Branding is vital to your non-profit’s success. It’s what people think about when they think of your organization. It impacts everything including your ability to recruit board members and raise money. Consider this:
- When people think about making a charitable gift, they often think of the familiar, more well-known, well-publicized non-profits.
- Think of the multi-million bequest left to a local hospital or university by a donor that never made a previous gift.
- Think of the organizations that see an uptick in giving after major crises like civil liberties in jeopardy, disaster relief and emergency response.
- Sometimes multiple non-profits are serving the same population with variant programs. They all sound as if they are doing the same thing. How is one different than the other?
- For a more casual donor, how do they know all of the non-profits that are working in their areas of interest and which of them have the most impact? Many non-profits are doing work in areas of great interest to them, but they haven’t made that connection.
- How does a startup become known? Non-profit startups struggle to attract investment, no matter how creative or effective they may be. Spending a lot on marketing is frowned upon as expenses should go directly to serving constituents.
Five considerations for distinguishing your non-profit:
1. De-professionalize your fundraising: Say what? Last year, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund in collaboration with CompassPoint published “Fundraising Bright Spots,” a report that shared success stories of how several non-profits integrated their fundraising differently into the work of the organization. Fundraising wasn’t solely the purview of the development office; rather it was intimately associated with raising support for a common cause. It is a form of organizing and power building, not merely a strategy for financing the organization’s work.
Consider this: Our values of inclusion, fairness and equality are in jeopardy as never before. It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ moment in the non-profit sector. There’s nothing like crisis to spark engagement, although, for vulnerable populations the situation is always at crisis and emergency levels. Whether you are a grassroots social justice organization, a hospital, or an arts organization; organize. Sharing fundraising among staff as part of a larger overall organizing strategy is effective. Early in my career with the YMCA, we enlisted over 25 of our staff to manage members and volunteers in fundraising for the Y’s community outreach programs. It was part of every full time staff person’s job description. They managed over 275 volunteers. As such, it was a social justice movement.
2. Your best marketing is word of mouth: Of course a small charitable organization lacks the marketing resources of a large one. However, at one time the large organization was small too. Building a reputation takes time. It requires consistency, creativity and unabashed enthusiasm. Social media and electronic communications revolutionized the way word of mouth is spread. Board members should be the very best advocates, convening people to hear about the organization and doing everything to spread the word within their circles and beyond. If they don’t, discover why not.
Consider this: Find ways to simplify how you communicate about what you do. This is a coachable skill. You may find that your closest supporters are not completely comfortable with their level of knowledge about what you do. Many board members refrain from asking questions about things they ‘think’ they should know, such as the organization’s financials. There is more often than not an incongruity between the organization’s belief in how they communicate and what people actually know and understand about their programs and impact.
3. Your board has a brand: Its reputation impacts a lot, including your ability to attract other board members and funding, your capacity to recruit and retain development staff and your overall reputation in the community you serve. What is its reputation? Is it considered effective? Does it tolerate an ineffective leader? Is the buzz about your board labeled as a “do nothing board” or is it lauded as “a highly engaged and effective board?”
Consider this: Board development is a topic for another blog. For purposes of branding, it’s a smart practice to look at your board from an external perspective. How is it positioned among non-profit boards in your community?
4. How do you break out of the chatter? Your organization and four others are working at the same worthy goal with the same population but you each have a modestly different methodology. Can your board members and donors articulate your unique value proposition? Often they have an idea, but their knowledge of important features isn’t clear.
Consider this: For internal audiences, try developing a simple graph comparing the unique services of your organization and how they differ from others so that your uniqueness is better understood. My marketing bias is to engage advertising counsel or a creative writer to develop memorable messaging that differentiates your organization, programs and impact. Write thoughtful Op-ed pieces. Make sure the press picks up stories about your vision, your successes, and your impact. Become a conversation worthy topic. You never know who is reading it and, as a result, considers your organization as a part of their legacy.
5. Be a Thought Leader and promote your partnerships in the process. This blog is an example of Bloomerang’s desire to add value by providing content that helps its customers. Through its partnerships with other consultants, product and service providers, Bloomerang is regarded as a thought leader, an expert in the field. Incorporate those very strategies in your marketing and watch how your brand grows.