How is your business known? What do your customers say about their experience with your product or service? Branding goes way beyond a logo, color scheme and brand usage guide. Before you get to any of that, you have to decide how you want to be known and go for creating that climate for your customers.
For example, when I get my hair done, I have a pampered experience with lots of fun conversation with my stylist. Of course, I come out with a great product – no more roots and beautiful highlights! – but what I also take away the memory of the experience and its something I look forward to every few weeks. Its not the stylist’s logo that keeps me coming back, its the experience she provides and that is her brand.
The same is said of Starbucks, Apple and McDonald’s. The Starbucks brand begins with the social model they’ve created in each store. You want to have that bold cup of coffee with the chance to meet up with someone you know while working on your laptop or smart device. Starbucks is selling you a social experience. And while Apple might be selling technology and innovation, what you’re buying is innovation and an obvious “cool” factor. McDonald’s isn’t selling you the greatest burger on the planet, nor are they claiming to. McDonald’s brand is consistent flavor and a generally speedy experience.
How do you want to be known? Are customers coming away from your business saying they want to shop with you again? Are you providing a consistent experience that people are talking about?
Branding includes many elements including your logo, advertising, store layout & lighting….and the consumer experience. Starting with the question “how do I want to be known?” will guide decision making in these other areas. For instance, your logo should try to reflect your brand’s personality. If your retail establishment prides itself on minimalism with a lot of space, flat edges and dark lines, your logo shouldn’t embody a lot of noise, curves and color.
Consistency is the key to successful branding. Decide who you are and how you want to be known, and from there your brand identity, advertising and other marketing materials will be easier to make decisions on without being entirely random or arbitrary. You won’t just pick a logo because its pretty, you’ll choose it because it coheres with the image you want to communicate about your business. Your brand will be remembered for the experience you provide. That experience is what differentiates your product or service from the competition. it will be recognized by your company or product logo.
Nonprofit organizations are businesses, not unlike where you buy your groceries, get your hair done, or buy your kids school supplies. But what makes your nonprofit corporation different from those is that you prioritize revenue in terms of fulfilling your mission whereas the for-profit business prioritizes revenue for the sake of the revenue itself.
How your nonprofit is EXACTLY like a business is that you need to utilize many of the same tools for successful start up and growth. You need a business plan, a marketing plan, a budget, and staff or volunteers….all for the purpose of executing and accomplishing your mission and goals. Because nonprofits are often providing for a cause or a service and not a tangible, out-the-door consumable, generating revenue can be a challenge. So I want to share a few ways to overcome challenges to growth at any stage in the life of the non-profit.
Donor Development. Because donors are the lifeblood of your organization, you need to be meeting with them as often as possible, thanking them for past support and updating them on your organization’s status. While you can’t have lunch with everyone who has written a check, you can be sure to connect with those who are top level donors. Share with them the stories about the people you serve who are at the heart of your organization’s mission and get them excited about their involvement in those successes. Let them know their dollars were well spent, thank them for their commitment and partnership and continually inform them about the great things that are happening. But no matter what, make sure you are thanking every single donor who supports your organization in some way, shape or form.
Marketing Strategy. Make sure your marketing materials are current and that you have a robust communications strategy that: 1) keeps your donors informed 2) provides opportunity for new donor acquisition 3) interfaces with the media and 4) continually communicates your mission and shares your stories. Email marketing still plays a significant role for nonprofit organizations as it provides a means to stay in front of your supporters without anything more than their consent to receive emails. Email marketing tools like Mailchimp, Constant Contact and AWeber are examples of affordable options for every size organization and provide templates for the less experienced email designer as well as professional services for getting the custom design you want.
Your website needs to be designed in a responsive format. This means that when its viewed on smaller devices like phones and tablets, it adjusts to its environment instead of becoming impossibly microscopic. The reason this is important is because so many more internet users are looking at websites on their mobile devices and not always their desktops. Don’t make the mistake of losing supporters and followers because your website is difficult to view on these smaller devices. Yes, this will mean a website redesign is in order, but it will be an investment worth making. Don’t cut corners on your internet presence, that’s often how the people in your community first come to know you.
Valued Volunteer Resources. Create a culture where your staff and volunteers can’t help but to share your mission with the people in their world. They love what your organization stands for, that’s why they are involved. Create incentives like volunteer appreciation events and monthly recognitions so that they get more than lip-service for their time – they need to actually feel appreciated and valued. When its clear that an organization values all of its resources and prioritizes its “human” resources, this can inspire others to get involved as well.
Leadership. The face of your organization, whether an Executive Director, board president, operations manager, or marketing/PR director, needs to be someone who reflects the values of the organization, is able to provide clear and concise information about its mission, goals and needs, and is capable of inspiring others to participate, support or just simply share about the organization to other people in other spheres of influence. This person is the ambassador for your cause, so if they struggle to lead the organization internally or externally, they may not be the right person for the position. Don’t underestimate the need for someone who can speak to a crowd of 20 or 200 who also has the disposition to connect with volunteers.
Co-Branding & Collaboration. Find ways to collaborate with other groups and organizations in your community. Doing so doesn’t mean sacrificing current or potential donor dollars to other nonprofits. You want to be seen as a member of an interactive community, not like you’re living on a nonprofit island and no other mission matters. An aspect of reputation management for any business or organization is a willingness to be altruistically involved in a community. If you are involved in an art museum, you could plan to collaborate with local children’s organizations to do workshops. If you represent a cat rescue you might find ways to work with local medical facilities to fulfill animal-assisted therapy needs. In the world of marketing, this is called “co-branding,” a strategic marketing partnership between two separate organizations who collaborate to generate interest from their respective customers. The success of one brand provides for the success of the partner brand.
Growing your nonprofit organization requires a great deal of attention to donor development, volunteer management & support, community engagement, strong leadership, and marketing. Every nonprofit who wants to fulfill their mission and achieve their goals needs to work hard in these 5 areas. I hope the ideas I’ve shared help you to continue to grow and move your organization forward to the next level.