Announcing CausePlanet’s Choice Award winners: Our top books for nonprofit leaders

cp_bookchoice_2016_greenIt’s my favorite time of year for many reasons. One of which is that my team at CausePlanet enjoys reflecting on the books we reviewed in 2016 for nonprofit leaders. Here are some of our favorites among them.

It goes without saying that this is an incredibly tough process because we don’t review a book to begin with unless we feel it has value for our readers. The titles below receive our CausePlanet Choice Award designation because each stood out on many counts, including factors such as originality, insight, inspiration and applicability.

We would like to congratulate the following authors on providing our sector with guidance and wisdom in these wonderful book titles:

How to Turn Your Words into Money: The Master Fundraiser’s Guide to Persuasive Writing by Jeff Brooks. turnyourwordsintomoneyfb

Jeff BrooksHow to Turn Your Words into Money is a nonprofit writer’s new ally with the latest guidelines for creating the most effective messages to persuade your reader. Brooks explains what fundraising writing is not and what it should be. He does so in a way that tells you exactly what to avoid and what to try in your next attempt to sway your audience. A fair amount is appropriately dedicated to the many ways you can create a compelling story even when you’re stumped. How to Turn concludes with what every fundraising writer needs: universal assumptions we know about donors and some helpful advice to keep you inspired. 

Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most by Hendrie “Hank” Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry.performingunderpressurecover

Pressure is the enemy of success, according to vast research conducted by Performing Under Pressure authors Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry. Since it’s impossible to live life free of pressure, the authors present strategies to manage it immediately and in the future. Divided into three parts, this book helps you understand all aspects of pressure-inducing situations, provides 22 powerful solutions for handling pressure scenarios, and explains how to build your own “armor” to protect yourself over your lifetime from the ill-effects of pressure. 

Retention Fundraising: The Art and Science of Keeping Donors for Life by Roger Craver.retention-fundraising-cover

If you want to change the world, author Roger Craver argues that you must tackle one of the greatest fundraising challenges: retention. In other words, don’t raise a dollar unless you have a plan for keeping that dollar. Unfortunately, low retention has become increasingly accepted as a given in nonprofit operations. Craver asserts this doesn’t have to be the case. Thanks to a study of more than 250 organizations, Craver and his collaborators have introduced a framework for boosting retention and the lifetime value of donors. This framework is the foundation to improve each of the retention issues he presents, from redefining loyalty to understanding authentic engagement.

Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits by Heather Mansfield.mobile-for-good-cover

Any doubts you may have that social networks aren’t powerful or don’t need to be a priority in your communication and fundraising efforts can now be put to rest, according to Mobile for Good author Heather Mansfield. A comprehensive and thoroughly researched resource for nonprofits, Mobile for Good helps you master mobile content distribution on social networks so you are more likely to experience fundraising success. She provides recommended software, helpful checklists and nonprofits you should model. Advanced users will find a section dedicated to nonprofit staffers who are ready to tackle more challenging strategies. 

The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High Character Employees by Bruce209-by-248-the-good-ones-cover Weinstein.

Questionable character is costly. Employees who lack character cost businesses and nonprofits billions of dollars each year. Unfortunately, employers focus too much on what candidates need to know or do and rarely think about what makes an employee great: character. The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees presents ten qualities that clarify what it means to be a high-character employee. Stories from employers and employees illustrate how these traits are critical to the long-term success of your nonprofit and to the employees who exhibit them. This book contains advice for the employer, the interviewee and employee in search of a character fit.

The Generosity Network: New Transformational Tools for Successful Fundraising by Jennifer McCrea, Jeffrey C. Walker and Karl Weber.generosity_network_cover_large

The Generosity Network was written for those of you who work for one of the 1.8 million organizations that make up America’s nonprofit sector and the 10 million nonprofits worldwide. Whether a nonprofit leader, volunteer, board member or front-line employee, each person plays a critical role in attracting support for its organization. This book describes an approach that makes working with partners easier, more effective and, dare we say, more fun. The basis of the coauthors’ approach is rooted in relatedness and connectedness with partners. These partnerships are built upon three elements: know yourself, know others and know how to ask.

I encourage you to give yourself the gift of knowledge and download one of our book summaries and purchase the book. Make 2017 count by committing to your professional development. Knowledge has a shelf life and it must be renewed!

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Avoid the 2-year website relaunch cycle: Look at ROI and mission

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-4-00-39-pmIf you’re looking to improve your website, you’re not alone. According to Captivate and Engage coauthors, Jay Wilkinson and Randy Hawthorne, nonprofits relaunch their websites about every two years. This is due to several factors.

Are “go-to geeks” the answer?

Primarily, nonprofits hire website designers whom the authors affectionately call “go-to-geeks.” These professionals are tech-savvy but the authors argue that a great site is more about mission, vision and cause more than about technology. “No programmer can manufacture those components,” explain Wilkinson and Hawthorne.

The doing-more-with-less fallacy

Another reason why nonprofits find themselves in a constant state of website revision is the “fallacy of doing more with less.” This is based on the idea that you should make decisions based on cost rather than value. “Get as much as you can for as little as possible.” Unfortunately, this philosophy contributes to a very short shelf life for your website.

Look at ROI and mission before you leap

When we asked Jay and Randy about preliminary considerations before you launch a website, they had the following answer that touched more on the fallacy mentioned above. We also asked about one of their primary recommendations: connecting the website to the mission. Read on.

CausePlanet: What is your advice for nonprofits that want to make the initial investment to build a website the right way? What are the preliminary considerations?

Wilkinson and Hawthorne: First and foremost, don’t fall into the “we have to do more with less” trap by focusing entirely on the cost of the website. Way more important than cost is the return onscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-3-09-13-pm investment, or ROI. A nonprofit could spend $50,000 on a website and double its money by increasing contributions or spend $500 and get nothing in return except for a bland site with a few photos and its mission statement.

Which one “costs” more for the nonprofit? Fortunately for everyone, great nonprofit websites with gargantuan ROIs don’t have to cost $50,000. We recommend finding a provider that specializes specifically in working with nonprofits. It has probably already built the functionality that you’ll need—meaning it’s not starting from scratch. Then, know what you want. Take the time to seek out other nonprofit websites to cite as examples. It’s the single best way for a developer to know how best to please you.

CausePlanet: You stress the importance of getting in touch with your mission, vision and values before engaging in the business of enlisting technological help. Have you seen any of your clients do this successfully and what did that look like?

Wilkinson and Hawthorne: Yes. We see it all the time. Every web developer worth her salt will tell you that when the leadership team for the nonprofit is involved in providing direction for the website, the product always comes out better. The closer someone is to the heart of the organization, the more insight and guidance she can give. 

A great example of this is the Groundwater Foundation at Groundwater.org. The President, Jane Griffin, is involved in every aspect of the website. As a result, the purpose and mission of the organization is deeply embedded into the site’s DNA. You can’t visit the website without gaining a sense of its mission.

See book summaries related to this topic:

Captivate and Engage: The Definitive Guide for Nonprofit Websites

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications

Image credits: Groundwater.org, NonprofitHub Press

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Who says you can’t get smart on National Taco Day?

tacoIt’s National Taco Day today and you’re probably wondering what tacos have to do with great books for nonprofit leaders. Well, it turns out a lot. Before I share our CausePlanet spin on tacos, I’ll give you a little context.

At Smithsonian.com, history professor Jeffrey Pilcher suggests that the taco originated around the 18th century in Mexico’s silver mines. “Taco” refers to the charges they would use to excavate the ore. The charges were pieces of paper the miners would wrap around the gunpowder and insert into holes they carved in the rock face.

In honor of America’s passion for the taco, we’ve assembled four titles at CausePlanet that make up the acronym T-A-C-O. Together, these recommended books cover governance, fundraising, content marketing and leadership. What more could you want? Okay, we threw in some salsa, too. I hope you enjoy blending your passion for getting smarter with a little history and culture today.

T Transformational Governance: Our newest recommendation about how change happens at the board level, not just what it looks like at the end.

A Asking Rights: Learn how to successfully fund your nonprofit and do so with a greater focus on funder interests and motivations.

CContent Marketing for Nonprofits: Examine how your marketing and fundraising strategies must dramatically change in order to genuinely attract donors and adapt to evolving market influences.

O Ordinary Greatness: Find out how to maximize your organizational results by cultivating the potential for greatness in everyone.

Plus, some salsa:

Salsa Soul and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age: Discover the eight principles of multicultural leadership and how they can be applied to your organization.

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Why you need a mobile media budget at your nonprofit

Any doubts you may have that social networks aren’t powerful or don’t need to be a priority in your communication and fundraising efforts can now be put to rest, according to Mobile for Good author Heather Mansfield.

A comprehensive and thoroughly researched resource for nonprofits, Mobile for Good helps you master mobile content distribution on social networks so you are more likely to experience fundraising success. She provides recommended software, helpful checklists and nonprofits you should model. Advanced users will find a section dedicated to nonprofit staffers who are ready to tackle more challenging strategies.

What I found particularly interesting were some of the statistics Mansfield shares early on in her rationale for why nonprofits need to pay attention to mobile and social media. I’ve put them in an infographic for you.

Mobile for Good (1)

Nonprofit book summaries related to this post:

Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

Social Change Anytime Everywhere: How to Implement Online Multichannel Strategies to Spark Advocacy, Raise Money and Engage Your Community

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Put your own stories to work when winning others over

business2community-comPeople tell stories all the time and don’t realize it. “This book is actually designed to help you pay better attention to the stories you tell, so you can teach, build vision, share a process or introduce a new idea more effectively,” says storytelling thought leader Annette Simmons.

Influence, persuade, inspire

Simmons explains why storytelling that is used to influence others is more than a tool for the marketing professional or fundraiser. Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins is widely applied by leaders to influence, persuade and inspire. In Whoever Tells, you’ll learn how to build consensus, win others over to your point of view, and foster group decision making by using six kinds of stories.

These stories are often the reasons why donors give, why board members act, why stakeholders advocate or why people collaborate. Annette Simmons not only explains why this skill is so critical to everyone, but also how to learn and develop what many people mistakenly believe is a rare gift only a few of us enjoy.

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins takes you step by step through the process of identifying and choosing stories from your own life, experience and knowledge, and then linking them, fully and authentically, to the themes, messages and goals of your workplace.designpm-com

You’ll gain skills in how to influence others, improve collective decision making and leverage the approval of ideas you’re presenting. Simmons helps you accomplish these goals by using six kinds of stories:

Six kinds of stories

1.     Who-I-Am Stories: People need to know who you are before they can trust you.

2.     Why-I-Am-Here Stories: People can be wary so you must disarm them by sharing your agenda.

3.     Teaching Stories: Some lessons are best learned from telling a story that creates a shared experience.

4.     Vision Stories: The idea of a worthy, exciting future can reframe difficulties and diminish obstacles.

5.     Values-In-Action Stories: Tell a story that illustrates the real-world manifestation of a value.

6.     I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking Stories: These stories address possible suspicions and dispel them to build trust.

Working definition, how to identify good stories and Simmons’ approach

Simmons defines “story” as a “reimagined experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listeners’ imaginations to experience it as real.” There are many other definitions but this one is helpful because it keeps you focused on stories that influence and change perceptions.

She adds, “Stories replenish information with the food of human connection and reignite powerful motivations stimulated when we feel the sense of our shared humanity.”

According to the author, once you know how to find and tell stories that feel personal to you and your receivers, you have what you need to acknowledge, connect with and emotionally move others. The best storytellers understand how to use their own emotional responses as indicators of what will resonate with others.

Why you must tell stories from the inside out

Most storytelling advice instructs you to tell the story from the outside in. All stories have a beginning, middle and end. They have a plot, character, setting, conflict and resolution. These elements are all true but they don’t generate an emotional connection.

Conversely, telling personal stories teaches you storytelling from the inside out, which puts emotion and personal connection first. “Unless you bring a beating heart to your message, it is dead. But when you tell your own heartfelt stories about what is meaningful in your life and work, you get the hang of finding stories that frame life and work in emotionally meaningful ways for your listeners.”

Why you should take a closer look at Simmons’ book

If you find yourself in any situation where it is essential to engage a listener, audience, prospect, board or task force, you will find Whoever Tells exceptionally useful. Simmons’ well-researched and example-rich chapters help you build a foundation of stories that will become useful to you in a variety of settings. The book is well-written, clearly organized and an enjoyable read. In storytelling terms, there are no cliff hangers. Rather, Simmons provides you with heroic ideas and satisfying endings to each chapter.

See books and summaries for related titles:

Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Image credits: designpm.com, business2community.com

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Find out why you shouldn’t like your donor message

The donor relationship equity built over the lifetime of an organization should not be taken lightly. Author Jeff Brooks encourages you to apply his proven strategies for raising more money and avoid jarring tactics that jeopardize donor relationships.

One of the passages we liked best in Brooks’ latest book, A Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, was titled “Self-centric fundraising.”

Simply put, if you like your message, your donor won’t. Read on to find out why:

Self-centric fundraising

If you like your fundraising message, asserts Brooks, it will not appeal to your donors. Even if your donors say they like it, it will not compel them to give in real life. “Everyone’s conscious opinions about fundraising are automatically wrong. … Everyone hates the stuff that works best.” This happens because when you practice self-centric fundraising, or what appeals to you as the fundraiser, you lose the emotion because your initial emotional connection to the cause has become more sophisticated and educated as you have worked for the nonprofit.

For example, you may want to talk about global hunger as “food insecurity” after working in the field. A donor would not understand this term at all. In addition, you don’t focus on the donors because you are proud of your organization’s work and want to detail its merits.

Donors, however, want to be part of the equation. Finally, “your copy reads like inter-office memos.” Formal, professional, cold communication does not motivate donors to act. In this kind of copy, you focus on facts: “Please consider supporting the 124 children in our hospital,” instead of a compelling, emotional story about a 6-year-old girl talking about her good-luck bear in her fight against cancer.

In order to avoid these self-centric messages, turn off your personal likes and dislikes in favor of what has worked with donors before, either in your organization or others. Ask if it is emotional, clear and simple, rather than if you like it or not.

In our interview with Brooks, we asked more about what donors want to hear:

CausePlanet: What do you think is the best training fundraisers can receive? They need to be fluent, smooth writers but also need simplicity and an intuition about what donors want to hear.

Brooks: The best possible training is an experienced mentor–someone who knows fundraising inside and out and will go over your work in detail and show you what needs to be done. Read quality books about fundraising. There are a lot of them, and the folks at CausePlanet can help you find the right ones. Also, read a few of the blogs.  There are a lot of them, many of them superb sources of information. Find a blog you like, then add a few more from that blog’s blogroll. Finally, get to know other professionals and talk about stuff. Get involved in your local AFP, and/or go to one of the national conventions. Knowing and talking with other professionals really makes a positive difference.

CausePlanet: What in your research makes fundraisers lose money more than anything?

Brooks: Failing to engage with donors. Asking donors to “stand with us” rather than give them specific actions they can take. Writing in the language and about things that organizational insiders care about, rather than what motivates the donors. Using images that make insiders feel good instead of those that reach donors. Using abstractions and wordplay instead of clear, plain, powerful emotional messaging. Bragging about the organization and its programs instead of making it about the donors.

Read more about this book in our Page to Practice summary and other related titles:

The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Image credits: dishntell.wp.com, iconarchive.com, goodwp.com

 

 

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Donor surveys hide the truth about longer fundraising messages

Writing fundraising communications is not merely a derivative of commercial marketing, academic writing or business prose. It’s a highly specialized and nuanced technique that requires experience, ongoing testing and specific knowledge about the reader.

Nonprofits that risk taking a casual approach to their fundraising communications or worse, allow someone without context or background change the branding and donor outreach methods entirely, will find themselves recovering lost ground for months, sometimes years.

The donor relationship equity built over the lifetime of an organization should not be taken lightly. Author Jeff Brooks encourages you to apply his proven strategies for raising more money and avoid jarring tactics that jeopardize donor relationships.

In Brooks’ latest book, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money (www.EmersonandChurch.com, 2012), he skillfully and entertainingly instructs you in an easy and informative manner about everything you need to know about fundraising communications.

To wax on or not to wax on

In this post, I want to highlight one of many elements he covers in the book under “Writing Style.” Brooks tackles the debate over the length of your content and that longer messaging allows for effective use of repetition and storytelling.

What donors really want in your fundraising messages

Even though it is counterintuitive, longer messages, when tested, work better than shorter ones. When donors are asked whether they want short or long messages, they assert they want shorter ones. But actual donor behavior favors the longer messages.

No one really knows why, but theories include the following: A longer appeal can contain multiple triggers or opportunities to relay a message, such as a visualization of a life-threatening need or emphasis on a problem, and a longer message holds more weight, among others.

The two essential characteristics in the best longer messages include:

Stories: You can flesh out your stories in longer messages to deliver more vivid images.

Repetition: This will help your readers get the message clearly. Here is an outline Brooks gives for your message:

Introduction: Why I’m writing to you.

Ask.

Why your gift is so important today.

Ask.

How much impact your gift will have.

Ask.

Story that demonstrates the need.

Ask.

Remind the donor of his values and connection with the cause.

Ask.

Another story.

Ask.

Help the donor visualize what will happen when she gives.

Ask.

Conclusion: Thank the donor for caring.

Ask again.

If you haven’t picked up on Brooks’ theme here, let me spell it out for you. Longer messages let you repeat your ask and frame it in several ways, increasing your chances for triggering the response you’re looking for. Additionally, stories have greater potential when they can be expanded with more detail and emotion.

Why do fundraisers get it wrong when writing solicitations?

Content length is simply one of numerous techniques Brooks covers for fundraisers who find themselves in the communications role. Let’s pull back from this specific writing style example and introduce one of Brooks’ answers to our question about why so many fundraisers get it wrong when crafting an appeal. Here’s what he said:

CausePlanet: Jeff, thank you for writing this book that clearly emphasizes the best ways to write fundraising materials, contrary to many common beliefs. Why do you think so many fundraisers are so misguided and write unsuccessful solicitations?

Jeff Brooks: Almost everyone who enters the fundraising profession comes from somewhere else. Those who realize they’re in a new world and seek to understand it quickly learn how to do effective fundraising. Those who aren’t curious and open-minded, who insist on bringing the conventions of another discipline (such as commercial marketing), fail repeatedly and spectacularly.

The other source of unsuccessful fundraising is “Fundraising From Yourself”–the belief that if it’s persuasive to me, it’s good. That NEVER works. You have to aim at donors, and that always means you won’t find the message compelling.

See this book, Page to Practice summary and other relevant titles:

The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Image credits: EmersonandChurch.com, leonlogosthetis.com, allisoncarmichael.com, thedailywalk.org

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Corporations have much to gain from modeling great nonprofit brands

Spotting an exceptional brand is easy, but building one is one of the most important challenges every organization faces. So how do you build a brand that breaks through? And is there a difference from one sector or industry to the next?

That was the challenge that I was presented when approached to write a chapter for the internationally published book “The Brand Challenge”. It features some of the world’s leading brand experts from every type of business, industry and organization possible – from fashion to football; from hotels to city; from B2B to mass B2C brands AND more.

I was proud to write the chapter on branding in the non-profit sector. In contributing to the book I had a chance to compare with my fellow authors how brand building is similar and different in various categories.

My biggest takeaway – the power of great non-profits to create loyalty, drive passion, engage people and give a sense of higher purpose. There is no question that breakthrough non-profit brands offer some distinct advantages. What can other industries learn from great non-profit brands? Here are my key lessons:

1. Great non-profits serve humanity as the cornerstone of their brands
The best brands serve a societal need and stand for making more than just profits! Great non-profits have an aspirational societal goal at the heart of their brand. In serving a bigger purpose it positions the non-profit brand as a hero pursuing solutions that positively advance society and as a convener inviting others to join the movement.

2. Great non-profit brands create owners not users
The best brands are ones that create a sense of ownership. Inclusive, not exclusive, great non-profit brands create owner-based relationships with constituents; supporters feel pride of ownership and view the organization as an extension of themselves and a means to achieve goals they value. The most successful non-profit distribute power to shape the brand through tools, resources, and training that encourage creative engagement.

3. Non-profit brands are naturally VALUES driven, that is the ESSENCE of great brands
Great brands are values-driven, but many companies have not defined their values. For non-profits, knowing their higher-level values is easy because they are embedded directly into their own creation.

Values driven brands are ones where values are translated into tangible measurements of behaviour and results, where people are held accountable for living those values and achieving measurable goals. Regularly communicating social impact, non-profits bring their core values to life.

4. Great non-profit brands create a sense of community and build movements of like-minded people
The best brands are almost cult-like, creating movements of believers. Great non-profit brands create a sense of community, both inside and outside the organization. They are built on a simple, but central rule of our nature – people like to be around other people who share the same beliefs and care about similar issues and beliefs. Great non-profit brands unite groups of would-be strangers in a feeling of kinship through shared hopes and commitments.

5. Great non-profit brands have “Practical, Emotional and Engagement” benefits
Non-profit brand puts its constituents at the heart of its brand. It makes the brand personally and emotionally relevant and creates a sense of community around unifying values, commitments, and concerns. It offers a triple value proposition:

Convinces the head: Effective non-profits rationally articulate a unique and differentiated idea that explains what their organization does better than others. Then, they go further and demonstrate how this core concept is relevant to their supporters.

Touches the heart: Non-profit brands make an emotional connection by serving a higher purpose and focusing on driving outcomes. Emotional impact is in direct proportion to the social impact of the organization’s purpose.

Engages the hands: Breakthrough non-profit brands are built to engage as many constituents as possible in strategic activities that make the best use of the organizations and supporter communities’ collective energies.

6. Today, brand value is based on making a meaningful contribution society! Nonprofits have that in spades!
Non-profit brands are all about making a meaningful and impactful contribution to society and those they serve. A look at the Meaningful Brands Index, a new metric of global brand strength, shows that brands that positively affect humanity outperform the stock market by 120%.

If your brand story does not authentically and meaningfully contribute to the well-being of society or the environment, your brand will not be viewed as important. In fact, the Meaningful Brand Index report found that 73% of all brands could disappear and consumers wouldn’t care.

7. Business-community partnerships build and strengthen corporate brands

It doesn’t matter what a brand says, it what it does that counts. Building business-community partnerships with the right non-profits that align with a company’s value and help bring the brand to life are the ones that win. So whether it’s CSR, sustainability, community giving, employee volunteering, cause marketing or foundation alignment, the more good works your values support, the more favourable the brand.

Read more about my book the “Breakthrough Non-profit Branding”.

Or learn more and purchase the “The Brand Challenge.”

Special thanks to Jocelyne Daw for allowing us to cross-post this article, which originally appeared at www.jsdaw.com.

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The value of your nonprofit brand: Are you making the most of it? 

To many, “brand” is a corporate sector concept. While you may not think of your nonprofit as having a brand or a “brand identity,” it does. Overlooking this is a huge mistake, not to mention a major missed opportunity. It’s not enough to have a brand; organizations need to understand the value of their brand and how to maximize this value.

Why should nonprofits care about the value of their brand? Simple. It’s a key competitive advantage and a significant asset.

In the nonprofit sector, brand value is derived from and measured in large part by the support of volunteers, donors and community members. In addition, media visibility is an important component of generating support, as well as being a measure of it. Nonprofits can both leverage and strengthen their stakeholders’ support. In the process, they can enhance the value of their brands and the resources these brands attract. A communications strategy is an important tool in achieving these outcomes. And, in today’s increasingly technology-dominated world, social media is becoming an essential component of an effective communications strategy.

The importance of brand in the nonprofit sector

This article draws on the findings of a study conducted by Cone Communications and Intangible Business, published in the report, The Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100, to illustrate the importance of brand in the nonprofit sector. It discusses the role of communications in building and strengthening brand value, and highlights corporate-NGO partnerships as an example of situations where nonprofits can leverage their brand value to attract resources to advance their missions.

Defining your brand

While no one bats an eye when we speak of a corporation’s brand or the brand of a consumer good, people often look confused when we talk about “nonprofit brands.” However, the concept applies equally well to nonprofit organizations. Every nonprofit has a brand.

On the surface, your brand is your organization’s name, logo, tag line and other descriptors. But, it goes much deeper than this. Your brand is what your stakeholders experience when they see your brand images, hear your name and read your tag line. It’s the emotions they feel, the thoughts they have and the mental images they see. Strong brands create positive experiences and stimulate positive emotions. They have the capacity to attract resources, not only financial ones, but the support of customers, volunteers, community leaders, influential spokespersons and the media. The support they generate is self-reinforcing.

Measuring your brand value

A strong brand is a major asset. As the Cone report reveals, the nonprofit sector in the United States wields significant “brand power.” The top 10 nonprofit brands alone have a combined “brand value” of more than $29 billion. By attempting to measure the value of nonprofit brands, the study highlights the benefits of having a strong brand identity and the importance of communication in building and maintaining this identity.

In the study, Intangible Business applied a process, called “brand valuation,” to calculate the tangible value of a brand. This involves assessing three things:

  1. Brand image
  2. Revenue in the most recent fiscal year
  3. Projected future revenue
  4. Brand image is measured by visibility (media coverage), accessibility, volunteer involvement and support, operational efficiency and diversity of funding (individual contributions versus foundation and government support).

While the calculation of a nonprofit’s brand value is similar to that used for corporate brands, what is different is the assessment of volunteer, donor and community support. Strong nonprofit brands have a broad base of engaged stakeholders. To achieve this, an organization must invest in developing and nurturing relationships with its stakeholders. This requires developing and implementing an effective communications strategy.

Building your brand value

The report lists “10 Essentials for Enhancing Brand Power.” These are interrelated strategies for increasing stakeholder engagement and securing needed financial, in-kind and advocacy-related resources. The majority of the essentials are communications-related.

These are largely common knowledge, but it’s striking how frequently they are overlooked:

  1. Build brand stewards: This refers to assuring that “you have aligned your entire internal staff, volunteers and board around your brand and your brand meaning.”
  2. Establish (and adhere to) brand guidelines: Here, the most important part is between the parentheses. All too often, guidelines are tucked away in a folder on someone’s computer, rather than being integrated into all messaging – both internal and external.
  3. Create a dialogue with brand ambassadors: This builds on the previous tip. The key here is the importance placed on two-way conversation and listening; the latter is an oft-overlooked and under-valued skill.
  4. Deliver crisp communications: Enough said.

Two of the tips specifically urge nonprofits to be strategic, to look outward and forward, and to be nimble. These involve strategic communications, as well:

  1. Develop quick reflexes: Nonprofits need to place themselves in the context of the external environment (or market) and ensure that they are relevant.
  2. Issue a rallying cry: Through the positive social change that they create, nonprofits are inspirational. Successful nonprofits know how to connect emotionally with their constituents and deliver on their brand promise. They know how to seize critical moments in time and engage constituents on behalf of their causes.

Incorporating social media

While nothing will ever replace face-to-face communications in terms of its ability to cultivate lasting relationships, in today’s world organizations must leverage the power of social media. With its relatively low costs and growing accessibility, social media reduces traditional barriers to reaching and expanding stakeholder communities. It provides opportunities for building deep and broad support, and to remaining top-of-mind.

Easy as it sounds, engaging in social media is no simple undertaking. It requires a sound strategy, a sincere commitment to continual involvement and to two-way conversations, as well as a high level of transparency. These are all long-standing components of best practices in communications. They are essential in the highly visible and fast-paced world of social media.

Being true to your brand

A strong brand is built over time. However, it can be compromised and even destroyed in the blink of an eye. While marketing, communications and media relations can contribute to building awareness of and support for an organization, they can only go so far. If an organization doesn’t deliver on its promises, the best marketing efforts will fall flat or, worse, backfire. The result is a cascading effect with others’ communications in the driver’s seat.

While the loss of financial resources may be the most visible outcome, far worse is the loss of positive brand experience and brand image. A damaged reputation may be irreparable. This is increasingly the case in today’s closely connected global community where information is readily accessible in even the most remote areas, and where stories are spread with the click of a mouse and then retained in virtual perpetuity.

Leveraging brand value in partnerships

The final “essential” is:

Build corporate partnerships: This advice is particularly noteworthy. It’s an example of how nonprofits can and should leverage their brand power. It acknowledges the power that nonprofit brands have – not only in attracting revenue to support their work, in the same way that corporate brands attract investors, but also in attracting essential non-financial resources. The latter include customers, volunteers, community leaders and media attention. Nonprofits with strong brands typically have significant community support. This is a resource that many corporations do not have, and it is a resource that they want and need.
In essence, for the nonprofit that wants to secure corporate support, its brand value provides a rationale for why a business should consider partnering with it. Brand value provides a measure of the assets the nonprofit brings to the table and puts it on an equal footing in the relationship. As the report states, “Valuing brands gives organizations a license to demonstrate to companies and other partners that there is an established and justified cost to aligning with nonprofits.”

This is not something that only the “big guys” (e.g., the nonprofit “power brand 100”) have access to. In fact, community-based nonprofits typically have significant brand value, as demonstrated by the strong support they derive from their local communities. In the context of cross-sector partnerships, this can be leveraged effectively with local businesses and corporations.

A note regarding cross-sector partnerships: Before entering into a partnership, a nonprofit should carefully assess the potential corporate partner’s brand value and determine if there is a good match between their brands.

In sum, every nonprofit has a brand. It is an essential asset that should be developed, protected and leveraged. It reflects the nonprofit’s mission, vision and values, and the impact it has in making our world a better place. Through their work to create positive social change, nonprofits are able to cultivate deep and lasting communities of supporters. This is a significant component of nonprofits’ “brand power” and an important factor in securing the resources nonprofits need to advance their missions.

See also:

Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding: Seven Principles to Power Extraordinary Results

Marketing Series–Volume One: Building a Persuasive Case, Seven Transformative Branding Principles, Multi-faceted Strategies and Bonding with Brands for Life

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing

Image credits: r2integrated.com, brandequity.com, photosfine.wordpress.com

 

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Before you can get buy-in, people need to feel the problem

Picture this: you’re in the middle of presenting your proposal and a person at the far end of the table raises her hand. “I’m not even sure the ‘problem’ you’re describing exists, or is a big deal at all!” How do you deal with that?

From reading your responses to my previous posts, I find that many people aren’t able to even reach the point where they can debate the merits of their proposal. Many get bogged down in the quagmire of trying to effectively communicate the nature and extent of the problem. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t much matter what your proposal is. People aren’t going to consider anything until they are convinced there is a problem that truly needs to be addressed.

Have you made the problem feel real?

In scenarios like this, I’ve found that it’s effective to highlight the problem and the people affected by it in a way that makes the problem feel real. What’s less effective — and far more common — is to make a dry business case that, even if correct, is usually less persuasive and less memorable than it needs to be.

424 gloves drive the message home

On this topic, one story I’ve always liked (from my book The Heart of Change) I affectionately call “Gloves on the Boardroom Table.” A large organization had an inefficient purchasing process, and one mid-level executive believed that money was constantly being wasted with each of the organization’s factories handling their own purchases. He thought there could be tremendous savings from consolidating the procurement effort. He put together a “business case” for change but it went nowhere. His boss said that senior executives didn’t feel it was truly a big problem, especially with so many other daily challenges taking up their time.

So the manager had an idea: he collected the 424 different kinds of work gloves the factories collectively purchased and tagged each one with its different price and supplier. He carted the gloves in and dumped them on the boardroom table before a senior
executive team meeting. He first showed the pile to his boss, who was taken aback by this powerful visual display of the waste inherent in having dozens of different factories negotiate different deals for the items they needed!

The boss showed the CEO, who scrapped the meeting agenda to talk about procurement because what he was looking at was so memorable, so compelling, and so real. It galvanized the executives to action. Ultimately, they overhauled their procurement process and saved a great deal of money.

See, feel, change

I’ve called the process used here See, Feel, and Change, as opposed to Analyze, Think, and Change. The latter is all head, no heart, and often fails to motivate people to recognize the importance of a given problem. It’s too easily forgotten or ignored if it doesn’t feel real.

Highlight the personal, real consequences of the problem you want people to see

So what is my everyday advice if you can’t always collect, catalogue, and cart around 424 pairs of gloves? One way is to highlight the real, personal consequences of the problem you want people to see, and to highlight the real people who suffer because of it.

My newer book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down, features a story of someone presenting a plan to provide new computers for a local library. When dissenters don’t listen because they don’t think there is a problem with the current computers, the presenter has two options. He could use PowerPoint slides to compare the library’s computers to current computer models sold in stores, showing the difference in processing power, memory capacity, and modem speed. Or he could relate the true story of a local fourth-grader from a poor family who relies on the library’s computers for homework — computers that are too slow and outdated to allow her to finish her assignments, leaving her underprepared for school.

Which case would you find more compelling? Which case makes the problem feel real?

See also:

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Image credits: Harvard Business Review, harborfreight, channelview

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