Like it isn’t hard enough being a small organization, right? Not enough staff. Not enough time. And definitely, not enough money. You get used to making do. Find shortcuts. You work a lot. But too often, you don’t do the things that will dig you out. If you need more money, you need to prioritize […]
making a difference organization
NYS Entity Status
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JUNE 12, 2014
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DOMESTIC NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION RESERVATION
2014 - MAKING A DIFFERENCE ORGANIZATION
AROUND THE WEB
- 6 big mistakes small organizations make with fundraising
By Mary Cahalane - Tuesday Jun 20, 2017
- Silicon Valley Community Foundation “Serves the Community” Very Differently
By Ruth McCambridge - Monday Jun 12, 2017
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation may be more focused on donor satisfaction than outcomes.
Do your supporters support you—or just one thing you do?
Tuesday May 2, 2017
Building a strong supporter base is one of the most important tasks for any nonprofit—arguably second only to achieving your mission. Without people to donate, volunteer, or take action, a nonprofit’s ability make a difference is severely limited.
But exactly how you recruit new supporters can lead to problems down the road. Especially when nonprofits run campaigns around specific issues—or have a set of programs that address different problems but work toward a common goal—supporters can come to identify with the campaign or program they first encountered, rather than with your organization as a whole.
This is an issue for a couple of reasons: First, any content you send these supporters that doesn’t focus on the work they have a connection to may feel irrelevant. And, as found in a recent study from Abila, a high number of donors say they may stop giving because of irrelevant content. It might feel like a sensible response to segment supporters so they only receive content you know will be of interest. But, few nonprofits have the resources to maintain this kind of communications strategy.
Besides, a supporter who cares about your overall mission is likely to have a much higher lifetime value. Here are a few strategies for building holistic relationships with your constituents:
Build a solid house
If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that Big Duck has been thinking a lot about brand architecture—a strategy for organizing and expressing the hierarchy of your brand. Too often, nonprofits fall into a habit of developing distinct visual identities or catchy names for their programs or campaigns. While making your initiatives stand out on their own isn’t always a bad thing, having distinct sub-brands makes it much easier for a supporter to identify with a program or campaign in a way that isn’t easily transferrable. This is of particular danger if these sub-brands differ in a significant way from your primary brand. If this sounds like you, it may be time to simplify how your initiatives are presented.
Take them step by step
The “ladder of engagement” is a communications framework we commonly use to think through strategies and tactics for getting the attention of someone who isn’t yet aware of your organization, converting them to become a supporter, and deepening their relationship until they are a true advocate for your cause. But this exercise can be helpful in achieving a variety of more specific communications goals, from how to connect the people you serve to a new program to how to identify and cultivate new board members to—you guessed it—how to bridge the gap between support for an initiative to support for your organization. Take a single afternoon to map out what you need to take supporters who don’t know your larger organization, make sure they’re aware of the bigger picture, and deepen their relationship until they’re eager to get out there and help broaden your community. Think through their motivations, what they’re looking for, and how you can reach out to them in ways that appeal to them—and, presto, you’ll have a roadmap for achieving your goal.
Keep it together
When you’re in the weeds at a nonprofit every day, it can be easy to forget how content may appear for someone who’s first encountering your organization. It may feel obvious how an initiative relates to your mission, or you may not think to mention your organization’s name because, well, the logo’s at the top-left corner, right? When developing content (even a new program name) it’s ideal to keep in mind how it will be understood to the least informed, most distracted reader. Making a point to always put your organization front and center and clearly explain how the initiative relates back to your mission will help you avoid a highly fragmented audience. For an example of this done well, take a look at the Food Bank For New York City’s financial empowerment services. The name, Food & Finances, tells you immediately that the program relates directly to hunger, and the landing page makes the connection more explicit in the second sentence.
Get them when they’re paying attention
Some people just aren’t going to take the time to explore your organization beyond the initiative they’ve engaged with. Sometimes you just have to go where they are and put the bigger picture right in front of them. Always referencing the organization name and connection to your mission is one way to do this, but it can take a bigger effort to get people to absorb your messages. When constituents take an action, they are highly primed to pay closer attention to what you have to say next. If there are events, volunteer opportunities, or advocacy actions associated with specific campaigns or programs, consider using the confirmation page and email to connect them with other initiatives or to your overall mission. Think about creating an online welcome series—a set of emails that are are automatically sent based on the date constituents take an online action. Include content that finds a dynamic way to explain your overall mission and how your various initiatives fit together. Or, if you have the bandwidth, build out a system of welcome series that are specific to the action in order to explicitly address how one program or campaign is in service of a bigger picture.
Managing through game-changing moments
Tuesday Nov 15, 2016
That Holy *!*&^%$! Moment
We’ve all had them: moments when you realize what’s just happened is a game-changer—and you didn’t see it coming. Sometimes the change is internal: a key staff or board member unexpectedly departs, budgets are cut, fraud occurs, etc. Sometimes, despite our best-laid plans, the change is external: a recession, a national crisis, or the political landscape dramatically shifts.
Of course, we should nurture positive cultures within our organizations, make succession plans, build up cash reserves, and plan for the unanticipated. We should eat well, exercise, look at our phones less, and get a good night’s sleep, too. But this important (not urgent—until it’s too late) self-care is often the first stuff to go during a busy time, or when staff is spread thin.
After the fact, everybody has an opinion about what might have been done differently—and, sure, we might have done so. But what do you do right now, when the $#%@) has hit the fan?
Empower individuals not teams
Nonprofit cultures value buy-in and collaboration. But making decisions slowly and with too many cooks in the kitchen can be devastating during a moment of crisis, especially when others in your space are moving quickly and appear to be better prepared.
On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, just hours after it was announced that Donald Trump had won the U.S. presidential election, many progressive nonprofits released statements, updated their websites, and sprung into action. Some had the foresight to prepare ‘what if’ scenarios anticipating Trump’s victory, but others hadn’t. What they had was accountable, agile leadership; people who were empowered to make decisions and act fast. They left their slower-moving peers in the dust.
Scared that the wrong decisions will be made? A bad decision made quickly is better than a better decision made slowly in many contexts. If this style of leadership feels out of whack with business-as-usual at your organization, consider giving people temporary titles and a clear timeline when they hold the seat so it’s clear this isn’t a permanent change (for instance, “Election Response Communications Chief”).
Prioritize speed and candor over comprehensive communications
Your organization’s values (deeply-held beliefs) should guide as you decide how to respond and craft statements or other communications. An organization that has transparency as a core value, for instance, shouldn’t hesitate to share what’s known and not yet known with its community.
Panic and unproductive chatter will fill the void when it’s not clear what’s going on. Communicate with your key stakeholders quickly and as candidly as possible. Don’t wait until you have all the answers or a perfectly polished statement.
Your organization’s brand strategy should also help you select how you communicate. Use your positioning (the big idea you want people to associate with your organization) as a yardstick for your statements, and be sure the tone and style of your response reflects your nonprofit’s personality, not just that of individuals.
Learn this time for next time
Building sustainable, resilient organizations should be a priority for every nonprofit’s leadership team, and unexpected moments are just one of many places where that work pays off, potentially changing a bad game-changer into a good one.
Make someone accountable for keeping track of the useful solutions and new ideas that bubble up along the way during today’s crisis or moment of significant change. Create a collaborative document your team can add to, with categories such as, “What worked well was...” and “next time, we should…” or “before this happens again, let’s….” Once the dust settles, debrief with everyone involved using this document to guide your discussion, then decide what, when, how, and who will advance whatever is needed before the next unexpected change.
The Power of Brand Personality for Your Nonprofit
Tuesday Feb 28, 2017
We all have distinct personalities—some of us are outgoing and whimsical, while others are nerdy and creative. Your nonprofit is no different. We believe that defining and using your organization’s brand personality can be a useful communications tool. In fact, your personality, when coupled with your positioning (the big idea you hope others might associate with your organization), is the heart of your brand strategy and the key to defining or refining your brand identity and experience.
First things first, what is brand personality? Brand personality is the tone and style you use to guide your communications. It is a set of adjectives that describe the overarching feelings you want your community to associate with your organization. Think about the most recent Target commercial you’ve seen and how it made you feel. You might describe the retail brand as fun, lovable, pleasant, and charming, and that’s brand personality in action.
Elements of your personality should come through in the tone and style of all of your communications. Writing a blog post? Designing a brochure? Check out the adjectives that make up your brand personality and decide if the communications look, feel, and sound true to your personality.
An effective brand personality will help your nonprofit distinguish itself from its peers because it’s a list of characteristics that are only true to you. Used consistently, personality will become a core part of your brand, and audiences will immediately associate certain feelings with your work.
Not sure where to start? Imagine you were asking a board members to set your organization up on a blind date with their close friend, a generous potential donor. How would you want that board member to describe you to their friend? Sure, you hope they’d reference your mission or elevator pitch, but what adjectives would you want them to use to get that donor excited to meet you? Everyone would like a nice, professional, and credible organization, but what’s so special about you that someone couldn’t wait to meet you for dinner (or go to your next gala)?
I want to help you discover and apply your brand personality to your nonprofit. Join me on March 21 at this free 90-minute workshop, Fish or fowl? Establishing your nonprofit's brand personality, at The Foundation Center in Washington, DC. We’ll talk about brand personality, look at some examples, and walk through exercises to help you determine the characteristics that describe your nonprofit on its best day.
When’s the best time to rebrand?
Thursday Mar 9, 2017
There’s no such thing as the perfect moment to rebrand. Thoughtful timing makes a big difference in the experience and its outcomes, and can help make sure the right people are on the bus. But waiting too long can have very negative implications-- demotivating your staff and board, confusing your community, and creating a lackluster experience for donors and clients.
So if you know it’s a necessary step for your organization to take at some point, how do you determine the right time to tackle a rebrand?
Rebranding during times of predictable change
Most nonprofits expect predictable moments of change such as the term-limiting of board members, the retirement of a CEO, or those that emerge from a long strategic planning or capital campaign process. Predictable change can be hard and scary, but because you saw it coming, time has hopefully been set aside to work on whatever is changing, and priorities have shifted in ways the whole organization acknowledges.
The rebrands that generate the best results for nonprofits typically happen right after a new leader joins the organization, strategic planning concludes, or just before a significant capital campaign.
Rebranding during these moments is more effective because leadership views the work as one of several changes essential to the organization’s growth and development, so there’s real commitment to see it through. Our national study of the impact rebranding has on nonprofits, “The Rebrand Effect”, showed that these organizations seem to raise more money, attract better board members, recruit more program participants, and motivate their staff more, too. (You can download the ebook about that study here.)
Conversely, rebranding before a significant change in leadership can less effective, or even die on the vine entirely. A new Executive Director, Chief Development Officer, or Communications Director who inherits a rebrand they weren’t a part of has less investment in its success, or may not like it at all. Without senior-level support and a champion, the new brand is likely to be implemented less consistently and ineffectively. That’s a real waste of time and money.
We recommend you wait for the key players to join your senior leadership team so they can be a part of the rebrand, if you know that change is coming within a year. They’ll be more likely to understand, leverage, and promote it if they are a part of the new brand’s creation.
Its also best to wait until your strategic planning process is well underway and the future direction of the organization is clear before rebranding. Your rebrand is simply an extension of that plan: the two should, ideally, feel closely intertwined.
Rebranding during times of unpredictable change
While predictable changes can feel hard as you’re going through them, it’s the changes you didn’t see coming that can feel the most disruptive within an organization. Political changes alter the fundraising landscape. A crisis in your community shifts programmatic priorities overnight. The sudden departure of an executive director or other key staff person leaves you shocked… you get the point. These unpredictable changes inside and outside your nonprofit can stir up anxiety for staff, board, and your closest advocates. They eat up brainspace and energy you weren’t prepared for.
When you’re already stretched thin, rebranding is harder because it requires real time, focus, and effort. If the changes aren’t likely to impact the engine that powers your work such as your fundraising and client-facing programs, waiting until you have the brainspace and energy for it as an organization may be the best plan. But if your funding sources are changing and you anticipate needing to build new relationships with individual donors or corporate supporters then it’s a mistake to wait too long, as you’ll want to establish your voice as effectively as possible. Don’t put off rebranding if it’s clearly an essential step toward building relationships that will be critical to your success or survival downstream.
A smart rebranding process begins by creating or refining assets that express your nonprofit’s vision, mission, and voice in powerful ways. Next, you’ll weave those elements into your website, social, print, in-person, and other materials. Finally, you’ll integrate it consistently into fundraising, awareness, recruitment, and other campaigns that reach and engage your audiences. That’s how household brands do it, and it takes time and consistency to do well. Start your rebrand before there’s a crisis or problem, if possible, so you don’t cut corners to get it done. After all, you’ll want it to last.
Ask yourself these three questions
Still not clear what you should do? Use these questions to guide a conversation about whether or not this is the right time to rebrand:
- Are we clear and aligned about where our organization is heading over the next few years so we can use that to inform our brand strategy, visuals, and messaging?
- Is it likely that our Executive Director and any senior staff responsible for communications will be with the organization for at least a year to see this process through and help make it stick afterwards?
- Is now a time when we should be investing in our own infrastructure and future so we can build relationships in a year or beyond with new donors, funders, clients, partners, or other key external audiences we might not be reaching effectively yet?
This information visualization might help you decide, too. Lastly, it might also be useful to reach out to other organizations that have rebranded and learn from them. When and why did they do it? What were the benefits and challenges?
Rebranding alone doesn’t raise awareness for your organization, it just gives you the tools to do so more effectively. A successful rebrand brings your organization’s vision and mission to life through a clear communications strategy, messaging, and visuals framework that staff and board can use to communicate consistently and effectively. Your staff will be able to speak, write, campaign, and engage people more powerfully, and in ways that reflects the essence of your vision and mission. Time it right to get the best value.
Are you underestimating the power of communications?
Tuesday Apr 4, 2017
Busy nonprofit leaders tend to focus on the visible, tactical stuff of communications—the emails and tweets and mailings that go out into the world and bring back donors, advocates, and participants.
What would be different at your organization if you viewed communications as an essential, universal strategic function instead?
Thinking of marketing or communications as just a series of externally-facing tactics can be a big missed opportunity, because most of the power of smart communications happens behind the scenes—infusing your entire team of stakeholders with the skills and tools to express a consistent, coherent voice.
Every person who works for your organization is a communicator on some level, whether they’re building partnerships with peers or relationships with participants or connections with advocates or rapport with potential hires. They need tools and strategic support to work at the top of their communications game, just like they need a computer that boots up properly in the morning and lights that turn on when they walk into the office.
So what if we thought beyond the websites and brochures and instead treated communications as a key utility underpinning every aspect of a nonprofit’s work and mission?
What if everyone at your organization looked to your in-house communications team for helpful, expert advice on getting the word out or inviting the world in?
What if programs, development, HR, board, and leadership could all reach out to one, centralized resource for strategic messaging points or insights about how to engage a key audience?
It would be transformative.
Everyone’s efforts would become more efficient and effective. Your programs team would have better tools to recruit and advance your mission. Your board would become more effective ambassadors. You would develop close alignment between what you do, what you say, and how you say it.
And once you’ve made sure your messages, visuals, and strategies all ladder up to and support your organization’s most critical priorities, you could step back and watch the clarity and focus flow through the communications team to every corner of your organization and out into the world.
I’m not pretending it’s easy work.
Assembling a skilled, well-structured team and evolving a culture that treats communications as the lifeblood of your organization is challenging and requires real investment. But wouldn’t it be worth it if you could make clear, effective external communications feel as simple and magical as turning on a light?
Are you top of mind? Three types of awareness you should be tracking
Tuesday Dec 13, 2016
Most nonprofits strive to increase their own visibility through their marketing and communications efforts, but few actually track if it’s working. When we launched the Brandraising Benchmark in 2016 to help nonprofits track their own levels of awareness and engagement cost-effectively, our partners at Ipsos were full of valuable insights. In this article, Nicole Zacotinsky, an account manager at Ipsos, sheds light on three types of awareness worth considering. - Sarah.
What is awareness and why is it important to measure?
Whether or not people are aware of you is the foundation for any type of interaction with your organization. Measuring your awareness tells you where you stand, and repeating that measurement over time will tell you if your organization is increasing its awareness, decreasing it, or if it’s stagnant.
In order to understand a brand’s awareness, it needs to be measured with some type of frequency (monthly, yearly, bi-yearly, etc.). Your initial measurement becomes your benchmark or baseline, and as long as it’s measured in a similar manner (same questions among the same population) at the frequency you’ve determined, then upticks or downticks in awareness will show any impact your organization is having.
There will always be some “ghost awareness” (a % who claim awareness but aren’t actually aware) to some degree; however it is expected that the ghost awareness will remain consistent year on year. Therefore, the change in awareness year on year is much more important than a baseline awareness number and changes up or down in awareness trends that are are perceived to be real.
There are three types of awareness
There are three different types of awareness. There is prompted awareness: when asked, people tell you they know the organization when picking them off a list. There is unprompted awareness: when asked, people come up with the organization on their own without having to look at a list to say “Oh yeah, I know them.” And, as a subset of unprompted awareness, we have top of mind, meaning that when asked it is the first brand people tell you unprompted. The more you can get your target audience to come up with your organization’s name unprompted, the deeper the individual’s connection is to your organization. Being top of mind makes that connection even deeper. Brand awareness is important because the faster your nonprofit comes to mind, the easier it is to remember what it stands for and for a person to take action or donate.
What do I do with my awareness measurement?
The more your organization is able to put their name out there and drive awareness, the more your target population will show interest. You can put your organization’s name out there through social media buys, blog posts, and social events. A great example of this is ALS and the ice bucket challenge. They were able to raise $220 million in a year through a viral social media efforts. However you do it, ultimately the goal is to give them a reason to increase their share of wallet (donations) to you rather than another organization.
Interested in benchmarking your nonprofit’s prompted awareness? Big Duck’s upcoming Brandraising Benchmarks are all online here.