“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.
The 21st century is the age of collaboration. There is a general understanding that collaborating around certain issues can make a difference for the clients and communities served, as well as an impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of individual organizations.
However, questions linger regarding how to leverage collaborative relationships to increase support for individual organizations and collaborations. These questions haven’t prevented many organizations from collaborating to some extent; however other organizations wonder how collaboration benefits their organization.
Types of Collaboration
Organizations collaborate in a variety of ways. Some organizations are part of a coalition around a specific topic such homelessness or domestic violence. Members of such coalitions often share similar missions and work together to make a larger impact on the issues they face. They recognize that by working together they can bring about the systemic changes needed to achieve their common mission.
Other collaborations are smaller and less formal but still have the ability to make a difference in a community or around a need. For example, I am part of a local group that meets once a month to discuss current needs in our community. Two months ago, during our luncheon, it was brought to the group’s attention that there was an issue in our community regarding wheelchair accessibility. There were several locations around town that weren’t equipped with ramps, therefore preventing access to some of our citizens. The group decided together to rally volunteers and resources to address this issue. Within one month the group had worked together to get wheelchair ramps built everywhere that had been initially identified. While formal partnerships are not yet part of this group, the participating organizations are already actively collaborating to meet the needs that arise.
Still another type of collaboration is when organizations share operational expenses to save money and increase organizational efficiency. In one community where we work, several of the local arts organizations decided to share office space and many of their back-office functions (accounting and finance, phone service, IT). This allowed each organization to reduce their expenses and as a result enhanced their financial position. It also had the unexpected result of building close relationships between the organizations leading to collaborative projects and fundraising events. The community at-large ended up benefiting from improved programming and a greater offering.
The organizations participating in each of these collaborations all have the opportunity to gain community support through their efforts. Let’s explore 3 ways they can maximize these opportunity:
1. PROMOTE THE IMPACT - As we mentioned above, most nonprofits understand that collaborating around an issue has the potential to increase the impact being made. However, in regards to leveraging this impact to gain community support if you don’t tell them, they won’t know. This means you need to share what’s being done through the collaboration on your website, in your print materials, through social media, and during conversations. Be careful not to overstate your role and be sure to share the spotlight with the others - but promote the impact that’s been achieved.
In the example above of the arts organizations, some of the partners recognized the opportunity this provided to increase community engagement. They demonstrated to new and potential investors that they were good financial stewards and that a larger percentage of their annual budget was allocated to programs and services. They also were also able to show an increase in the satisfaction level with the programming. They marketed this to community members thereby increasing attendance and support .
2. LEVERAGE PARTNER RELATIONSHIPS - Collaborating with other organizations has the potential to open doors to a large number of people in your community. United Way provides a great example of how this can work.
Shortly after graduating college, I worked for an organization that was extremely charitable and promoted this atmosphere to their employees. United Way worked closely with this organization throughout the year to host a number of employee fun days and other events. Through this collaboration the organization received great PR in the local community (with the help of United Way) that enhanced their reputation and ultimately resulted in increased business. On the other hand, United Way was able to build relationships with hundreds of employees and potential supporters. Both organizations considered the relationship a win and both were eager to open doors for the other.
3. BUILD REFERRAL RELATIONSHIPS - When you collaborate with other organizations, especially those with a common mission, you may find that you share a client, donor, or volunteer base or have many of the same contacts. To some this ‘sharing’ may seem more like ‘competing’; however, there is a great benefit to building referral relationships through collaboration. For example, there may be times that you can’t meet a client’s needs or you have reached your maximum capacity. Obviously, it would be beneficial to have some form of client referral network with similar organizations so that the he or she can still get the help they need.
It's also important to build referral relationships with organizations different than yours. In the example above of the group that came together to make the town more handicapped accessible, this is exactly what has happened. By addressing the need for additional accessibility, the partner organizations have built a shared database of qualified, willing volunteers in the community. They also have developed a database of local businesses that are willing to donate supplies and/or employee time to meet community needs. Now, as situations arise they have begun referring volunteers and donors to one another to help overcome the challenges each organization faces. It’s inspirational to see these organizations working together to strengthen the community without regard for who gets the credit.
Collaboration continues to play an important role in meeting the needs of our communities. However, many nonprofits I’ve worked with are still trying to find ways to leverage these collaborations to benefit their individual organizations. It is my hope that these 3 tips will get your wheels turning around ways collaboration can increase your community support. Do you have other ideas for increasing community support through collaboration? Please consider sharing them below.
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.