpose, cause or belief that serves as a unifying, driving and inspiring force.

Less effective organizations, from his observations, lead their organizations focused on either the “how” (actions) or, worse, the “what” (results).

In short, Sinek’s message is if you start with “why (emotional, purpose-driven values and beliefs), people will notice there’s something special about your organization. And anyone connected to it will enjoy disproportionate satisfaction and success.

So “why” do product-makers often connect with emotion more successfully than do nonprofits?

I know this answer is a little like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” routine, but the answer is in the “why.” Companies like Nike, Apple and Harley Davidson have built a loyal following because what drives them has little to do with the “how” or the “what.” Rather, these brands create a kinship and confidence in their offerings that’s simply unduplicated by their competitors.

For example, Nike’s “why” is built around its deep love of sports. Apple’s “why” is built around its desire to challenge the status quo. And Harley’s “why” is about being independent in a world of conformity.

Sadly, as I sit here writing this entry, I’m hard-pressed to think of a nonprofit that connects emotionally as well as these brands.I can cite many reasons for this (money, frequency, research, talent, etc.); but in reality, product makers usually need to “manufacture” an emotional connection. Nonprofits, on the other hand, have an emotional “why” that’s inherent and real. And that’s what makes such shortcomings so hard to accept.

Finding your “why.”

How can your organization’s messaging be framed to better connect emotionally with staff, volunteers and supporters?

Here are five ways to find your “why”

  1. Explore with key stakeholders in your organization why your organization does what it does.
  2. Find a way to express this in simple, emotional terms.
  3. Test a few statements with your supporters and staff and find the one that is the most compelling and motivating.
  4. Ensure that every leader and staff member, even volunteers, personalizes your “why” statement in terms of experiences they can own.
  5. Create a culture built around your “why.”

So what’s your organization’s “why”? Can you honestly say it’s more emotive than Apple’s and Harley’s? If not, keep pushing until it is … because I’m sure it’s there if you’re willing to work to find it.