Nothing like a trip to the art museum to get your synapse firing away.

Such was the case for me and my close friend this past Friday evening at the Portland Art Museum. Took in work by Degas, Renoir and Pablo Picasso. (Yep, his painting above was on display.)

Being the marketing guy that I am, I wanted to know a few things about these works in general and the artist in particular.

As I strolled through the exhibition rooms and viewed various works of art, I asked myself what was the artist experiencing at the time he created his work?

Was he brooding? Angry? Joyful?

And what, if anything, did he want to communicate on the canvas with his brush strokes of color?

Were there any obvious hints?

Needless to say, I was not a fine arts major. In fact, I probably know just enough to be labeled as "extremely dangerous."

But it got me thinking about the audience for a recent nonprofit project my partner and I started working on. Specifically, what are these folks thinking?

How do we create meaningful (the operative word) messaging to engage this target market?

What motivates them?

What keeps them up at night?

How does our nonprofit's mission help them out?

And most importantly, why should they care?

Then I was reminded of a saying I have on my desktop:

“The one who asks questions doesn’t lose his way.”

– African proverb

Good questions always help steer you in the right direction. In fact, it's something top-notch marketing folks have always known.

My guess is that you do as well.

So the next time you find your nonprofit marketing efforts a bit off course, be brutally honest.

Have you asked the right questions of your target audience?

Do you really know what they are thinking?

If not, find out.

You'll be better able to emotionally connect with them.

And that is true art on any marketer's canvas.