We live in a new era where consumers, businesses, investors, employees, and service providers attach real economic value to social outcomes. An era where the "feel good" issues of yesterday—education, the environment, health care, the arts, animal rights—all have direct economic consequences and opportunities.
This represents a major shift in the world of nonprofits from basic charity to the concept of "investment". Simply being a "right and just cause" is no longer enough to generate donor revenue in 2012.
So how do you attract supporters to your cause in a demanding – and crowded – marketplace of ideas? Realize that it's hard for today's organizational donor/investor to measure or truly understand fuzzy concepts like "improve the quality of life" or "protect" animal rights/access to the arts/healthcare etc. To know if you're making a good investment, you have to have a way to measure your results. And what exactly do those phrases mean?
I believe that every nonprofit is in existence to make an impact of some type for the individuals, communities and/or the causes they serve. And yet many agencies have a hard time understanding let alone articulating the impact that they create. Today's nonprofit must capture and communicate its impact in simple, compelling terms that break through the clutter. Let's explore 3 approaches to effectively market your organization and its impact to investors.
1. ACTIVITIES (USUALLY) AREN'T ENOUGH
For years many most nonprofit organizations have promoted their activities rather than their impact to attract clients, funders, and other supporters. For example, many of the traditional brochures and websites I see even today highlight the Programs Offered or the Number of People Served.
This approach may have been fine when most people viewed their donations as gifts, and simply wanted to see where the money was going. But as noted more and more people view their philanthropic dollars as investments now, and see themselves as investors or funders rather than "donors". And investors of course like to see the benefits and true results of what their dollars have accomplished, not just where they were invested. So just sharing a list of what you do is no longer enough. People appreciate the actual work that you do, surely – but they invest in your impact on individuals and communities that you serve.
However, that being said there are exceptions to this rule. One primary exception I've seen to this rule centers on volunteering and gift-giving during the Holiday Season. Many nonprofits experience a surge at end-of-year simply because people want to be involved in some type of giving or service activity. For example, around the holidays many people and/or organizations desire to:
Serve meals at the local homeless shelter
Pay for XX number of meals for a holiday dinner
Adopt a local child or family for the holidays
Though these are activities people want to get involved in during the holiday season, I still suggest using this strategy sparingly; keeping in mind that the trend is for investors to want to see tangible signs of real community impact. During the rest of the year, when potential donors are less likely to participate in events or activities, you may see greater results with the next two approaches.
2. SHARE YOUR NUMBERS
So if not activities (at least most of the time) what should you communicate to potential donors/investors? To improve the success of your nonprofit's pitches, put yourself in your investor's shoes. What valued results do you think THEY are looking for? What impact garners continued or increased investment? What is the best way to show your results and impact?
Sharing the raw numbers or data that came about from donations is a good way to speak to the investors who want to know that their money is making a real difference in your community and in the lives of your clients. And not only will their money facilitate change, but it will make more of an impact than if they had invested in the organization down the street instead. Without these numbers, potential donors may question if you are truly making a significant contribution or difference to your constituents when you use hard to quantify outcomes.
There are three types of numbers that can resonate with investors:
Change of Status - This occurs when a person, organization, or community transitions from one state or condition to another. For example, your organization may be successful at moving people from an unemployed to employed status. You may do this by providing job training to 1,000 people per year. However, most funders aren't really interested in paying for job training unless it results in the trainees actually getting jobs. Another example is GED classes so that disadvantaged people can graduate from high school, where the measurement for success when expressed as a total number or ratio of those who graduated is very simple and straightforward.
If your organization is producing these positive outcomes, share them and show that you are a good investment. Showing how individuals or communities have changed as a direct effect of donations helps create a higher sense of impact and value for your organization's work.
Return on Investment (ROI) – ROI is performance measurement used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment and to compare it with others. Used extensively in commercial businesses, nonprofits can use ROI to show investors that they are good financial stewards, and that investor dollars will have a greater impact within their organization than with competing nonprofit agencies.
It's not uncommon for many nonprofits to document a 2x, 3x or even greater return on the money invested into their organization. For example, if you can show potential investors that for every dollar they invest with your organization the community will receive $3 of benefit compared to $2 provided by an alternate provider - you look like the better investment and become more likely to receive additional donations. ROI shows your ability to fully leverage the dollars invested into your programs.
Though ROI can be quite popular with potential donors, especially those who are financially-inclined, calculating this number presents its own unique set of challenges. This number can often be ambiguous and difficult to identify. If possible it's recommended that you use an outside source or otherwise ensure that the data you use if from a reliable source, to maintain your credibility.
Systemic Change - This often occurs as a result of collaboration within large-scale community initiatives, when several providers join together to move the needle on a social issue at the community level. It's like change of status for an entire community or group of people. To create a systemic change, it is important to build partnerships that center around a community issue. Participate in the effort for change by being a good and active partner, providing leadership where you can, and promote the results you (and the collaboration) are achieving. Some examples of systemic changes may be positive trends in: poverty rate, crime rate, homelessness, school readiness, graduation rates, number of individuals in training programs, employment numbers, access to healthcare, home ownership, and many others.
3. STORY TIME
Everyone loves a great story – the feeling of getting lost in a story and having your imagination along for the ride. When a storyteller does a good job the reader can picture the scenes, hear the voices, and experience the emotions of the characters. There are books that make you laugh, cry, change the way you think or motivate you to take action. Likewise, you've probably read books that left you uninspired and looking forward to the end.
Generating emotions and creating an experience is the effect many nonprofit marketers desire when they tell their stories. They share testimonials in hopes of inspiring and compelling people to engage with their, but unfortunately a story doesn't prove to grant makers and funders that the results are repeatable. But stories do have their place and can be valuable to your cause, so there's value in collecting them.
Put It All Together
If each approach above can be effective in engaging clients and investors, which should you choose? Ideally, you should be combining the three approaches as the most effective way to market your impact and your organization.
I recommend that you build up a "vault" of stories and testimonials and add to it on an on-going basis. Pick several stories that clearly demonstrate the change(s) you are after and then share them frequently with those connected to your organization. This will help to create organizational folklore that can be shared and celebrated with others. Then document and promote your high-impact outcomes over time. These outcomes should provide statistical support for your stories that this wasn't a one-time win. Show that our outcomes can, and have been, duplicated time and time again. And use activities, when appropriate, to engage others. This can also be used to enhance your stories or answer questions about how you produce your outcomes.
The shift from charity to investment requires that we change the way we communicate. Marketing your impact with these three approaches shows you are really making a difference. It helps you capture mind share, and as a result money share. Review your marketing materials this month to see how you're doing, and get help if you need it. Ultimately it's the change we are making that most effectively makes our case to investors. Therefore, I recommend that you determine (and share) the difference you are making, back it up with actual numbers, tell a story that shows your impact on one family or individual, while supporting your numbers with the activities that you conduct, and begin sharing all of this with current and potential investors.
There are a number of pitfalls when beginning the graphic design process that a non-profit can avoid if they consider a few key issues.
1. Know Who You Are (Or Want To Be) Before You BeginTo Design
It is absolutely critical to address this component before starting any design process. You need to truly understand your marketing message and voice internally before you attempt to communicate externally.
A really big mistake that non-profits and many businesses as well can make is to allow their new logo, theme or look to define who they are as an organization. They jump directly into the excitement of the design process without much consideration for how they would like to integrate the overall character of their non-profit with their new logo, look or feel, and the message it will truly convey.
Your design work should always reflect who you already are as an organization, never the other way around. A graphical style that works well for a large, multi-national non-profit may not work at all for a local grassroots organization. Even the highest quality, most impactful graphic design work should always come second to the message and voice of your organization.
you cutting edge. And a more “homey, down-to-earth” design style won’t transform your non-profit into that type of organization, either. If your design work doesn’t support your organizational beliefs, you’re sending mixed messages that can confuse the audience you are trying to draw in. You’re wasting time and resources (read: money) creating a look that doesn’t really fit your organization.
A great example of this is the recent trend in creating Web 2.0-style designs and websites, with 3D-looking logos, featuring “bubbly” graphics, gradients, and drop shadows. (Think of Twitter, Skype, PayPal, Flickr, Facebook) This style may work well for a Web 2.0 website or tech company, but may not be effective for other kinds of brands including your non-profit.
Remember that having great technology and utilizing new, sophisticated communication platforms - which you should absolutely be doing in 2012 - is very different than how your graphic design defines your organization. You can convey your advanced technology and communication channels by focusing on them within your marketing message, but your graphic design work itself should represent what you are (or want to be) and your values as an organization.
Realize that a “cutting edge” logo, website or overall marketing theme won’t actually
2. Stop Using Words Like “Cutting Edge” To Provide Better Artistic Direction
Now that we’ve told you not to attempt to be “cutting edge” in your design work if it doesn’t fit your organizational philosophy, we’re going to tell you to stop using the concept in the first place.
There is no definition of “cutting edge” to begin with, as it is completely subject to the person who is saying it. And this provides no real direction to your graphic designer, the most critical component of a successful design project. The more information you can give your designer upfront the better. When a designer doesn’t have any clear artistic direction or preferences in hand when he or she begins the process, they must simply begin with a shot in the dark.
This obviously can lengthen the overall design process, increasing the resources and time spent on the project. It can also get you started down a path that isn’t the best fit for your organization, but that you continue on simply due to momentum. This means you need to take the time to consider the personality of your organization and what specific elements of your current design that you’d like to change, or what you’d like to see in a new one, before the creative process begins.
Instead of using generalized words and phrases like cutting edge in your artistic direction, spend some time researching what you like and don’t like about your current design, or what you’d like in a new one, and why. Be prepared to explain in detail what feelings or thoughts you are really trying to convey to your target audience(s) and what responses you are trying to illicit in them with your logo, website and overall design.
3. Understand Your Logo
Your logo is the image that will define your organization more than any other. Remember that the goal is recognition. When working with your designer to create a new logo, the key to making a popular and recognizable logo is to combine all of the elements listed here: size, style, color, typography, and originality.
Realize first and foremost that the simpler the logo, the more recognizable it will be. Start with the most complicated version of your initial design or brainstorming ideas, and distill from there. You and your designer shouldn’t get carried away with Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, Photoshop or any other graphic design programs, filters and effects. Of course, experimenting with these to see if they can enhance the logo is fine, but keep reminding yourself that simplicity is key.
A logo has to look good and be legible at all sizes. A logo is not effective if it loses too much definition when scaled down for letterheads, envelopes, and small promotional items. The logo also has to look good when used for larger formats, such as posters, billboards, and electronic formats such as TV and the Web. The most reliable way to determine if a logo works at all sizes is to actually test it yourself and see if it looks legible and clear in all potential formats.
Choosing the right font type and size for your logo is much more difficult than many beginner designers realize. If your logo design includes text, either as part of the logo or in the tagline, you will need to spend time sorting through various font types and testing them in your design before making a final decision. Try both serif fonts and sans-serif fonts as well as script, italics, bold, and custom fonts.
You should avoid the most commonly used fonts, such as Comic Sans, or run the risk of being seen as amateurish. You should also strongly consider a custom-created font for your design. The more original the font, the more it will distinguish the brand. Examples of successful logos that have a custom font are Yahoo!, Twitter, and Coca Cola. Make sure the font is legible when scaled down, especially with script fonts. One font in your logo is ideal, and avoid more than two. Once created, you should not use your logo fonts as headlines or text. Doing so will take away from the impact and stand-alone nature of your logo.
Color theory is complex, and something that your designer will probably have a more nuanced understanding of than you do, but a good rule of thumb is to use colors that are near to each other on the color wheel in your logo. In addition to color, your logo should look good in black and white and grayscale as well. As we will discuss in the next tip, adhering to your brand standards at all times, including the use of your precise Pantone/CMYK/RGB color designations in your logo, is very important.
There are lots of other things that your designer must keep in mind when crafting your logo. One example of this is the fact that logos aren’t always seen “head-on” in real world situations, like on the side of a bus or a billboard that you drive by. So your logo should be viewed from all angles to ensure that it’s recognizable from any direction. Work with your designer to understand each of these elements and how they will affect the creation and future use of your logo and overall design.
4. Use Brand Standards
Once you’ve created a new logo and/or design, it is of great importance to keep it consistent at all times. Repetition is your best friend. Don’t forget that your marketing is often the only thing that represents your brand to certain audiences. Using a consistent image projects the utmost professionalism and polished branding and messaging at all times.
Having the same colors, themes and designs (along with taglines and marketing messages) in addition to your logo can build your brand by conveying identity and unity. This generates greater levels of awareness within your target markets, and builds loyalty to your non-profit brand from external supporters and throughout your own organization.
Your brand is what consumers and supporters “connect to”, and is of increasing importance as you grow as an organization. Especially when there are multiple individuals and/or designers responsible for creating marketing collateral, having a consistent brand is one way to avoid the mistakes that some non-profits (and many other companies and organizations) commit, such as:
Inappropriate or indiscriminate use of their logo, taglines, use of photos and design elements
Different logos, aspect ratios, taglines, colors and layouts on promotional materials
Different handling of the brand in general, causing confusion among supporters or the possibility of being perceived as unprofessional or inexperienced
Discrepancies in brand elements, without cohesion or harmony throughout the organization, which lead to inconsistent messages and lost opportunities
The best way to ensure your brand is consistent is by creating and using a branding style guide or standards manual. If you need help in crafting your own brand standards rules, consult an expert. The style guide should be shared with anyone who is designing materials for your organization.
The style guide should include primary (and secondary, if appropriate) logo guidelines, the proper use of trademarks, photo image policies, organizational fonts, the color palette, aspect ratios and sizing, rules for printed collateral such as letterhead, business cards and signage, and other important details related to the overall look and feel of your organization.
An added benefit is that your brand standards manual can contain other critical items such as use of taglines, media releases for supporters and event participants, legal requirements necessary to ensure compliance, sponsorship and vendor guidelines, general print and online marketing guidelines and tips, and much more.
5. Don’t RUSH The Project If It Isn’t Really A Rush
Many creative firms and artists will provide discounted rates and special deals to non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, too often these same firms and artists will work furiously to meet deadlines set by the client only to have the client not respond or provide feedback and approvals in a timely fashion, letting these deadlines pass by.
This can create frustrations or additional stress upon the designer needlessly. Also, having a designer that must tack on “rush fees” so that they can fast-track a project – only to see a deadline missed because of the client – negates the discounted rate that was offered in the first place.
You should treat your designers as well as you would any other donor. As someone who comes to know and believe in your cause intimately, they could potentially become a large donor of either financial resources or in-kind services. Truly invest in this relationship. It will certainly pay off as you work in partnership to create new, impactful design work and marketing pieces that will increase the future success of your organization.
How often have you sworn you’d never eat fast food again only to be tempted after seeing an ad for the latest burger, burrito, or frozen treat? Most of us know that the food is never quite as good as it looks on the commercial, billboard, or magazine yet we can’t seem to help ourselves. So how do they make the food seem so irresistible? They do it through marketing.
McDonald’s has long been an icon of marketing success. In fact, a 2010 study by Interbrand ranked them the #6 most recognized brand in the world (and the first restaurant on the list). They didn’t get to this position overnight, but they did learn some lessons along the way.
Below are some strategies out of the McDonald’s marketing playbook. Let’s see how we can apply their approach to nonprofit organizations.
Take a franchise model. McDonald’s provides training and monitoring to each franchisee to ensure that all adhere to the value propositions offered to the customer.
For nonprofits: You don’t have to have a franchise to apply this principle. Part of McDonald’s success is based on the fact that every franchise owner and employee is trained on the mission (to be the customers’ favorite place and way to eat) and values of the organization. They know what they are providing and how they are serving the customer. Everyone in a nonprofit organization should be trained in the same way. Leadership and staff (paid and volunteers) should all be trained and equipped to share the mission and message of the organization. Are your board and staff members able to clearly communicate what you are doing and the impact you are making? Take a quick survey and find out. If not, perhaps it’s time to train those involved with your organization on sharing your message and mission.
Provide product consistency. McDonald’s expects all franchisees to create a similar customer experience (service, products, facilities, etc.) regardless of the location, time of day, or any other outside factor.
For nonprofits: You can walk into any McDonald’s in the United States and know what you will get. Whether you’re dining in Washington or Florida you will find the same menu, food quality, and service (or pretty close) at every location. You will also see the same Golden Arches and red and yellow colors whether you are in the United States, Europe, Africa, or Asia. Can your clients, donors, and volunteers say the same about your organization? Take a few moments and do a quick audit on your brand. Make sure your image (colors, logo, overall design) is consistent everywhere (website, social media, letterhead, direct mail, email). Also, ask for feedback from clients, donors, and volunteers on their experiences. Do they know what to expect when interacting with your organization? Are they satisfied? And do the experiences vary based upon who they talk with or which programs they are accessing? If so, begin working towards consistency. Set expectations, provide training, and begin providing the product consistency that has allowed McDonald’s to attract and keep customers coming back for more.
Act like a retailer and think like a brand. McDonald’s touts that its marketing efforts focus on delivering sales for the immediate present, but also protect its long term brand reputation.
For nonprofits: Since McDonald’s was founded in the 1940s, it has grown exponentially. They have had numerous marketing campaigns and made many changes over the years. However, they’ve always fiercely protected their brand and kept their mission central to everything they’ve done. Nonprofits should take the same approach. When developing marketing and fundraising plans you should focus on strategies that will not only provide immediate results, but also enhance the long-term sustainability of the organization. Never do something that will sacrifice your brand, mission, or message - regardless of the immediate pay-off.
Know your customers. McDonald’s spends millions of dollars each year on market research, studying customer segments, perceptions, and expectations.
For nonprofits: I can’t think of a single nonprofit organization that has a marketing budget even close to that of McDonald’s. And for many, the term ‘market research’ automatically generates feelings of anxiety. However, you don’t need millions of dollars to get to know your ‘customers’. Spend time with your clients, donors, funders, volunteers, and other advocates on a regular basis. Find out how they view you and what they expect from you. Listening to your clients and responding to their desires will only strengthen your organization over time.
Understand product life cycles. McDonald’s regularly evaluates its current products and launches new products based upon customer demand.
For nonprofits: Recently, McDonald’s added new, healthier items to its menu - including salad selections, smoothies, and apples wedges. Over the years, they’ve also eliminated some products that didn’t go as well as expected (The Hula Burger, McPizza, Arch Deluxe, McLean Deluxe). These decisions were the result of customer wants and needs. Nonprofits must take the same approach and regularly evaluate their programs and activities. Some programs start by meeting identified community needs, but the need and support diminish over time. If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to phase out the program and see if there are new services that should be added.
Know your competitors. McDonald’s is aware of it’s competitors, the products offered by each, and the unique value offered by its organization.
For nonprofits: Some nonprofits don’t like to think in terms of ‘competitors’. However, the reality is you are always competing with other organizations for dollars, hearts, clients, and support. Look around your community and see what other organizations exist. Determine if there is anyone else providing the same or similar services and then consider how you can partner or support their efforts. Determine what makes you different than other organizations. Are you meeting a need that no one else in the community is meeting? Knowing your competition, understanding how you’re different, and communicating this effectively helps differentiate yourself in the eyes of potential supporters.
McDonald’s has undeniably built one of the strongest brands (and organizations) in the world. Though they are a for-profit organization, their experiences and successes can provide some good insights and ideas for nonprofit organizations. Consider how applying these approaches can enhance the impact of your marketing today.
“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”
This quote from John M. Richardson, Jr. sets the stage for the coming year. In 2012, do you want to make it happen, watch it happen, or look back at the end of the year and wonder what happened? Most, I would guess, would like to be among those who make it happen.
This month, I'm highlighting 3 Marketing Trends to Consider in 2012. These 3 trends will help you as you strive to ’make it happen’ in the upcoming year.
1. PERSONALIZING CONTENT.
Though this is not especially new, the need for it continues to increase. Many sources (and our experience) show that mass marketing (blanket newsletters, direct mail, email, etc.) continues to reduce in effectiveness. This is due in part to expectations around how we communicate with one another, but also in part to the low tolerance people have for sorting through irrelevant or unsolicited information.
That means that investing in a database that allows you to segment by interests and communicate accordingly could pay big dividends. We Are All Weird by Seth Godin highlights this fact. “The book calls for the end of mass and for the beginning of offering people more choices, more interests and giving them more authority to operate in ways that reflect their own unique values.” (Except from Amazon.com)
Are you personalizing the information you’re sending to your contacts?
Is the information you’re sending to each contact relevant to their interests?
Are each of your contacts sorted or tagged by their interests in your database appropriately?
2. USING NEW TECHNOLOGIES.
There are so many new technologies available to nonprofits as we enter 2012. The focus of most of these technologies is easy access to new information for the end user.
QR Codes, or Quick Response Codes, are popping up everywhere. They’re on product tags, billboards, food wrappers, and a variety of other places. These codes are actually little boxes that store all kinds of information that can be accessed by those that have a QR Reader on their smart phones. Types of information that can be stored include website addresses, contact information, vCards, and other information that potential donors, clients, or supporters might want to access. You can read all about how QR codes work and how to create them in a great article by Kristiana Leroux titled How to Create, Share, and Use QR Codes. Consider using them in 2012 to provide your current and potential supporters easy-to-access information about your organization.
All things mobile will continue to be hot in 2012. Convenience and accessibility are key. Consider making your website mobile friendly, adding text updates and giving, and if resources allow, explore developing a phone app for your supporters to stay involved. Our society is on the go, so to be one of those ‘making it happen’ we need to meet our supporters where they are.
3. DECENTRALIZING THE MESSAGE.
Social media has now been around long enough that most organizations have begun using it to engage their clients and supporters. Many organizations have developed social media policies and some have even developed strategies to maximize exposure and contact. However, in 2012 we are looking at a big change.
Organizations are starting to realize that social media (and marketing) is about people and relationships. And the contacts we have online want conversation, not marketing. At the risk of having an inconsistent brand message, many are starting to decentralize their message. Supporters and contacts are not only empowered, but encouraged, to promote the organization - even if they don’t choose the right words.
The benefits of this can be huge because there is a sense of authenticity that shines through when the message isn’t exactly the same from everyone. However, when starting down this road it is critical that the culture of your organization is clearly communicated and reinforced internally. This will allow people to communicate the brand - just in their own words.
Let’s look to Coca Cola for an example of how a decentralized message can allow an organization to reach many more potential supporters. Coca Cola is known for excellent marketing. However Duane Perera, an avid Coke drinker, created his own online initiative that had far more viewers and response than the #1 social media campaign ever created by Coke. This was primarily contributed to the authenticity and uniqueness that Duane was able to convey through his video. View Video Here.
An old African Proverb says, “For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Though 2012 holds much uncertainty, it also offers much promise for those nonprofit organizations those that are preparing and taking steps now to ensure their sustainability. I believe this includes many of our readers and I encourage you to get started preparing today. Please consider sharing any other trends you see coming in 2012 and have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
“Many of us wish marketing was not necessary and that people would give to us without expecting anything in return...Regrettably, simply being right is rarely enough to secure the victory of our cause. If it were, the world would be a perfect place.” - Katya Andresen, Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes.
Have you ever had those same thoughts? Do you wish people would just give to your organization because it’s the right thing to do? If so, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often.
There has been a seismic shift in the world of nonprofits as charity has shifted to investment. Whereas at one time people gave donations or gifts, now more people view their philanthropic dollars as investments and themselves as investors or funders rather than donors. Let’s explore 3 approaches to effectively market your organization and its impact to these investors.
Traditionally many nonprofit organizations have promoted their activities rather than their impact to attract clients, funders, and other supporters. For example, many of the brochures and websites I see highlight the programs offered or the number of people served. However, as Bob Dylan sang years ago, “Times they are a-changin” and increasingly people want to see the results of your activities rather than just a list of the things you do.
One major exception I’ve seen to this rule occurs around end-of-the-year giving and volunteering. Many nonprofits experience a surge during the holiday season simply because people want to be involved in some type of service or giving activity. For example, around the holidays many people and/or organizations want to:
Serve a meal at a homeless shelter
Pay for XX number of meals for a holiday dinner
Purchase holiday gifts for a family or child
These are just a few of the activities people want to get involved in during the holiday season. Though this proves that there are times when marketing activities can be beneficial, I recommend using this strategy sparingly; keeping in mind that the trend is for investors to want to see tangible signs of real community impact not just busyness.
We all love great stories. I love the feeling of getting lost in a story and having my imagination along for the ride. When a storyteller does a good job the reader can picture the scenes, hear the voices, and experience the emotions of the characters. There are books that make you laugh, cry, change the way you think, or motivate you to take action. Likewise, you’ve probably read books that left you uninspired and wishing they would just end.
Generating emotions and creating an experience is the effect many nonprofit marketers desire when they tell their stories. They share testimonials in hopes of inspiring and compelling people to get involved with their organization. Unfortunately, a story doesn’t prove to grant makers and funders that what happened in this situation can be duplicated or repeated in other situations. Kevin Monroe of X Factor puts it this way, "people appreciate your work, they invest in your impact." Stories have their place, are invaluable to your cause, and there’s great value in collecting them. However, there are ways to add depth to your stories and allow you to highlight the impact made by your organization. Let’s explore that now.
Vince Lombardi said, “As a leader, you must know people all want to be part of a winning team.” Numbers can prove that yours is a winning team.
Investors want to know that the money they are investing with your organization will undoubtedly make a difference in your community or the lives of your clients. And not only will it make a difference, but it will make more of a difference than if they invested the money to an organization down the street.
Michelle Obama highlighted this fact when she said, “By focusing on result-oriented nonprofits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable and worthy of public trust.” Documenting and sharing your results helps to prove you are worthy of that trust.
Three types of impact that resonate with investors include:
Change of status - This occurs when a person, organization, or community transitions from one state or condition to another. For example, your organization may be successful at moving people from an unemployed to employed status. You may do this by providing job training to 1,000 people per year. However, most funders aren’t really interested in paying for job training unless it results in the trainees actually getting jobs. If your organization is producing these results, share them and show that you are a good investment.
Return on Investment (ROI) - ROI is defined as a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment or to compare the efficiency of a number of investments. Nonprofits can use ROI to show investors that they are good financial stewards and that their investment will have a greater impact in their organization than with a competitor. For example, if you can show potential investors that for every dollar they invest with your organization the community will receive $3 of benefit compared to $2 provided by an alternate provider - you look like the better investment.
Systemic change - This often occurs as a result of collaboration or large-scale community initiatives when several providers join together to move the needle on a social issue at the community level. To create a systemic change, it is important to build partnerships and collaborations around an community issue. Participate in the effort for change by being a good and active partner, providing leadership where you can, and promote the results you (and the collaboration) are achieving.
Ultimately it’s the change we are making, not our activities that most effectively makes our case to investors. Therefore, we recommend that you determine the difference you are making, back it up with actual numbers, and begin sharing it with current and potential investors.
THE REAL ANSWER - PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Each of the three approaches above may be effective in engaging clients and investors. However, combining the three approaches is likely to be the most effective way to market your impact and your organization. We recommend:
Building a storehouse of stories and testimonials and add to it on an on-going basis. Pick several stories that clearly demonstrate the change(s) you are after and then share them frequently with those connected to your organization. This will help to create organizational folklore that can be shared and celebrated with others.
Documenting and promoting your high-impact outcomes. These outcomes should provide statistical support for your stories that this wasn’t a one-time win. Show that our outcomes can, and have been, duplicated time and time again.
Using activities, when appropriate, to engage others. This can also be used to enhance your stories or answer questions about how you produce your outcomes.
The shift from charity to investment requires that we change the way we communicate. We must not only be familiar with our organization’s activities and equipped with stories of success; we must also be able to share the outcomes we are producing with potential investors. CHIP of Virginia does an excellent job of combining all three methods in their CHIP Saves Money publication where they provide brief client statements and photos, share the number of people served through their programs, and show dollar amounts that validate a significant ROI. They are making an impact, and as the flyer shares, the numbers prove it.
Marketing your impact shows you are really making a difference. It helps you capture mind share, and as a result money share. Review your marketing materials this month to see how you’re doing.
Do you remember dial-up Internet? Can you remember how, at that time, it seemed incredible that we could connect, surf the net, and chat with people from around the world - all at the amazingly fast rate of 24 or 56k. We didn’t feel frustrated that we had to wait while the phone dialed and eventually connected to get on-line. It was just exciting that we had a new toy to play with and a new tool to use to promote our organization.
Can you imagine having to connect at that rate now? How would it impact your daily operations? Do you think you could be a healthy, viable organization if you tried to run your organization with a 24k connection? I’m guessing for most organizations, it would change everything. That’s because “You can’t expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday’s tools and expect to be in business tomorrow” (Anonymous).
There are tools that we, as nonprofits, must use if we expect to “be in business tomorrow”. They help us engage our communities, stay in touch with our donors, and advocate for our clients and causes.
4 TOOLS THAT EVERY NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION CAN USE TO MEET THE CHALLENGES OF TODAY:
1. DONOR DEVELOPMENT SOFTWARE - There are a variety of tools that can be used to track and manage donor relationships. I’ve worked with organizations that use Excel for this process and others that use the coveted Raiser’s Edge. There is a huge difference in capabilities for each of these options. There is also a huge difference in price tags. I suggest that before you make any purchases, you spend some time considering the following questions:
What features or functionality do we need/want?
What type of training is required to use the system?
Will staff be able to use the system easily?
Can this system grow as we grow and meet our needs in 2 years? 5 years?
How much can we invest in a system at this time?
2. WEBSITE - Though websites are no longer considered new tools, the way they are being used has changed over the years. It used to be that websites served as sort of an online billboard. Organizations created a site, posted content, and then rarely made updates. This approach is no longer sufficient. People visiting your site expect it to be updated regularly. They expect the opportunity to interact with the organization, and they expect it to look nice.
There are many companies that provide great websites at low prices for nonprofit organizations. We, at Applegate Consulting, provide websites through Nonprofit Sites. Other options include Homestead, Weebly, CrownPeak, WordPress, and Grassroots.org. This is in no way an exhaustive list. If you have others you would recommend, or like to give feedback on, please do so in the comments section below.
3. SOCIAL MEDIA - Social media continues to increase in popularity and though many nonprofits have signed up for various accounts, but seem to struggle to find strategic or effective ways to use them. they may not always being used effectively. In fact, I’ve talked with many organizations that have several accounts many of which are inactive.
Regardless of the social media channels you use, keeping fresh content flowing is critical to maintain relationships. This requires developing a plan and dedicating resources or otherwise updates get overlooked. Social media is not a fad, but is one of those tools that nonprofit leaders need to harness in order to be in business tomorrow. Chad Norman from Blackbaud provided 50 Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits that you may find helpful.
4. OUTCOMES TRACKING - In past articles we have discussed at length the need to track and report program outcomes rather than outputs. However, many organizations are still fuzzy about what outcomes are and which ones are important to funders. Kevin Monroe, a strategic partner of Applegate Consulting, addresses some of these issues in a recent article, Three High-Impact Outcomes - Change You Can Believe In.
There are other organizations that understand why they should focus on outputs, but they are unsure how to track the information. There are a variety of options - again some that are simple and low-cost and others that are more sophisticated and as a result, expensive. Some low cost options include adding specific questions to your intake/outtake forms or keeping in contact with program participants through surveys or phone call to gather status information. A more sophisticated option is Social Solutions - ETO, an amazing system that has the potential to track all kinds of information. TechSoup has provided some great recommendations for choosing the outcomes tracking tool that is right for you.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the community engagement tools available to nonprofit organizations. However, it does highlight a few key areas that we should focus on in order to be in business tomorrow.
Please share any additional tools, software, etc. that you are using that have helped your organization.
A recent survey of more than 900 nonprofit leaders reveals a major communications crisis facing the industry - messages are simply not connecting with donors, volunteers, clients, and other key audiences. In fact, this survey (GettingAttention.org) indicates that many nonprofit leaders characterize their primary messages as poorly targeted, difficult to remember and uninspiring. Uninspiring?!? Unimaginable!
On a regular basis I speak with nonprofit leaders that are struggling with this very issue. Board members and staff are not networking or fundraising for the organization because they don’t know what to say. Advertising and marketing dollars are being wasted because no one is paying attention. Organizations are failing to connect with people that really care about their issues and therefore are under-resourced. Though this is a serious issue, it is one that can be easily resolved by being strategic in the creation of your marketing messages.
As we mentioned in previous articles on developing a strategic message, strategic messaging is the process of intentionally creating messages that appeal to the desires and motivations of your target audiences - whether donors, volunteers, funders, government officials, or partners. While strategic messages are consistent with the organizational mission, they are presented from the viewpoint of the audience.
Strategic messages do more than just generate attention and interest, they are targeted messages that will motivate people to act on your behalf and help you accomplish your goals, because they realize they will be satisfying their own desires at the same time.
Step 1: Know what you want.
What action do you desire? This action will be the foundation of your messaging and serve to answer the question, “Why are you communicating at all?”
Step 2: Identify and understand your target audience.
Determine who can best help you achieve you goals and what motivates them to get involved. This requires understanding the moods and motivations of individual audience segments so that you can create appropriate messages for each.
Step 3: Find mutuality.
Ultimately, the goal is to find that common ground or shared space where your needs, wants, and desires intersect with those of the audience(s). This intersect or overlap is what opens the door to engagement.
Step 4: Create your strategic marketing messages.
Finally, it’s time to write the message. When writing, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Be relevant. Keep the audience in mind for each message and always write from their viewpoint. Too often, organizations get to this point and then fall back into the trap of writing from their internal perspective. Don’t fall to this temptation. It will be helpful to include members of the audience and have them evaluate what you write to see if it speaks to them and resonates with their desires.
Avoid jargon. As nonprofits, we have all kinds of acronyms or clinical terms that we understand but make absolutely no sense to the listener (or reader, recipient). Don’t allow these to be part of your message. This may be challenging - but it is critical. You can ask your friends and family - those unfamiliar with your work - to see if they know what you are trying to say. If not, change it.
Keep it short. Ideally, strategic marketing messages are no longer than 25-30 words. Length is important because as we said early on, they need to be easy to remember so that people with a variety of levels of communication skills and familiarity with the organization can use them. They also need to be short so that the listener can remember them without feeling overwhelmed.
Remain consistent. Finally, keep in mind that the message should ALWAYS remain the same, but how it is presented can be unique for each person. Rebecca Leek, author of Message Matters, says in her book, “Words are flexible, the message is not.” So massage the words not the message.
Keep in mind, this is a creative process. After your message is created, you will still need to consider the implementation and evaluation of the messages. You will need to evaluate how effectively your message connects with your audiences and possibly make changes based your findings. Many organizations will also need to change their target audiences from time to time - resulting in an updated or new strategic message.
The goal of strategic messaging is to give everyone in the organization simple, compelling, and memorable words they can use to connect with a variety of audiences - getting them excited about what your organization is doing. Creating them well will also make poorly targeted, unmemorable, uninspiring nonprofit marketing messages a thing of the past.