The Why and How of the Nonprofit Fact Sheet
When I first started at my nonprofit, we had few marketing materials and little money to develop them. Coming from a marketing and legislative relations background, I knew I could solve this problem in the short term with a few well-crafted fact sheets. In this post, we'll review:
- What purposes fact sheets serve;
- Why they are especially important for smaller nonprofits;
- The basic types of fact sheets; and
- How to create a nonprofit fact sheet.
what is a nonprofit fact sheet?
Fact sheets are essential, inexpensive, nonprofit marketing tools that provide a short, concise, typically one-page, educational summary of relevant information. They usually fulfill one or more the following purposes:
- Identifying your organization with a particular issue;
- Communicating key facts related to your organization;
- Providing answers to commonly-asked questions (often using a Q&A format);
- Setting out information using graphics or charts;
- Informing, persuading, educating (e.g., about a legislative proposal or budget request); and
- Making an argument for a particular course of action.
why are fact sheets especially important for smaller nonprofits?
Fact sheets are important for smaller nonprofits for several reasons:
- They’re a practical way of introducing your organization and/or your issues to potential collaborators, board members, volunteers, and donors. Telling people about your nonprofit or your advocacy issue is important, but the fact sheet allows them to have something tangible to refer to after the conversation ends. This is particularly important when you need the recipient of this information to take concrete action.
- They don’t require a lot of design expertise, specialized printing or expense. Rather, you can simply print them out on letterhead in black and white as you need them. You can also easily send them by email or post them on your website or via social media.
- They’re typically simple, short (one-page) and effortless to read making it more likely that your intended audience will review them. At least one commentator has suggested that “If you’re finding it impossible to get your fact sheet to one page, chances are good that you need another fact sheet to tackle a portion of the information.” (Fujita & Miura Public Relations, Inc. “5 Reasons to Have a Fact Sheet.” (Available at: http://www.fmpr.net/five-reasons-to-have-a-fact-sheet/#more-1761).
- They are to-the-point. They make you refine your argument to its essence and they provide direction to the reader who wants to dig deeper.
- Because they tend to answer the questions that people ask again and again, they save time. That’s critical for a small nonprofit!
- They also reinforce your key marketing message(s).
types of nonprofit fact sheets
Fact sheets come in several varieties, including the following:
- Organizational Background
- How To (e.g., how to become a member, how to make a donation)
- Statistical (e.g., local statistics related to the challenge of food insecurity)
- Advocacy (e.g., describing a new bill addressing a social issue important to your constituents and inviting them to call their representatives to take action)
- Position Statement (e.g., an outline of an issue and where your organization comes down it).
how to create a nonprofit fact sheet
Content and formatting are key to the design of a good fact sheet. Let's look at these considerations.
In terms of content, a good fact sheet will provide:
- Basic definition(s);
- Your most compelling and useful statistics;
- Basic information that leads the reader to a conclusion in terms that work best for the audience of which he or she is a member;
- A call to action, where appropriate; and
- The name and contact information of the group responsible and its go-to staff person.
One of the most common types of fact sheets is one that provides background on your organization. It should include the following:
- Logo and tagline (If you are unfamiliar with the concept of “taglines,” I discuss them briefly in this post).
- Mission statement (From your strategic plan. See this post for how to develop an organizational mission statement).
- Vision statement (From your strategic plan. See this post for how to develop a vision statement).
- Needs statement: This is a few sentences or bullets explaining the issues and what you are doing, i.e., your strategies, to address them. A shorthand way of referring to this in your fact sheet is “rationale.” (See this post for how to develop a needs statement).
- Unique selling proposition: This is a few sentences or bullets explaining what makes your approach, i.e., your strategies and solutions for addressing the issues, unique. A shorthand way of referring to this in a fact sheet might be “approach” or, if you have results, “results.” (See this post for how to develop a unique selling proposition).
- Annual budget (Your annual operating budget).
- Legal status: Include a statement on your status like “ABC Nonprofit is a Texas nonprofit corporation; it is tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).”
- Ways to help: Let individuals know how they can help your nonprofit accomplish its mission, whether it’s donating, volunteering, or following your social media pages.
- Contact information: Include names, email addresses, mailing address, website address, and social media addresses.
Fact sheet formatting principles include the following:
- Limit the document to 1 page, if possible, and 2 pages, maximum.
- Avoid long sentences and paragraphs opting, instead, for short, easy-to-comprehend, sentences.
- Make use of bold subheaders and bullets to organize information. One commentator has suggested that “a reader should be able to get the main message and direction of your fact sheet in less than one minute …Think of your fact sheet as a map. When someone first looks at it, are they able to get their bearings quickly?” (Fujita & Miura Public Relations, Inc. Top 3 Rules for a Powerful Fact Sheet. (Available at: http://www.fmpr.net/top-3-rules-for-a-powerful-fact-sheet/).
- Use graphics if they help to illustrate the points you want to make.
- If you’re using the fact sheet as an advocacy piece, organize the information so as to move the reader from simply stated facts to a logical conclusion.
- Use a 12 point, serif-type font.
other nonprofit fact sheet considerations
- Keeping Your Fact Sheet(s) Current: In a small nonprofit where there are always a million things to do, it’s easy to lose of track keeping your communications media in sync with the milestones you are making every day. One way to stay on top of these things is to use a Calendar of Key Periodic Events and Deadlines. Ensure that you are updating your fact sheets by looking at them quarterly and putting those dates on your deadline calendar. In my organization, we actually attach this calendar to the board agenda, since this group is very much still a working board.
- Printing: It’s fine to print your fact sheets on plain paper, but what if you want to “kick it up a notch?” I’ve tried a variety of different paper stocks, including some high gloss, relatively expensive stock that you can buy at an office supply store. For my money, you can make a great impression with plain white card stock. It’s cheap, durable and makes a great impression. What’s more, if your fact sheet runs to two pages, you don’t have to worry about the ink from one page bleeding through or being visible on the other page.
- Examples: See an array of examples and templates at: http://templatelab.com/fact-sheet-templates/. In addition, a fact sheet that I developed for my own organization is shown below and can be downloaded here.
- The Colorado Nonprofit Association. How to Create a Fact Sheet. (Available at: https://www.coloradononprofits.org/advocacy/public-policy-resources/how-create-fact-sheet).
- Connecticut Health Policy Project. The Health Advocacy Tool Box. (Available at: http://www.cthealthpolicy.org/toolbox/default.htm).
- Cullilane Law Group. Creating a One-Page Fact Sheet about Your Nonprofit. (Available at: https://cullinanelaw.com/nonprofit-to-do-creating-a-one-page-fact-sheet-2/).
- Fujita & Miura Public Relations, Inc. 5 Reasons to Have a Fact Sheet. (Available at: http://www.fmpr.net/five-reasons-to-have-a-fact-sheet/#more-1761).
- Fujita & Miura Public Relations, Inc. Top 3 Rules for a Powerful Fact Sheet. (Available at: http://www.fmpr.net/top-3-rules-for-a-powerful-fact-sheet/).