The recession is slowly lifting. Corporations are banking huge profits. Donors are getting out their checkbooks again. If your nonprofit weathered the storm, are you poised to take advantage of the new market landscape? Do you have a marketing and branding strategy that positions you well for leadership, funding, and volunteers?
Nonprofits often resist marketing. Marketing and sales smack of for-profit activities. In the best of cases, marketing dollars are viewed as an expenditure that reduces money for core mission projects. Worst case, branding, marketing and brand management are considered downright inappropriate.
But whether you acknowledge it or not, you’re already selling your mission. The question is to whom, how, and how effectively?
In today’s highly competitive marketplace of ideas, your non-profit organization has very little emotional space in which to differentiate itself from the pack. When a nonprofit calls, or when a friend emails a Facebook link for donating, we look at this request not just against a backdrop of all our nonprofit investments but also against the other competing interests in our lives—our son’s Little League team, our work picnic, the birthday party we are hosting next weekend.
Here’s where a strong brand comes into play.
When a household already contributes to a church and a Little League Team and a PTA, they may feel that their nonprofit “basket” is full. To make an impression on this family, a nonprofit has to make a bold and memorable case for support. Having a strong brand already in place can help open the door or close the sale. For example, when my local volunteer fire department comes knocking at the door for their annual donation drive, I already understand their brand. They volunteer at our schools to explain fire safety to the children. The firehouse hosts kids’ parties and we’ve all taken the tour and tried to lift the 100-plus pounds of gear each firefighter wears in a fire. And a few years ago, they put out a fire on my street. They have a strong brand and they don’t need to tell me what they do. So the conversation is focused on what level of donation I am able and willing to give for the cause.
Not everyone can have as compelling and easy a case to understand as the local volunteer fire department. But if you don’t, you need to work hard to make it easy for people both inside and outside your organization to “get” what change you make in the world. A simple, uniform message across web, social media, email and print goes a long way. That doesn’t mean you can’t differentiate sub-markets. But the overall mission must fit into a sentence or two. Then, the trick is that once you’ve invested time and dollars making your brand known, you need to manage your brand so that there’s no slippage.
Your “brand promise” has to be delivered as expected every time your organization or its name/logo is used.
And that means Every Time, or you may have done lasting damage to your mission by reducing your ability to raise funds and attract talented staff and volunteers. This includes even what might appear to be non-marketing materials, such as a letter home to parents explaining an independent school’s decision about a health incident, or how a hospital handles patient family members during a blizzard, or how a university human resources department communicates–or doesn’t–to job applicants . In today’s 24-hour news cycle, everything you do and everyone who does it reflects on your brand.
Do you have a brand success story or brand crisis? Please share (names can be changed to protect organizational anonymity)!
There is an interesting ongoing study being carried out by the Hauser Center at the Kennedy School on the role of nonprofit brands. You can access their discussion paper and provide feedback at the following link :
Nathalie thanks for calling attention to this interesting study. I’ve downloaded the paper and will share with several clients and will suggest they provide feedback. Thanks!