When not to start with "why."
(Or, as a friend says, "think this crazy thought with me." I like that.)
You walk into a store. A real life, brick-and-mortar store. (They're hot now, you know. Formerly digital-only brands are starting to really get in on the action.)
The salesperson comes up to you, big smile, and asks, "Hello! Why are you here?"
Blecch. How do you feel about this store now? Kind of wish they went back to being digital-only, huh?
What's the deal with "why"? Why did "why" feel so... off?
Now look, Simon Sinek is right; it's important to get at the "why."
But that's not always the right way to frame the question.
How do the best retailers engage you in their shopping experience? Probably something more like, "Hello! What brings you in today?" And, of course, the standard, "how can I help you?"
Let's look at a couple other examples that will be more resonant with the nonprofit world, and some possible reframing:
Why do you volunteer? vs. How did you come to volunteer with us?
Why do you give? vs. What drives your giving?
Why did you get involved? vs. Tell me about how you first got involved.
It just feels different, right?
Why? (Haha, see what I did there? See, "why" and I are cool. We have an understanding.)
We're all ultimately trying to get at the why. But "why" itself can be accusatory and off-putting.
"Why" asks for a reason. A justification. It forces people into the rational side of their brain. And, hate to break it to ya, but that's not the part that actually motivates us to do a whole lot.
"What" and "how," when framed well, prompt a story. They invite an emotional connection. They open up possibilities.
And that story-driven reflection in itself can create a stronger bond between the person and the mission. Give folks a chance to tell that story, and they're more likely to want to make it true.
When engaging your community, you want to help them uncover their own sense of meaning, their "why," the thing or the feeling or the connection they're seeking.
Sometimes it just takes a "what" to help get them there.