Archive for April, 2015

Mapping your cultivation to reach fundraising success

The term “donor cultivation” has the unique distinction of being universally accepted and appreciated but poorly understood and abysmally applied.

Donor Cultivation and the Donor Lifecycle Map by Deborah Kaplan Polivy challenges you to put a thoughtful focus on donor cultivation and deliberately embed ongoing practices by using her framework—a map designed to orient your donor interactions toward the long view rather than simple year-to-year terms. Polivy introduces personal and nonpersonal tools to apply when in acquisition, renewal and growth activities. She also dedicates an entire chapter to demonstrating how these tools work with an in-depth case study I highlight below.

Donor Lifecycle Map

The Donor Lifecycle Map, created by Sarah Clifton, 101 fundraising blogger, inspired Polivy to combine her ideas about long-term cultivation with this map in order to write this book. In the Map, the organization is constantly building relationships and moving donors across stages.

Every donor matters and is cultivated through his or her first gift, second gift and active giving over the years. The organization tries to move the active givers to stretch gifts and finally to ultimate gifts such as legacy gifts. Not every donor will follow this path but it provides “a framework for thinking about donors and how to shift them from one segment to the next.”

CPB Major Gifts Initiative

In her book, Polivy shares a case story that demonstrates how Robert Altman, while at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Major Gifts Initiative, made some changes relevant to actions connected with the Donor Lifecycle Map.

The challenge

The Initiative determined that CPB was suffering financially because it had mainly been raising money through widespread, smaller donations of less than $100. Several stations signed on to experiment with raising larger gifts to some success.

Corrective measures

After taking over in Albany, Altman shared some of his changes with Polivy, which relate to building relationships, tools, and the Donor Lifecycle Map. A few examples include the following actions the station took. The team:

focused on building relationships with donors and outwardly connecting with the community more,

rearranged the organizational chart so the major giving and planned giving staff reported to him,

sustained donors through automatic renewal deductions from donors’ bank accounts and requests for increases sent through the mail,

researched the best fundraising practices (e.g., thank-you calls with no requests produced more results if continued at three months and six months after a donation),

researched patterns of interests among donors so it could send invitations to special events in these areas,

applied different pitches to minor and major donors,

created societies for different giving levels,

developed information regarding ultimate gifts and scheduled events around legacy giving,

enlisted board members to make thank-you calls to donors,

and instituted tours several mornings a month, and used its 50th anniversary as a cultivation tool by holding celebratory events.

Why the map works

The corrective measures Altman applied to his sleepy fundraising initiative underscore many of the cultivation principles Polivy recommends in conjunction with her Map. When I asked Polivy what readers appreciate most about applying the Donor Lifecycle Map, she said, “How logical and strategic the model is. The question that needs to be asked at each interval is, ‘How can I move my donors forward through the sectors on the map?’ In particular, if they ‘map’ their data, they will see where they are not moving people ahead and where they are ‘losing’ people along the way, i.e. lapsed donors.”

See also:

Fundraising the SMART Way™: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website

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

It’s Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts Into Lasting, Genuine Relationships

Image credits:,, Sarah Clifton’s 101 Fundraising Blog

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Due diligence and advice for grantseekers

A few years ago, I was engaged in the process of conducting workshops for program officers and foundation executives who were seeking ways to more skillfully approach due diligence in grantmaking.

At LaPiana Consulting, we collaborated with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) to update their guide, Due Diligence Done Well, and many grantmakers have embraced the principles we presented since then.

As an Executive Director, I didn’t always embrace this process. With some foundations and program officers, I felt we were developing a relationship designed to create positive community change. In other cases, I felt as though I was being quizzed without a clear sense of what the questions were designed to reveal about my organization and its work. Even today, the grantmakers I talk with experience this dichotomy in a similar way, with the most successful experiences yielding strong relationships and the most frustrating never getting beyond a “sales pitch.”

Although one part of the due diligence process might be considered “good hygiene” – collecting the basic legal and financial documents needed to ensure that the foundation can comply with its own requirements – due diligence should primarily be about building a shared understanding of how the grantmaker and grantseeker can work together to benefit the field or community about which they both care.

Given that, how can you as a nonprofit leader participate in the due diligence process to ensure that it is mutually beneficial?

Submitting a proposal or letter of inquiry is just one point in the process. Foundations ask for information in the proposal or LOI to make a basic determination regarding fit with the grantmaking focus of the foundation. If there is a fit, the next steps are all about deepening their understanding of your organization and gathering the additional information to make a funding decision. Even in the presence of an existing relationship, there’s more to learn. Here’s some of the advice we give to grantmakers and its application to you as a grantseeker:

Get clarity regarding the process:

Unspoken assumptions about how the process will unfold will almost certainly lead to misunderstandings or disappointment. Ask the grantmaker about his/her information needs and the best way for you to supply information. Discuss expectations and timelines.

Red flags:

One program officer said that an immediate red flag comes when a grantseeker (wrongly) claims that his/hers is the only program in the region, state or country that provides certain outcomes or works with a particular population. Grantmakers invest time in understanding what is happening in the field and community; you should too. You can point out what differentiates you from similar work done by others, but be realistic in the depiction of those differences. Grantmakers should and will spend time talking to foundation colleagues and others in the field and community as they gather information.

Build a relationship based on mutual respect and trust:

Engage in a dialogue. A meeting with a program officer shouldn’t be regarded as a sales meeting or one-sided communication. Ask the program officer about the information he/she is seeking and discuss the best way to convey that information. If you do plan a presentation, make it short and leave plenty of time for discussion. Also, think about what you want to know, especially if this is a foundation that you haven’t worked with before. What are the expectations regarding measurement and outcomes? What does the foundation know that can help you be more effective?

Be honest. If you’ve had struggles in delivering programs or have faced organizational challenges with your board or in retaining staff, talk about it. What have you done to address these problems? You need to pass the “smell test” – if you are painting an unrealistically rosy picture or trying to gloss over any problems, the truth will eventually emerge and if it comes from another source, it will harm your credibility.

Be respectful. Program officers understand the power differential and most want to “level the playing field” by demonstrating that they – like you – are concerned about how to achieve your mission. Also, just like you, program officers work hard and are juggling multiple demands on their time. I have heard more than one story from program officers about prospective grantees who call the program officer to criticize the time the decision is taking or complain that the program officer is talking to others in the community. I don’t know of any program officer who has decided against making a grant based on the poor manners of the Executive Director, but it sure doesn’t help the relationship. Frame your questions in nonjudgmental ways.

The grant decision isn’t the end — it’s the beginning of a new stage:

If the decision is affirmative, there’s a lot of work ahead. What benchmarks or requirements are set in the grant document? What do you need to do if there’s a change in the budget or if something isn’t working? How often will you “check in” with one another about the grant? You should expect different answers to these questions based upon not only the significance of the grant in terms of your budget, but the significance of the grant in relationship to the foundation’s grantmaking budget.

Always think about the future:

If the decision is negative and your grant application was not accepted, seek an opportunity to learn how you might better communicate your work in the future. But don’t seek that discussion as a way to convince the grantmaker that he or she should reconsider the decision. You may need to accept his/her decision as a learning experience and move on, but you should also conduct a final conversation in a way that can leave the door open for reconnecting in the future. 

See also:

Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture

The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants

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5 simple daily acts will improve your nonprofit success

Last night I relived the enthusiasm I felt after reading a book a few years ago because I stumbled upon the author’s TED Talk. The author is Shawn Achor and his book is The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. I enjoyed hearing Achor talk about each of the principles so much that I couldn’t help but get up this morning and write about it. The Happiness Advantage is based on a universally helpful topic that is relevant to all of us in work and life.

The premise? The success formula is broken. Achor says we falsely believe if we attain success then we’ll be happy. In reality, the inverse is true. If we’re happy when we set out to achieve our goals, we’ll be wildly more successful.

Happiness becomes a formula for fundraising success

His logic couldn’t have been truer than when I held one of my earliest positions as a nonprofit professional. I was directing a telephone alumni outreach program with an ambitious fundraising goal for one of my university clients. All you need to know about this university is it was located in the Pacific Northwest where there are a lot of overcast, rainy days. This weather makes for a moody staff and moldy office windows.

Every night before the shift started, my student callers would walk in sullenly as I mentally questioned their readiness to motivate others to give on the phone. In my naiveté, I thought I could just inspire this group of callers to reach our fundraising goal by breaking it down for them and showing it was possible.  Then we could all bask in the glory of our hard work and success.

If only Shawn Achor had written his book much earlier. Something told me all my kick-off speeches at the beginning of each shift about reaching the goal weren’t getting us anywhere. That’s when I changed my approach.  I realized I didn’t need to show them the carrot; I needed them to feel like the delighted rabbit that has just eaten many carrots. If I could get my callers in a happy state of mind, then this stretch goal would be in our reach.

Then the fun began. We played games, had contests and read jokes during down times. I even began reading excerpts of The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale at the beginning of each shift. By the time I was done reading a passage, the room was humming.

The transformation was remarkable. Students were happy. Pledges were rolling in. The client was so surprised when she came onto the calling floor after our transformation that, during her next visit she brought the university president with her. Back then, I didn’t know it was “the happiness advantage” at work, but upon reflection, I think Achor would call this a prime example.

Seven principles and five simple daily acts:

Achor has seven principles that help fuel happiness in work and life, which he explores in-depth within his book. In this TED Talk, he shares a simple daily method–five small changes that ripple outward to create lasting positive change:

Three Gratitudes: “Write down three new things for which you’re grateful over 21 days in a row. Your brain starts to retain a pattern that scans for the positive in your life,” explains Achor.

Journaling: If you journal about one positive experience each day, it allows your brain to relive it, thereby extending the positive emotions from the first time.

Exercise: “Physical exercise teaches your brain that behavior matters,” asserts Achor.

Meditation: “Meditation allows your brain to overcome the cultural ADHD we’ve created by doing multiple tasks at once,” says Achor. Meditation allows our brains to focus on the task at hand.

Random or Conscious Acts of Kindness: Achor suggests opening up your inbox and writing one positive email to another, praising him for something positive or thanking someone in your social support network.

Achor closes his talk by explaining if we simply perform these five tasks, we can train our brains–just like we train our bodies physically—to create ripples of positivity and real, positive change in our work and life.

See also:

Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity

Nine Minutes on Monday: The Quick and Easy Way to Go from Manager to Leader

Image credit: TED Talks,




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Nonprofit board members: What to do when they just don’t get it

Every now and then there’s a board of directors that — how can this be written diplomatically — doesn’t seem to get it. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s never a pretty sight. Usually the not-getting-it board seems to be paying attention, and its members really do want the best for their organization, but somehow or another “the best” never seems to happen. In fact, to most outsiders, the organization might seem immobilized and floundering. There are many reasons why nonprofits seem headed for doom, dysfunction, or both, and most of the time it isn’t directly attributable to board members. But when it is a board problem, here are some frequent scenarios and potential fixes.

The past and the short term future

This common problem was covered in “What Time Are You?” in the May 2013 issue of The NonProfit Times. Ideally, a board of directors is focused mostly on the future, less so on the details of the present. This is because boards of directors should be leaders, not outsiders immersed in management detail. Perhaps not surprisingly, board members’ preferred orientation to time is often connected with their personalities and what they do for work. Board members who work in technical roles of any kind often prefer to operate in the here and now. This means they could be uncomfortable with the kind of thinking that leaders must do to position a nonprofit for the next three or four years.

The solution to this kind of board dysfunction is straightforward yet admittedly difficult. The simplest approach is to construct each board agenda so that the bulk of time will be spent on future opportunities and challenges instead of focusing on subjects from the past or votes requiring immediate attention. Constructing the agenda so that the majority of items relate to future decisions is actually simpler than it seems. It does require that the CEO and board chair work closely together, but that is largely a matter of sharing the same future orientation to time. Part of leadership is shared discipline among the leadership team, and this is a relatively easy place to start.

Visioning as trustees

The term “trustee” is sometimes used to refer to a conventional nonprofit board member, but that is usually either a loose statement of philosophy or an inaccuracy. In legal terms, a trustee holds property on behalf of an outside beneficiary. That is in no way similar to nonprofit board member responsibilities, which are more related to leadership than conversation of assets, but the mythology persists.

Implicit in a trustee self-image is the idea that the trustee must protect the asset as their primary duty. But nonprofit board members are intended to lead the organization, along with the CEO, and preserving assets for beneficiaries is never in the equation. Board members who see their role as “protecting” the organization will always be conservative in the literal definition of the term. While this role might work well for financial assets not owned by the trustee, it can lead to an exaggerated sense of outside threats and a paralyzed nonprofit board if it becomes the dominant image of the board’s role.

A good board member selection process and continual self-education will fix this problem over time. One board, for example, recruited new members by inferring from their strategy the type of characteristics that would be most beneficial. This requires discipline because the tendency is always to search for “star” board members and then try to adapt them to the organization. A self-education process can reinforce those board member skills.

Different “business models”

Any large industry develops its own jargon and shorthand references, and the nonprofit sector is no exception. But nonprofits funded in large part by federal and state governments are inevitably immersed in payment systems, quality assurance mechanisms, and political developments so detailed that even a nonprofit CEO may not be fully abreast of all the nuances.

Board members from outside the sector often speak of their meeting agendas as a thicket of obscure regulations, political connections and mystifying lingo. While these are all necessary elements to manage, board members quickly give up hope of being conversant in them and as a result their ability to make contributions is reduced. This is a situation where Not Getting It says more about the industry than it does the board members. The solution is to reduce the language and complexities to an understandable level. Votes and discussions should take place to allow both board members and senior staff to have solid discussions, with insider references kept to a minimum. And the policies and decisions arising from the discussions need to be expressed in lowest-common- denominator language.

Denial of service

Fundraising imperatives help shape a preference for wealthy board members in a nonprofit with an established fundraising capacity. Equity investors, bankers, and high net-worth individuals can be prized board members because of their personal ability to make contributions and for their networks of similar professionals. The conflict these kinds of board members face is that they are so thoroughly steeped in equity investing and money management that they cannot operate in the non-equity world of nonprofits. Often their personal approach to governance becomes a largely passive and reflexive acceptance of majority decision-making.

Here’s what happened with the board of directors of a large national organization.

Arguably the most powerful person in the room was a former corporate titan with an international reputation who sat silently during a lengthy presentation and discussion of nonprofit mergers. His knowledge of the subject would have been welcomed by all, but for whatever reason he remained silent. Whether motivated by a sincere desire not to complicate the discussion, or for personal reasons, this kind of “denial of service” will make the board less effective by not offering personal expertise. Unlike the other scenarios this one is likely to be tied to individual board members, and often they are the board members with much to offer. Board presidents can be useful in reversing the situation simply by making a personal appeal, and the CEO has the ability to coax more input should they wish to do so. Nonprofit board governance is an imprecise process at best.

Although in theory the role of the board of directors is clear enough, the actual practices of boards vary greatly. A nonprofit board’s apparent passivity or disinterest may be a reflection of the difficulty of nonprofit governance, but on occasion it is the result of a breakdown in the governance process itself. Left unchecked this can lead to confusion and decline. But with the right kind of self-reflection and support, most boards will get it — and get it done.

See also:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

Super Boards: How Inspired Governance Transforms Your Organization

The Invisible Yellow Line: Clarifying Nonprofit Board and Staff Roles

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Special thanks to author Thomas McLaughlin for allowing us to cross-post this article, which originally appeared in The Nonprofit Times.

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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

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Ten characteristics of great nonprofits and the four critical skills that empower them

Author, writer and consultant Peter Brinckerhoff claims it’s an exciting time to be in the nonprofit world. He asserts, “There are more challenges, more opportunities and more ways to respond to the increasing needs in a community.”

Three guiding principles are at the core of high-impact nonprofits

The third edition of Mission-Based Management bestows on the reader a comprehensive look at what today’s nonprofit managers should prioritize in order to model the best high-impact nonprofits. The premise of the book, is based on three philosophies that have informed Brinckerhoff’s entire career of 30 plus years: “Nonprofits are businesses.” “No one gives you a dime.” “Nonprofit does not mean no profit.”

He convincingly demonstrates the truth in each of these points throughout the book and in each of the management competencies he explores—from leadership, governance, and finances to marketing, mission, ethics, and more.

Dangerous assumptions, four critical skills and 10 characteristics of great charities

Brinckerhoff also broaches the dangerous assumptions that have surfaced in our sector over the years, such as foundations controlling nonprofits after giving them money and nonprofits needing to take a “vow of poverty.” He gives four essential skills for mission-based managers and introduces the 10 characteristics of successful nonprofits.

The four skills include the ability to:

1)     balance the needs of the community with the organization’s available resources;

2)     innovate as a social entrepreneur, taking reasonable risks on behalf of the organization’s beneficiaries;

3)     lead the organization by example and motivate the staff, board and community; and

4)     communicate effectively the mission to the staff, board, public and stakeholders.

Brinckerhoff then covers the 10 characteristics of a successful nonprofit in the rest of Mission-Based Management, each chapter tackling one characteristic.

The section below lists each characteristic he discusses in depth:

1)     A viable mission: The mission is why your organization exists so utilizing it to the fullest extent is your first priority. The author recommends reviewing your mission statement at least every three years when you write your strategic plan in order to make sure it is accurate.

2)     Ethics, accountability and transparency: “There is nothing more important to your mission success than [ethics, accountability and transparency]. Nothing.” Mission comes first and values follow.

3)     A businesslike board of directors: Brinckerhoff provides a list of desirable characteristics in a board, a list of items that prevent effectiveness and a list of responsibilities surrounding the three general functions of a board—preserving the trust, setting policy and supporting the charity.

4)     Leading your people: People usually work for a nonprofit for the mission and respect, not for the money. Brinckerhoff uses the inverted pyramid of management to illustrate how best to value and keep your people.

5)     Embracing technology for mission: Technology serves some important purposes for nonprofits, namely for education, volunteers, new employees, transparency and development.

6)     Creating a social entrepreneur: Brinckerhoff emphasizes the need for nonprofits to return to their start-up, entrepreneurial phases in terms of increased flexibility, willingness to embrace and shape change, and inclination to take risks.

7)     Developing a bias for marketing: “Of all the business skills you can put to work for your mission, marketing is the most applicable in the most areas.” The author emphasizes this slogan, “Everything that everyone here does every day is marketing.”

8)     Financial empowerment: Using financial skills and concepts from the business world can help you achieve your mission without always having to comply with the restrictions traditional funders place on you.

9)     A vision for the future: Strategic planning is essential to have purpose, coordinate all other planning (budgets, staffing, fundraising), delegate more effectively, be flexible, and exhibit good business and stewardship.

10)  The controls that set you free: For a leader to delegate (an important skill for a leader in order to free up time to be a visionary), controls must be in place in areas such as bylaws, conflict of interest, financial, human resource, media, volunteers, disaster, program and quality assurance policies.

Brinckerhoff establishes in the introduction of his book that much has changed since he wrote the first edition of Mission-Based Management in 1994. His effort to keep pace with change in our sector is a bellwether for nonprofit leaders to match his ongoing pursuit of what defines a successful mission-based nonprofit. Brinckerhoff challenges you to embrace the good business practices that can be adapted for mission-based management. He tempts you to strive for a profit because that margin will empower you to be financially viable and sustainable. He invites you to recognize that donors are paying for service—you earn everything you get.

See also:

12: The Elements of Great Managing

Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

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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

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Does your nonprofit board give fundraising a warm reception or cold shoulder?

“Your fundraising program reflects the effectiveness of your overall organization. It’s a litmus test of your viability,” explains author Laurence Pagnoni.

He laments that too often fundraising programs exist in a silo, meaning the fundraiser works in isolation and the fundraising programs are not embedded into the fabric of other organizational operations and initiatives.

Over-reliance on rudimentary fundraising and lack of teamwork among board, staff and CEO

Most nonprofits that are envious of high-performing organizations with robust fundraising programs are usually reliant on one dominant funding source for too many years, renew rudimentary or sleepy grant programs, operate planned giving on a “self-serve” basis, and have a board that doesn’t work efficiently as a team with the CEO and staff.

What to do when your board is hot or cold with fundraising

While a chief concern is a cohesive board, CEO and staff, another primary focus Pagnoni emphasizes is, of course, fundraising. In his book, The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution, Pagnoni discusses what to do when your board’s core strength is fundraising and what to do when the core strength is not fundraising.

First, do a little detective work

To take an organization to the next level, a board and CEO must align themselves around the strategic plan, where both parties have a deep understanding of the vision. Then, Pagnoni emphasizes finding your board’s core strength (e.g., fundraising, compliance, etc.) through conversations, a perusal of board minutes, attendance at meetings, and possibly a self-assessment.

The cold shoulder

If a board’s core strength is not fundraising, Pagnoni suggests these steps “in their ideal order of execution”:

1)      Recruit a fundraising professional for the board.

2)      Implement a development or fundraising plan.

3)      Establish gift acceptance policies and use them (i.e., which kind of gifts you’ll accept).

4)      Develop the necessary committee structure (at least a development committee and possibly an events committee or planned giving committee).

5)      Prepare an annual ROI report.

6)      Direct volunteers to fundraising activities they feel lie within their strengths (e.g., good writers write appeal letters; good talkers solicit donations verbally).

A warm reception

If your board’s core strength is fundraising, follow these methods:

1)      Campaign more.

2)      Explore comprehensive giving with top donors (e.g., annual, stretch and planned gifts).

3)      Review your development plan and address a longer period of growth over 10 to 25 years.

4)      Execute more detailed business planning.

5)      Go deeper into one dominant and minor source of revenue, instead of diversifying, since going deeper may prove more lucrative with a good fundraising board.

6)      Develop subcommittees to report to the development committee.

7)      Ensure that strong connections are created between all your various fundraising tactics (e.g., events program connects with the individualized giving program).

8)      Make routine use of external consultants to infuse talent.

Let your relaxed confidence emerge, be nimble and keep an eye on ethics

When it comes to fundraising in harmony with your board whether they embrace or sidestep fundraising, Pagnoni emphasizes identifying solutions that fit your own challenges. He says, “Each person must find his own fundraising path and use his own experience, infused with best practices. What I’ve offered [in my book] are my own experiences based on best practices. Many people ‘want to do it right,’ and I’d rather see a more relaxed confidence emerge where you try a few things, evaluate, change course as may be required. So the challenge here is to be nimble with applying the strategies that I outline and always head toward the most ethical ways to raise the most revenue.”

See also:

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture

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

Fundraising the SMART Way™: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website

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