In a story this weekend on the Catholic Church’s mishandling of its communications about sexual misconduct by priests, the Vatican was quoted in The Washington Post as saying it is NOT a multi-national enterprise (according to Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.) This may come as a major surprise to anyone who knows of the church’s vast financial holdings, tens of thousands of employees across all continents, and extensive lay organizations that act as an extension of the Church in the world (the Vatican’s own website lists more than 120).
So what’s the deal?
Many nonprofit organizations—whether church-based or secular—don’t think of themselves as “enterprises.” That seems too business-like. But the reality is that nonprofits today must use business processes and tools to remain successful and relevant. The profit goal may be replaced with a “doing good in the world” goal, but nonprofits still need to care about their “customers” (donors, lay leaders, members, people served) and their ability to reach them (both through programs and through communications about this work). Taken together, this is Brand. And everyone needs a brand strategy. Even the Pope.
A core part of any brand strategy is a clear articulation of mission.
When the Rev. Lombardi said in his Post interview “the normal situation of the Church and the Vatican is to help the people to understand the teachings of the Church and the documents of the pope” he was probably trying to articulate the Vatican’s mission. But he didn’t make it sound particularly compelling or personal. It actually sounded a bit, um, multi-national enterprise-like!
Every brand has an essence, and that should be articulated in a clear, compelling message about mission that everyone who speaks for the organization can use. Targeted sub-messages can then be tailored for various specific audiences.
How do you tailor brand messages?
Creating messages starts with a process of input. When you are constructing a brand plan, you first need some data. You need to know how you are viewed by your internal people (staff, board members) and by your external audiences (donors and prospects, people or organizations you serve, the public, opinion leaders in your field, etc.). This data can be acquired through web-based survey tools, but it’s always advisable to include in-person interviews or even focus-groups to augment your data. You may discover everyone understands your brand perfectly. Or you may find out there are some aspects of your brand that are more clear than others. This will inform your strategy.
What about the competition?
Yes. Like any organization, you are competing for attention, for commitment and for dollars. When you know how your competition is positioned, you can be more strategic in how to position your own brand. You don’t have to be totally reactive, but you can be pro-active in developing some of your messages to counter theirs.
We’re successful, do we really need a brand plan?
Well, this was clearly the Vatican’s thinking. But in my view, to be effective, every organization should operate under a brand plan just as you operate under a strategic plan. This includes drilling down into a tactical communications, timelines, and to-do lists. But everything comes back to knowing your brand essence and conveying it effectively to the people who can help—or hurt—your cause. When you plan effectively, you won’t be caught without the best words to say who you are, what you do, and why it matters.