Posts

Foliage as Shapes - IMG_0052 s.cHere’s a great question that came to me from one of my readers: “How does the headquarters of a national nonprofit support and/or monitor brand consistency among dozens of social media sites run by local chapter volunteers?”

It’s definitely a balancing act to develop a consistent brand strategy—including use of social media—without burdening local staff and volunteers. I believe there are several key elements to a successful plan.

  1. Define Your Mission. Make sure everyone understands your “elevator pitch” about your mission and who you serve, and why you do it every day. Make sure every person, from CEO to local volunteers is able to deliver this pitch and connect it to their own personal story.
  2. Define Your Communications Philosophy. Why and in what tone do you need to communicate to stakeholders? Explain in very clear, non-jargony terms (i.e., without using the word stakeholders!), what about your brand should be communicated, whether it’s through a local walk website, a volunteer’s blog or a Facebook page.
  3. Monitor Based on Philosophy.  Your philosophy should guide your monitoring. The “why” of your communications will dictate how you measure success, and what will flag concerns at the national level. Don’t get too caught up in uniformity. It’s all about achieving mission results in the end, so what matters is anything that can propel or derail that goal.
  4. Provide Tools.  Give every local staffer and volunteer a simple, online-accessible toolkit of what they need to communicate your brand. If they have these tools, chances are high they won’t spend time developing their own look or content that could be inconsistent with your main national brand, because their focus is and should be on on-the-ground activities.

Let’s take a closer look at the local Toolkit.  So what should go into it?

Stories. Ultimately nonprofits are able to communicate best through stories of the people and communities they help. Provide a regular stream of well-written content, with quotations and photos to go along with it, and your local teams can either copy the format with their own or use yours.

Videos. Video is a highly effective tool for engaging donors, volunteers and local staff. A short video can efficiently communicate your brand and message to a large number of people in a variety of local settings. Consider providing a DVD each year to every local chapter that can include: 1) an overview/general marketing video about your organization, 2) a short, peppy meeting opener, 3) case studies/interview-based vignettes that can communicate why your mission matters to real people and their lives (this can be used to cultivate donors, or bring in new volunteers or members), 4) an annual conference and/or local events highlights video.  Once you have the basics, you can just provide updates or periodic new material (such as a brief training video on a new program you are rolling out.)

Graphics. Include a logo as it should appear in several mediums (i.e. it will be different for the web than for TV or for print pieces).  Also, it’s handy to offer a template for newsletters or local brochures. And of course, you will want to identify fonts—either approved or recommended for headers, tag lines, body copy, etc.

Photos. A true gem for busy local staff and volunteers is a well-organized online photo library.  Include downloadable, rights-cleared photos your local volunteers and staff can use in blogs, on websites, in newsletters, e-marketing pieces, etc.  You want images that include major organizational leaders and celebrity champions, volunteers in action, key locations, special events, and most importantly, the people or communities you serve.  Getting rights cleared can be a hassle, but if you set up a regular process for every shoot (and have a downloadable form for getting permissions cleared), you will go a long way towards providing brand and image consistency for your organization.

Communications at the local level is vital for any national organization. But it can also create serious pitfalls for your organization’s brand among key constituencies, including the media, donors, and future volunteers. Providing tools, rather than dictating rules, can help pave the way to a more unified brand.

Balt. Bldg.1 - IMG_0407 sIn the “jobless recovery,” it’s important to be strategic about spending on your brand. Here are five ways you can support your product, service or nonprofit mission without spending a dime.  (Alright, in total fairness, time is involved and we all know that’s valuable.)

1. Deploy Your Leaders. Boards of directors, partners, the executive team–they should know all the in’s and out’s of your brand and be the spokes on the wheel of your brand promotion. But sometimes they are not deployed in an intentional way with marketing your brand in mind. Make a conscious effort to (re)educate your board and leadership team on your “elevator pitch” and “brand promise”–what unique value you provide–at their next meeting. Ask folks to give their elevator pitch to the group, to help them hone their own description of your brand essence.

2. Engage Every Employee. Your leadership team, marketing or development staff may all be cognizant of your key brand messages. But what about your interns, the people at the loading dock and your new receptionist? Everyone communicates your brand–to customers, to donors, to other employees. Make sure you take the time to engage everyone. One great experience can make all the difference. So can a bad one.

3. Let Others Speak for You. Referrals are the best sales. Ask your best customers, donors, community volunteers, etc. to help you promote your brand. Ask them to Tweet about your latest accomplishments, mention it on their company blog, or be willing to wear a nametag that says “So and So, [Your Charity Name] Volunteer” at their next business event. In the advertising world, everything is measured in the volume of “impressions” your ads get. But also every human impression counts.

4. Cross-Promote. Whether you are a for-profit or a charity, find organizations that don’t compete directly with you but who offer complimentary products/services.  Then create a monthly program for cross-promotions. For example, if you’re a florist, have your link featured on the page of an event organizer and vice versa.  If you’re a charity with a national walk or run coming up, cross-promote with an athletic shoe or apparel company.  And don’t forget to cross-promote yourself: be sure that every communications tool you use–email, e-newsletters, blogs, websites, business cards–promotes every other venue through which you communicate, so customers can reach you in whatever way they like best.

5. Increase Brand Clarity. Brand audits can be very expensive and time-consuming projects, but here’s a mini-audit you can assign to a couple of folks for a considerable impact. Have them review your letterhead, website, print pieces, blogs, Facebook pages, etc. and tell you whether your logo, name, tag line and mission statement appear consistently. Look at color, size, fonts and wording. You’d be surprised how many times these communications tools are inconsistently branded, thus diluting your impact.  You don’t have to reprint everything all at once, but be aware so that the next time cards go to the printers, for example, they can be in sync with your website.

Of course, there’s no free lunch.

If your brand is struggling because your mission is fuzzy, your leadership isn’t strategic, or your staffing is weak, then no amount of free branding solutions will help.  But in tough times, these simple tools can also go a long way while we all wait for recovery.