I just read Rick Bailey’s book on nonprofit marketing, Coherence. Rick’s son Nick is a friend of mine and another Salesforce.com coder-for-good We’ve had a number of conversations about nonprofits and leadership, and when we met up at Web Of Change this year, Nick passed on his dad’s book.

Coherence is Rick’s name for telling the truth. For aligning “what we deliver with what we say we deliver.” It’s hard to argue with telling the truth, but it’s amazing how many people and organizations spend energy hiding their true selves. Coherence is about looking at who you are, and then projecting that to the world so that people who see a match can find you. It’s about creating an experience that is authentic and unique to you and your strengths and weaknesses.

This resonates deeply for me. The best leadership experiences I have ever had were when I was most honest about the reality of the situation. Where I stopped trying to control things and land them in a specific place, but was open to them going where they would go. I yearn for control, and it takes effort to release that yearning.

Organizations will better serve their constituents if they are honest about what they’ve got. So many groups try to be something they are not, only because they think that’s the way it has to be. Rick tells a great story about Goshen College and how he helped them change how they told their own story. Goshen is a Mennonite college with a tradition of service–they turn out amazing people who really take service seriously. I have been lucky enough to know two Goshen College graduates and they are both brilliant, dedicated change-makers.

Rick’s story of Goshen really struck me because the way he recommended they talk about themselves was directly in line with my experience. He called out Goshen’s quirky, joyful dedication to service–exactly how I would describe my Goshen alum friends. And that’s the point–people know what they see, and if you’re telling an untrue story it just doesn’t work. If Goshen tried to tell a story that they were like a midwestern Yale University, I’d see right through it. My friends are as smart as the most brilliant Yale students, but they aren’t the kind of people Yale attracts. It all either hangs together, or it doesn’t. Coherence is critical to it all hanging together.

Social change organizations, and for that matter individuals, could stand to be more authentic with themselves and what they tell others. Amazing organizations are doing this and delivering experiences to their supporters that are really powerful. Rick lays out how he consults with groups to get there–be honest in looking at who you are, look at how you are currently talking about yourself, and find out what people really think about you. By doing this you can best connect with your authentic value proposition, and share that unique story with the world. Once you do that, the people with whom that story resonates will be drawn to you, and it will be a good fit.

Rick works a lot with colleges, and so his deepest case studies are in that arena. But the message is much broader and great for any social change organization to hear. I recommend the book and the approach. We could all stand to be a little more coherent!