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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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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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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CausePlanet’s Choice Awards–Top Books for nonprofits from 2014

Here they are — our favorites from 2014. We read so many compelling, insightful books last year on a variety of essential topics, but the final choices came down to originality and applicability.

Each of our Choice Book Awards had either a fresh perspective on an imperative competency or broadened our thinking by tackling new territory. Additionally, all the authors brought their content to life through helpful case stories, exhibits, tools and evidence. These favorites are sure to help you work smarter; we hope you delve into them soon.

CausePlanet’s Top Five Choice Awards from 2014:

1) Fundraising the Smart Way: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website by Ellen Bristol

Bristol gives you an innovative, concrete way to track and monitor your donors’ progress toward making donations. No more guessing about a prospect’s ability and desire to give means you can confidently meet and surpass your fundraising goals. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

2) The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving by Jeff Brooks

Brooks shares an unvarnished, refreshing look at how to captivate more donors with accessible ideas that specifically work for nonprofits. He delivers new ways to connect your brand with your donors in a manner they won’t forget. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

3) The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide by Tom Adams

Adams establishes an irrefutable link between effective leadership and organizational impact. What’s more, he comprehensively illustrates numerous advantages and opportunities bestowed upon nonprofits that engage in proactive training, succession planning and transition management. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

4) Fundraising with Businesses: 40 New and Improved Strategies for Nonprofits by Joe Waters

The organization of this book is what really caught our attention. Waters gives you specific cause (pronounced “khaz” by Waters) marketing strategies, how to implement them, ideas you’re encouraged to steal and success stories at every turn. His approachable format is chock-full of applicability. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

5) The Abundant Not-for-Profit: How Talent (Not Money) Will Transform Your Organization by Colleen Kelly and Lynda Gerty

Kelly and Gerty reveal a transformational method for utilizing your community’s expertise. At the center of this transformation is a new breed of volunteer—a “knowledge philanthropist.” The abundance model will revolutionize your use of talent, cultivate a renewable resource and be a welcome relief on the budget. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

Thank you to all our authors who give us reading pleasure and professional inspiration every day. It’s a pleasure to promote your smart advice at CausePlanet.

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Why facts, features and benefits don’t belong in your copy

“Today’s number one challenge is to leverage better results with less money,” asserts Dooley. Marketers are called upon to accomplish more with less. Dooley has a problem with logic that says “more resources applied equals more success” because this model can get very expensive and may not produce better outcomes. Dooley argues that smarter marketing grounded in neuromarketing is genuinely more effective and costs less. Nonprofit marketers interested in ideas from a unique perspective—many of which are based on the author’s personal experience or conclusions drawn from behavioral science—will find Brainfluence is a path worth exploring.

We asked Dooley at what stage do most marketers fail when trying to apply neuromarketing strategies?

Dooley: Marketers tend to focus on facts and figures, features and benefits, and other logical appeals that are intended to persuade the donor or customer to act. Appealing to non-conscious motivators should be part of the process from start to finish. Using brain-oriented strategies is particularly important for nonprofit marketers. Usually, we buy products because we need them. We don’t have tangible benefits when we make a donation or volunteer our time. If product marketing is half psychology, nonprofit marketing is 100 percent psychology. It’s essential to identify and use the right triggers to get donors and volunteers on board.

In addition to triggers, Dooley addresses how to apply neuromarketing techniques to your marketing or fundraising copy in his book. I’ve excerpted some of his strategies here:

Surprise your audience by using unpredictable words and language in new ways. We naturally predict common words that will follow other ones, especially in a clichéd saying, so varying your words captures people’s attention.

Develop simple slogans that offer savings.

Describe or rename your product or service if it has negative connotations. For example, we often say, “May we renew your support” rather than “Don’t let your gift expire.”

Use real numbers for greater impact. For example, in one experiment, “People believed cancer to be 32 percent riskier when told that it kills 1,286 out of every 10,000 people, versus 12.86 percent of people.” If you are trying to mute negative statistics about a product or service, use percentages.

Try these two magic words: “free” (people will choose it over a bigger savings because it carries no risk, as in “buy one get one free” versus “buy one get one for one penny”) and “new” while maintaining long-term brand attachments.

Use vivid (e.g., disastrous) sensory (e.g., hair loss), emotional/nostalgic (e.g., too many moms and sisters suffering from breast cancer), specific (e.g., 1 in 8 women suffer from the disease) and branded (e.g., “Go Pink”) language to describe your product or service without overdoing it and making the message too long.

Provide vivid stories with action, motion, dialogue, etc., and story testimonials to powerfully sell your product or service. Anecdotes are more interesting and relevant than statistics. For example, the author discusses how unfortunately, anecdotes about vaccines causing autism trumped the mass of statistics disproving this finding.

Make sure your organization does not let negative stories take over—especially with the power of social media.

Roger Dooley states, “This book is all about smarter marketing.” Brainfluence contains practical advice for marketers, managers, business owners and nonprofit leaders looking for a fresh perspective. Each topic in Brainfluence is designed to explore how our brains work and offers numerous ways to directly apply that knowledge to real marketing challenges. Dooley says, “Every nonprofit today has to accomplish more with fewer resources, and many of the topics here will enable them to do just that.” Busy leaders will find this book doesn’t have to be read cover to cover. The ideas are grouped into major categories and each stands on its own so browsers can find what they are looking for.

See also:

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

Creating Value in Nonprofit-Business Collaborations

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done

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Don’t neglect your message in tough times

“We need to get our message across.” This is a common refrain by many nonprofits leaders and never has it been more relevant, given the current economic situation. In any organization, marketing and communications resources are usually the first budgets to be cut. However, getting your message across and getting people to act on your message has never been more important. Thoughtful, sophisticated communication and organizational transparency are hallmarks that constituents have come to expect from effective nonprofits. You can’t afford to fall silent if you want your organization to retain and engage its constituents.

Even in good economic times, investing in a solid communications plan can often be viewed by nonprofit leaders as too difficult and expensive, unnecessary or beyond the scope of the organization. The reality, however, is that even a basic communications plan directed at both internal and external constituents is critical to an organization’s success. Yet, I’ve worked with a wide range of nonprofit clients who struggle to make communications planning a priority. Some of the most common roadblocks to communications planning include:
Who: Who is my target audience? Who should I reach out to?
What: What should I communicate? What is my message?
How: How do I get my message out (i.e. Web sites, blogs, email newsletters, etc.)?
When: I just don’t have the time with everything else on my plate …

These “Who, What, How and When” questions focus on the symptoms, but not necessarily the cause of an organization’s communications challenges. It’s important for today’s nonprofit leader to keep a broader mission-focused perspective when developing a communications strategy.

Understand who you are

For a lasting message, stay focused on your organization’s mission, not passing fads. Your organization’s messaging needs to be tied to your mission and to the broader organizational strategies and programs you coordinate in order to accomplish that mission.

Because many of your constituents are drawn to your organization because of its mission, the last thing they want is for you to waste resources on activities that do not help you accomplish it. Stay focused with a mission-driven message, and reinforce to your constituents that your organization is committed to the mission they care about. Mission-focused communications will stress that your organization is worthy of your constituents’ time, attention and support.

One way to ensure your message is in synch with your mission is to revisit your mission statement and make sure you have the proper strategies or programs in place to actively achieve it. This may include creating new strategies or programs that will help you maintain your constituents’ support and sustain your organization during these tough times.

Stay relevant

After reflecting on your mission, strategies and desired impact, you can frame your message in the context of today’s economic environment. Since constituents demand transparency, ensure your communications are relevant and directly address the economic conditions that impact your organization’s mission. Don’t be afraid to let your constituents know the truth. Clearly communicating to your constituents that “times are tough and this is how we are responding” is better than saying nothing at all.

Don’t try to reach everyone

Often, nonprofit leaders want to reach everyone they come into contact with by casting as wide a net as possible. But prioritizing your audience – specific to the message you are trying to deliver – is key to a successful communications strategy. I suggest identifying your top three to five key constituent groups and determining a) what kind of information you think they want to hear; and b) what you think they will do with this information. Having a clear picture of who you want to communicate with will help in making your message more impactful.

Don’t neglect your staff

In my communications consulting work, I find that one the most neglected constituencies is the staff, and regardless of an organization’s size, this is an issue for most nonprofits. Small organizations tend to suffer from “forgetting,” or having no time to inform, and large organizations tend to neglect staff due to too much bureaucracy or seeing staff as too hard to reach. This is not true for all organizations, but is something to consider as you develop your communications plan. There is nothing worse for morale than having external constituents know a critical piece of information about your organization before staff does.

Moreover, keep in mind that your organization’s staff is usually the most important element in your brand, so making sure they can speak to constituents about the conditions your organization faces is very important. At a minimum, your staff should know how to respond to constituents’ questions and who to refer to when a question reaches beyond their knowledge.

Embrace new methods

Regardless of your message or audience, one consideration stands out more than ever – the communications methods available to you are endless. The days of the printed newsletter are fast disappearing. Today, communications strategies encompass email newsletters, blogs and social media such as Facebook and Twittter. But remember to stay focused on your top priority constituent groups, not trends, when determining which communications methods are going to be the most effective. As long as the communications methods are appropriate for your target audience, don’t be afraid to try as many as you feel comfortable with, and then determine which works best for you. The new methodologies are either cheap or free, so feel free to experiment.

Review, adapt and repeat

Evaluating and adapting your communications strategy over time is critical to your organization’s success. While there are many metrics that communications professionals suggest you track, keeping it simple can also do the trick. For example, once you have sent out your email newsletter, call up some of your constituents and ask what they thought of your recent communication and how it could be improved. Much like investing in communications, any level of resources devoted to researching your communication’s impact is better than no research at all. Regularly solicit feedback from your constituents and adapt your message accordingly.

While the suggestions above are nothing new, they should guide your organization’s communications planning, regardless of the size or budget of your organization. Staying connected with your constituents will help your organization weather today’s challenging economic climate. Times are tough, but do not bury your head in the sand. On the contrary, it is time to let people know your organization is still on the job.

See also:
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Build your best LinkedIn profile with the “Brandraising” approach

LinkedIn is all about connecting with others who share commonality. This, of course, can be said of all social networks, but if you want to maximize your professional network, building a personal brand is essential.

Most nonprofit leaders make the mistake of waiting to build a profile when they need it, but the best time to build a profile is now. Additionally, it should be an ongoing “campaign” of networking so when you need a specific connection, your network is ready and waiting. Tommy Spaulding, author of It’s Not Just Who You Know, calls it “netgiving” rather than networking. This is a terrific approach to building your LinkedIn profile. Try reaching out to your initial contacts by looking for ways you can help others, rather than the “connect-with-me-because-I-need-you” approach.

How do we effectively build a brand? Let’s consult Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications. Durham’s definition of “brandraising” is a great way to get in the right frame of mind for building your profile.  I’ll customize her organizational definition for the purpose of profile-building: Brandraising is the process of developing a clear, cohesive identity and communications system that supports your goals and makes it easier to express your purpose effectively and consistently.

Here are seven steps to building a better profile:

1.       Picture your contacts in the room. Picture yourself in a meeting and introduce yourself similarly on LinkedIn. Sarah Durham talks about “audience-centric communications” in her book. The same rules apply here. Write in your voice as if you were talking directly to someone in the room. Don’t cut and paste your resume.

2.       What is your tagline? The line of text under your name is the first thing people see in your profile. It follows your name in search hit lists. It’s your brand. Try to distill your professional personality into a more eye-catching phrase. Durham recommends making a short list of organizations similar to yours and, if your tagline could apply to them as well, keep working at it until it’s specific to your nonprofit. The same rule can be applied to your tagline on LinkedIn.

3.       Make your summary section work for you. Put yourself back into the meeting room and think about your elevator pitch when you introduce yourself. This blurb goes in the summary box to engage your readers. You have five to 10 seconds to capture your reader’s attention. Durham discusses the importance of developing a messaging platform in the identity level of her brandraising model. The messaging that you create about yourself should include an introduction, key messages about you and, of course, the elevator pitch. Use elements of the messaging platform throughout your profile to build a more impactful impression.

4.       Specialties = SEO. Think of the Specialties field as your personal search engine optimizer, a way to refine the ways people find and remember you. This is where your social sector buzzwords belong. Personal values you bring to your professional performance and humor or passion always add more personalization. Durham explains a fun exercise in her book when you need to isolate the personality of your brand: Ask what mascot could represent you. When you land on the answer, think of words that describe that mascot. These words will help you pinpoint what personality you want to convey in your profile.

5.       Chunking copy helps. When you explain your experience, break down each company or nonprofit you’ve worked for into visual segments or chunks with a short description about what the company does. Make it easy to read and consistently formatted.

6.       Improve your Google page rank. Pat your own back and others’. Get recommendations from colleagues, clients and employers who can speak credibly about your abilities or performance. Think quality over quantity. According to Durham, your messaging platform is shared with board members and staff so everyone is consistently sharing the same message about your organization, thereby building a consistent and more powerful brand. In the case of your LinkedIn profile, your connections are your message carriers so make sure your tagline, summary and additional information fields portray your brand (and personality). Chances are they will reference your profile to make the recommendation.

7.       Build your unique brand. Use the Additional Information section to round out your profile with a few key interests. Add websites that showcase your abilities or passions. Then edit the default “My Website” label to encourage click-throughs (you get Google page rankings for those, raising your visibility). If you belong to a trade association or interest group, help other members find you by naming that group. Awards, recognition by peers, customers and employers add prestige without bragging by listing them here. This strategy looks much like what Durham might call your “experiential level” of brandraising, because this level is where your potential supporters or, in this case, connections may find you. Try to optimize the number of channels in which you can reach people by referencing your affiliations and acknowledgements.

Last but not least, make sure your LinkedIn profile link is on your email signature, website and blog. Now, start “netgiving.”

See also:

Married to the Brand

Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

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

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Is your membership dropping? Explore the reasons.

No matter how successful or strained the economy is, prospects always scrutinize the value of membership and what you’re offering. What’s more, you aren’t always targeting a single decision maker: More group billing models leave you with the task of marketing to multiple individual interests and meeting the employer’s goals. Managing a successful membership-based organization today is a multifaceted undertaking.

After you’ve tackled the complexities of finding the right prospects, valuing your benefits, and selling them, you must personalize the experience and solidify renewal behavior in the first 90 days. With the onset of the Internet, many benefits that associations could depend on offering exclusively are now available online, such as networking, training and industry information.

Membership organizations must do a better job of communicating the unique offerings they have and differentiating themselves from peer organizations and the Internet.

The Art of Membership is a thorough look at attracting, recruiting and retaining members. Author Sheri Jacobs has filled her book with helpful case stories and examples from associations, nonprofits and companies. She includes how-to guides, checklists and worksheets that break down her concepts from goal to strategy to tactics, resulting in a comprehensive guide to membership.

We asked Sheri Jacobs to tell us what inspired her to write The Art of Membership and her answer contained some interesting thoughts on what causes an organization to lose members.

Sheri JacobsOver the years, I have frequently heard association executives ask the question: What causes an organization to experience a drop in membership? Some would cite a global recession that began in September 2008 and continued well into 2012. Although the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research states the recession started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, many continue to blame current economic woes for a decline in membership.

In spite of the recession, however, the demand for information and education remains quite strong, regardless of the industry. Although individuals may have tighter budgets, my research has shown they still need to stay up-to-date to maintain their licensure or job.

What have changed are the criteria they use to make “purchasing” decisions (decision to join, renew, register or buy). Pricing, ease of access and other factors detailed in this book all have a significant impact on the decision to buy.

Another reason cited for a decline in membership is the commonly held belief that the 79.8 million people who fall into the category of Gen Y (individuals born between 1977 and 1995) are not joiners. Organizations, however, cannot ignore the importance of attracting and building a sense of affiliation with an entire generation–and the future pipeline for the organization. Many organizations today face a greying of their membership. Understanding and implementing the “Membership Rules” presented in the book will help organizations make the small and big changes needed to build an inclusive and diverse membership base.

CausePlanetWhat are the current trends you feel are affecting membership directors today? How have these trends impacted their ability to deliver relevant services?

Sheri JacobsThere are four trends that are impacting membership organizations today.

1. How people spend money: In 2013, 80 percent of U.S. consumers looked for a “good deal” compared to just 69% in 2012, and price was the most important purchase driver for every income level. The issue isn’t that people cannot afford to pay membership dues, but they are questioning their usage of the benefits and the relevant value. It is similar to what is happening in the publishing world with the decrease in magazine and newspaper subscriptions. After months of magazines piling up on your table with no time to read them, you may not renew your subscription when you receive the invoice. You may still enjoy the publication and feel it provides high quality or entertaining information but if you don’t have time to read it, it doesn’t make sense to renew the subscription.

2. The social influence of others has a tremendous impact on how we make decisions. Today, people turn to TripAdvisor when choosing a hotel or a destination that is unfamiliar. They read the reviews on Amazon before purchasing a book or other item. The same is true for joining associations and taking advantage of the benefits. The influence of friends, peers and colleagues is strong and will help sway the decision to join, register, volunteer or become engaged at any level…

Join us for our next installment of membership trends impacting acquisition and retention when we share more of our interview with Jacobs.

See also:

Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others




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Six ways to package your story so it qualifies as news

If you don’t have anything to hide, why should you worry about media relations? I get asked this question on at least a weekly basis. People figure that if they’re not breaking the law or having a sordid affair with a married politician, they really shouldn’t have to spend time thinking about dealing with the media. They also think that because they know all about how wonderful their organization is, everyone does too.


And they’re wrong on both counts.


All of my clients are hardworking, publicly-minded people who work in progressive nonprofits. That’s the only kind of client my firm takes. So when I suggest to them that it is important to learn about what makes the media tick and how to use that knowledge to their advantage, people always look at me like I wandered into the wrong meeting. They are laboring under the belief that because they are the good guys, they will look like the good guys if the media ever comes to call.


Big mistake. For several reasons.


Misconceptions about media and coverage


First, they have a misconception of what the term “media relations” or “public relations” means. To many people, these terms conjure up visions of slick, chain-smoking corporate types lying through their teeth. In reality, the number one rule of media relations is never, ever, lie. Not even about the tiniest thing.


Second, most people who are dedicating their lives to improving their communities tend to be under the impression that most reasonable people can see what they see–the poor need food, kids need education and families need access to health care. What they forget is that they are standing on the front lines – and there are way too many people out there who travel from their gated communities to their high rise offices and don’t see any of that. Those are people who could potentially become donors, volunteers, and voters in support of their cause – if they only could be reached.


Third, because my clients do their jobs very carefully, knowing that lives and livelihoods are at stake, they often believe that everyone in the media is as careful as they are. And that just isn’t the case. You can blame it on impossible deadlines, corporate profit motive, sloppy reporting or just bad editing, but the fact of the matter is, a news-story is generally written at breakneck speed by an overworked reporter who has little or no background on the issue. It is edited at an even faster pace by an even more overworked editor who has even less knowledge.


How to qualify as news


So, no matter who you are, if you have a desire to inform the public, increase your donor base, change laws or regulations, or just get some well-deserved kudos, it is in your best interest to become savvy in media relations. It is never about lying or twisting facts. It is about is packaging information so that it could qualify as “news,” and then making sure that everything needed for the story is lined up in a way to make it easy, fast and accurate for the reporter.


To know how to “package” your information, you have to know what makes a story “news”. When I taught journalism to college students, every basic journalism textbook laid it out the same way. So I teach my clients exactly what every journalist is taught in their first reporting course. A news story must contain at least one (and hopefully more than one) of the following six elements: conflict, impact, novelty prominence, proximity or timeliness.


Conflict is the strongest basic news element there is. The fact that everything is hunky dory just isn’t news. When something goes wrong, then it becomes interesting. It’s just human nature. Think about the last time you called a friend with some really good gossip. Was it good news? Probably not. Conflict is what makes story-telling go round. And news is story telling. If there’s not conflict in your story, you’re going to have a hard time selling it to the press.


Impact is another strong basic news element. If something happens that’s going to have an impact on the reader, they’ll likely want to know about it. Unfortunately, we’re a country of self-centered people. If it affects them personally, Americans care. If it doesn’t, generally they don’t. We can discuss the morality of this at another time (and believe me, I do) but the fact remains. A majority of readers probably aren’t that interested in a civil war in a far off country. But they DO care if that war is going to affect their coffee prices.


Novelty is easy: If something happens all the time, it’s generally not news. If it is very unusual, then it is. The standard J-school example is this: if dog bites man, that’s not news. If man bites dog, that’s news.


Prominence is the culprit behind all those Brittney Spears stories. We are a celebrity culture, and once someone has made it into the limelight, any tiny tidbit about them is news. But remember, prominence means prominence. Your Executive Director might be a star around the office, but in terms of media, unless they also double as a movie star or a billionaire, they probably don’t count as “prominent.”


Now for the last two: Proximity and Timeliness. Proximity deals with distance. If you’re pitching a story to the local paper, it better be a story that takes place right in town. Statewide papers do carry some national news, but for the most part, they write stories about what happens in the state. Timeliness means something just happened – a court case decided a month ago is not news, one decided today is. Timeliness is the reason reporters and editors work fast and furious. Because to delay means to lose the story.


Those are the six elements of a news story. If you want a media outlet to pick up on your story, it has to have one (or more) of those elements. That means you should package your story to play up one or more elements. Usually the two that work best are conflict and impact. If you can show how what your organization does helps ordinary people who don’t even know you exist – you’ve got a story. If you can show how some issue in your community is causing a clear definable conflict, you’ve got a story. There are all kinds of ways you can work this, but these are the foundational building blocks to pitching the media.


You can also use these elements stop a story from becoming news. If a journalist calls you and wants to talk about an issue you’d rather not be in the paper, then the strategy is to TRUTHFULLY play down the elements in the story. If you can convince a journalist that the story is old (not timely), or that your certainly not concerned about it (no conflict) or that it doesn’t really affect anyone (no impact), you’ve successfully killed a story. That comes in handy too.


At this point, I always have to stop and tell my clients that they shouldn’t despair. Despite how it looks, the human race is not beyond redemption. But talk of “reforming the media” isn’t going to do much good in the short run. If you work at a nonprofit that needs to get its message out there, you’d be better served by working within the parameters then fighting them. Just remember the elements of a news story:









See also:


Social Media–Volume One: Measuring Social Media, Building a Network, Creating Multichannel Campaigns and Mastering Twitter


The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change


This was Part I: The 6 elements of a news story


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Make your content king by accepting these two challenges (audio)

“You never write one thing for one purpose. If I’m asked to create something from scratch … I never say ‘yes’ unless I can see using it in three different ways,” explains Kivi Leroux Miller, author of Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money.

While the ever-growing variety of communication channels available to us as nonprofit marketers and fundraisers is inspiring, it’s also completely daunting. With choice comes complexity, not to mention a completely different environment due to technological, generational and marketing shifts.

Kivi Leroux Miller has taken us behind the expert communicator’s curtain to show us exactly how she’s done it over the years for hundreds of nonprofit clients she’s advised and observed. In her book, Leroux Miller illustrates how to:

redefine your audience for today’s current climate,

develop your content marketing plan,

implement a dynamic content strategy, and

leverage online channels through an exploration of their potential pitfalls and opportunities.

Live interview sound bite: Repurposing content

In our most recent live interview with Leroux Miller, we asked her about the importance of repurposing content since she dedicates an entire chapter to this topic. She says, “I am always expanding or reworking things I did earlier. It’s a way of life for creative professionals, including marketers!” Leroux Miller also explains, “When you repurpose content…”

Live interview sound bite: “Six Rs” of great content

Our live chat also covered how to be relevant and creative with your audience. Leroux Miller explained that “Finding your voice or your content personality is the place to start with relevancy. The biggest problem nonprofits have is when they are speaking like a 501c3…” Find out how Leroux Miller finishes this answer and shares “Six Rs” for great content.


Your odds of being relevant greatly increase if your communications can demonstrate at least on one or more of these content goals. Leroux Miller shares an example in her book of a nonprofit that had all six of these characteristics in an email campaign.

Accept the challenge

Consider accepting Kivi Leroux Miller’s two challenges we’ve excerpted from our author interview the next time you work on a communications piece:

1)      Try to repurpose the content you’ve created in three additional ways

2)      Apply one or more of the “Six Rs” in your content for a fundraising or marketing piece.

In the spirit of repurposing content, I’ll finish with one of my favorite quotations in Leroux Miller’s book:

“Your success as a nonprofit depends on your ability to stay in the conversation, week after week, with the members of your community, on their level. Engaging your community requires that you mix and mingle and be seen as one of the community members, rather than as some authority somehow above and removed from everyone else, who decides to speak only on a limited and predetermined schedule.”


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