To be successful it’s not enough for a nonprofit to have a worthy cause: what connects people to its work and motivates them to donate? Online giving? That certainly makes “the ask” easier for nonprofit development teams, and easier for people to give, but technology doesn’t make nonprofits interesting or relevant as Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf concluded in the 22 September 2008 Charity Village cover story, “Giving goes techno.”
Conclusions like this only underscore the sector’s superficial view of branding. If nonprofits feel they lack relevance perhaps it’s because the sameness of the usual tactics – whether logos, advertising, new buildings, or events – have lost their power to hold people’s attention. Everyone wants to know how to improve their odds of marketing in a fragmented marketplace, yet fundraisers doggedly persist with pursuing the formulaic and unmemorable. No wonder we end up talking about donor fatigue.
The latest tactic has organizations rushing to set themselves apart by participating in online communities. But as more and more organizations try starting virtual conversations, the mushy, undifferentiated middle only gets larger and more opaque.
It’s more important than ever – especially when the economy has veered toward recession and pools of “easy” donor money dry up – to think innovatively about meaningful differentiation. Differentiation depends on knowing something the next organization doesn’t. In the end, what determines whether you thrive, merely survive, or die, is the quality of the insights you deliver, not the delivery vehicle.
Good branders never stop communicating what they know. Consider why people give to the Mayo Clinic or Harvard Business School – or why they’re so successful at recruiting and retaining top employees. These two organizations use thought leadership to stand out in a cluttered marketplace. By ensuring engaging content is at the core of their outreach they convey depth and meaning, build audience share, and amass earned revenue.
Doing a good job at “the tell” should be fundraising’s first priority: build a Communicating Brand. The awareness, support, and sustainability nonprofits crave will emerge only if knowledge is the catalyst bringing individuals and organizations to come together. Once your audiences’ interests have been nurtured with mission-connecting communications, and you have a community relying on you for ongoing insights, then it will be time for “the ask.”
Originally published in Village Vibes, Charity Village, 24 September 2008