The New Principles of Nonprofit Branding and Marketing

Photo via Thomas Leuthard on Flickr

Photo via Thomas Leuthard on Flickr

Two of the biggest challenges facing nonprofit organizations are relevance and visibility. To prosper on the new philanthropic landscape, nonprofits must change how they engage the world with branding and communications.

Historically, nonprofits have largely practiced self-centered marketing - focusing on transmitting their story, showcasing their achievements and asking for support of their cause. Today, they are competing in a true consumer marketplace where they need to work differently in order to resonate with people.

New Consumer Marketplace

With an explosion of social good efforts and philanthropic organizations, nonprofits have become the new consumer marketplace. Unlike ever before, people have access to thousands of ways to easily “make a difference” in the world. There are over a million public charities. From 2000-2012, the number of non-profits registered in Delaware grew 65%. Additional opportunities continually emerge as every new tragedy or catastrophe seems to result in new foundations.

In this fast-moving, dynamic, interconnected marketplace, nonprofits need to show where they fit and how they play an essential role in creating a better future. It’s a bigger picture view providing a more relational context and where the consumer (not the cause) is the center of it all.

Five Principles of New World Nonprofit Marketing

It’s too simplistic and a cliché to simply say you have to learn how to tell your story. Nonprofits actually have to learn how to tell the CONSUMER’s story and to link their organization to consumers’ hopes and dreams. This kind of consumer-centric thinking is the essence of branding and consumer marketing, and a new path for many nonprofits. Although it may sound simple, for most nonprofits this is a radical departure from historic practices and a new way for them to think about themselves and the work they do.

To get nonprofits started on this new path, here are Five Principles of New World Nonprofit Marketing.

1. It’s about them, not about you. When it comes to connecting with your audience, zero-in on the kind of change those individuals want to see in the world. Learn who they are, what matters to them and
why. Next, find the connection between your organization and that change – the
highest common denominator. That nexus is where the connection begins.

2. It’s about the future, not the past. Nonprofits, largely due to historic fundraising practices, tend to focus on what they’ve done rather than on what they aim to do. Today, that needs to be reversed. Focus on
the future, what can be accomplished together with the support of people. References to the past are important to provide credibility. Consumers, however, can’t play a role in the past, so it’s all about the future.

3. You are not a charity; you are a pathway to change. Most people are interested in fixing problems rather than perpetuating relief. Although pulling on the old heartstrings might compel an immediate donation, it does not forge a long-term relationship. To do that, the nonprofit must show how they are an agent of change, a way for the consumer to create a new future for a given situation or “issue.” This approach is more active rather than passive. Beyond feeling old fashioned, the term “charity” sounds like a cash repository for dispensing help to the “needy” rather than an effective way to create a better reality.

4. Make them smile, not weep. Fundraisers always seem to want to make people weep as tears lead to checks. Nonprofits need more than checks to thrive in the new world. They need to build communities of support. To do that, a new kind of relationship must be forged based on courageous vision, pragmatic optimism and a covenant to create positive change. That’s a lot to smile about, so make sure people feel it. Negative images and messages evoke pain and often lead to avoidance. Positivity evokes interest and leads to engagement.

5. Respect the consumer. Keep it simple.You have to make some choices and this requires deep thinking on what matters most to the consumer and to your organization. Less is more, more than ever. Laser in on that one thing that matters most and own it – own it uniquely, creatively, passionately and with open energy. Remember, you are just one tiny speck in a consumer’s life. Own that grain of sand and continually earn it by keeping the connection with your consumer strong.

Be Their Answer

Citizens today want to be involved in creating social change. You don’t have to sell them on the idea of taking action to create a better world. You simply have to capitalize on that desire, and show how your organization provides a meaningful and rewarding way of doing so. Fundraising may still cause tears that bring in checks, but nonprofits must also operate on a broader plane with branding and communications that put the consumer at the center.

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This is a guest post from Bob Schultz. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of The CauseWay Agency, a leading cause communications firm that works with a range of leading non-profit organizations and federal agencies.