We live in a new era where consumers, businesses, investors, employees, and service providers attach real economic value to social outcomes. An era where the "feel good" issues of yesterday—education, the environment, health care, the arts, animal rights—all have direct economic consequences and opportunities.
This represents a major shift in the world of nonprofits from basic charity to the concept of "investment". Simply being a "right and just cause" is no longer enough to generate donor revenue in 2012.
So how do you attract supporters to your cause in a demanding – and crowded – marketplace of ideas? Realize that it's hard for today's organizational donor/investor to measure or truly understand fuzzy concepts like "improve the quality of life" or "protect" animal rights/access to the arts/healthcare etc. To know if you're making a good investment, you have to have a way to measure your results. And what exactly do those phrases mean?
I believe that every nonprofit is in existence to make an impact of some type for the individuals, communities and/or the causes they serve. And yet many agencies have a hard time understanding let alone articulating the impact that they create. Today's nonprofit must capture and communicate its impact in simple, compelling terms that break through the clutter. Let's explore 3 approaches to effectively market your organization and its impact to investors.
1. ACTIVITIES (USUALLY) AREN'T ENOUGH
For years many most nonprofit organizations have promoted their activities rather than their impact to attract clients, funders, and other supporters. For example, many of the traditional brochures and websites I see even today highlight the Programs Offered or the Number of People Served.
This approach may have been fine when most people viewed their donations as gifts, and simply wanted to see where the money was going. But as noted more and more people view their philanthropic dollars as investments now, and see themselves as investors or funders rather than "donors". And investors of course like to see the benefits and true results of what their dollars have accomplished, not just where they were invested. So just sharing a list of what you do is no longer enough. People appreciate the actual work that you do, surely – but they invest in your impact on individuals and communities that you serve.
However, that being said there are exceptions to this rule. One primary exception I've seen to this rule centers on volunteering and gift-giving during the Holiday Season. Many nonprofits experience a surge at end-of-year simply because people want to be involved in some type of giving or service activity. For example, around the holidays many people and/or organizations desire to:
Serve meals at the local homeless shelter
Pay for XX number of meals for a holiday dinner
Adopt a local child or family for the holidays
Though these are activities people want to get involved in during the holiday season, I still suggest using this strategy sparingly; keeping in mind that the trend is for investors to want to see tangible signs of real community impact. During the rest of the year, when potential donors are less likely to participate in events or activities, you may see greater results with the next two approaches.
2. SHARE YOUR NUMBERS
So if not activities (at least most of the time) what should you communicate to potential donors/investors? To improve the success of your nonprofit's pitches, put yourself in your investor's shoes. What valued results do you think THEY are looking for? What impact garners continued or increased investment? What is the best way to show your results and impact?
Sharing the raw numbers or data that came about from donations is a good way to speak to the investors who want to know that their money is making a real difference in your community and in the lives of your clients. And not only will their money facilitate change, but it will make more of an impact than if they had invested in the organization down the street instead. Without these numbers, potential donors may question if you are truly making a significant contribution or difference to your constituents when you use hard to quantify outcomes.
There are three types of numbers that can resonate with investors:
Change of Status - This occurs when a person, organization, or community transitions from one state or condition to another. For example, your organization may be successful at moving people from an unemployed to employed status. You may do this by providing job training to 1,000 people per year. However, most funders aren't really interested in paying for job training unless it results in the trainees actually getting jobs. Another example is GED classes so that disadvantaged people can graduate from high school, where the measurement for success when expressed as a total number or ratio of those who graduated is very simple and straightforward.
If your organization is producing these positive outcomes, share them and show that you are a good investment. Showing how individuals or communities have changed as a direct effect of donations helps create a higher sense of impact and value for your organization's work.
Return on Investment (ROI) – ROI is performance measurement used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment and to compare it with others. Used extensively in commercial businesses, nonprofits can use ROI to show investors that they are good financial stewards, and that investor dollars will have a greater impact within their organization than with competing nonprofit agencies.
It's not uncommon for many nonprofits to document a 2x, 3x or even greater return on the money invested into their organization. For example, if you can show potential investors that for every dollar they invest with your organization the community will receive $3 of benefit compared to $2 provided by an alternate provider - you look like the better investment and become more likely to receive additional donations. ROI shows your ability to fully leverage the dollars invested into your programs.
Though ROI can be quite popular with potential donors, especially those who are financially-inclined, calculating this number presents its own unique set of challenges. This number can often be ambiguous and difficult to identify. If possible it's recommended that you use an outside source or otherwise ensure that the data you use if from a reliable source, to maintain your credibility.
Systemic Change - This often occurs as a result of collaboration within large-scale community initiatives, when several providers join together to move the needle on a social issue at the community level. It's like change of status for an entire community or group of people. To create a systemic change, it is important to build partnerships that center around a community issue. Participate in the effort for change by being a good and active partner, providing leadership where you can, and promote the results you (and the collaboration) are achieving. Some examples of systemic changes may be positive trends in: poverty rate, crime rate, homelessness, school readiness, graduation rates, number of individuals in training programs, employment numbers, access to healthcare, home ownership, and many others.
3. STORY TIME
Everyone loves a great story – the feeling of getting lost in a story and having your imagination along for the ride. When a storyteller does a good job the reader can picture the scenes, hear the voices, and experience the emotions of the characters. There are books that make you laugh, cry, change the way you think or motivate you to take action. Likewise, you've probably read books that left you uninspired and looking forward to the end.
Generating emotions and creating an experience is the effect many nonprofit marketers desire when they tell their stories. They share testimonials in hopes of inspiring and compelling people to engage with their, but unfortunately a story doesn't prove to grant makers and funders that the results are repeatable. But stories do have their place and can be valuable to your cause, so there's value in collecting them.
Put It All Together
If each approach above can be effective in engaging clients and investors, which should you choose? Ideally, you should be combining the three approaches as the most effective way to market your impact and your organization.
I recommend that you build up a "vault" of stories and testimonials and add to it on an on-going basis. Pick several stories that clearly demonstrate the change(s) you are after and then share them frequently with those connected to your organization. This will help to create organizational folklore that can be shared and celebrated with others. Then document and promote your high-impact outcomes over time. These outcomes should provide statistical support for your stories that this wasn't a one-time win. Show that our outcomes can, and have been, duplicated time and time again. And use activities, when appropriate, to engage others. This can also be used to enhance your stories or answer questions about how you produce your outcomes.
The shift from charity to investment requires that we change the way we communicate. Marketing your impact with these three approaches shows you are really making a difference. It helps you capture mind share, and as a result money share. Review your marketing materials this month to see how you're doing, and get help if you need it. Ultimately it's the change we are making that most effectively makes our case to investors. Therefore, I recommend that you determine (and share) the difference you are making, back it up with actual numbers, tell a story that shows your impact on one family or individual, while supporting your numbers with the activities that you conduct, and begin sharing all of this with current and potential investors.
How does an organization grow from a good idea to making significant impact and developing a sustainable funding model? Here’s an example of organization that has done just that.
Seymour, a rural town in Missouri, is not a particularly remarkable place. It is small, set off the highway, with little to draw in tourists or those passing by. It is a working-class community of 2,000 with its share of rural poverty. However, the 2,000 citizens living there are quite remarkable. With the help of a retired physics professor passionate about his community, they have built a local community foundation that meets the needs and betters the lives of the citizens in the Seymour area.
After 13 years, the Greater Seymour Area Community Foundation (GSACF) has established dozens of charitable funds, provided grants to many organizations, and accumulated total endowment assets of nearly $1.5 million. According to one of the founders, most of this money was collected through $10 and $25 donations. In fact, he reported only receiving six gifts over $5,000 in those 13 years.
GSACF done an amazing job engaging their community and diversifying their funding stream. As a result, their sustainability does not rely solely on one individual or entity and they haven’t suffered the financial hit that some other organizations have during this economic crisis. (I encourage you to watch the video below to learn more about this great organization.)
Though your mission may be drastically different than that of a community foundation, I believe this story highlights some very important lessons for nonprofit organizations on how to successfully engage your community and diversify your revenue.
LESSON 1: Relationships are primary.
Whether dealing with individual donors, investors, foundations, government agencies, businesses, clients, or customers - relationships matter. People want to give to people they know. Therefore, it is important to regularly expand your network of relationships and intentionally nurture and manage these relationships for deeper engagement. Develop strategies around engagement so that this process becomes intentional. Otherwise, your day to day activities may override the priority of relationship building. I explored strategies for relationship building during a webinar with one of our partners - Community Engagement: Building and Nurturing Community Support.
LESSON 2: Messages matter.
GSACF realized early that messages matter when it’s time to get the community engaged and funders involved. Many community foundations consider themselves “grant-making organizations”. Compare this to how Jan, the GSCF President, describes the mission of their organization. She says their mission is to “improve the quality of life in the Seymour area”. This is something that appeals to a variety of potential funders - local businesses, individuals, government agencies, and other foundations.
Consider how you share the mission of your organization with potential funders. Does it inspire people to get involved? Do you communicate a message that resonates with others? If not, perhaps it’s time to revisit and reconstruct your messaging.
LESSON 3: Programs must address identified needs.
In addition to grant-making, GSCAF started a local arts council, initiated a family literacy program, and renovated an historic building on the square. These things were all done based upon the expressed needs and desires of the community (and because they fit with the mission of improving the quality of life in the Seymour area) and discovered through community interaction and surveys Since they were meeting expressed needs, it was much easier to raise support for these projects.
Are your programs meeting identified needs in the community? How were the needs identified? Though community assessment? Or was it observation? Do some research and determine what the real needs are in your community and how your organization is helping to meet these needs. Then use this information when approaching potential funders to show how your programs are addressing the challenges your clients and communities are facing.
LESSON 4: Positive outcomes are essential.
In his book How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins says, “The point of the struggle is not just to survive, but to build an enterprise that makes such a distinctive impact on the world it touches, and does so with such superior performance, that it would leave a gaping hole - a hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution - if it ceased to exist.
” This begs the question - what hole would your organization leave if it ceased to exist? Answering this question requires that you not only develop and implement programs that address identified needs, but that you track the results of these programs to ensure that they are truly making a positive difference. If you are, don’t stop there. Market your impact to attract a variety of funding sources to your organization.
GSCF has been able to generate and maintain support partly because those in the community understand the impact that is being made. Community members recognize the good being done and that there is no one else in the area that can easily fill that need. As a result businesses, individuals, and other funders lend their support.
LESSON 5: Communication is critical.
Finally, we have to talk about the importance of communication in regards to community engagement and revenue diversification. Communication is a critical piece to any relationship. You wouldn’t ignore your children or spouse for months at a time and expect the relationship to be healthy and thriving (or at least I hope not). The same principle applies to funders and investors. You need to communicate with them regularly to keep them engaged and excited about what’s happening at your organization.
This may look differently based upon each type of funder and what they expect. For example individuals may expect to receive newsletters, gift-receipts, event invitations, emails, and phone calls; while institutions may require formal reporting and participation in required grantee meetings. We recommend developing a communications calendar to help you become more strategic in your communications approach.
GSCF has worked hard to engage their community and diversify their funding base. They have proven that nonprofits don’t have to be located in large communities or have a lot of wealthy family or institutional benefactors to be successful in this process. They just need to be intentional and committed to making it happen.
We encourage you to map your relational network, develop engaging messages, build your team, and get started today! Also, please consider sharing your challenges and successes in community engagement and funding diversification below.
The 21st century is the age of collaboration. There is a general understanding that collaborating around certain issues can make a difference for the clients and communities served, as well as an impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of individual organizations.
However, questions linger regarding how to leverage collaborative relationships to increase support for individual organizations and collaborations. These questions haven’t prevented many organizations from collaborating to some extent; however other organizations wonder how collaboration benefits their organization.
Types of Collaboration
Organizations collaborate in a variety of ways. Some organizations are part of a coalition around a specific topic such homelessness or domestic violence. Members of such coalitions often share similar missions and work together to make a larger impact on the issues they face. They recognize that by working together they can bring about the systemic changes needed to achieve their common mission.
Other collaborations are smaller and less formal but still have the ability to make a difference in a community or around a need. For example, I am part of a local group that meets once a month to discuss current needs in our community. Two months ago, during our luncheon, it was brought to the group’s attention that there was an issue in our community regarding wheelchair accessibility. There were several locations around town that weren’t equipped with ramps, therefore preventing access to some of our citizens. The group decided together to rally volunteers and resources to address this issue. Within one month the group had worked together to get wheelchair ramps built everywhere that had been initially identified. While formal partnerships are not yet part of this group, the participating organizations are already actively collaborating to meet the needs that arise.
Still another type of collaboration is when organizations share operational expenses to save money and increase organizational efficiency. In one community where we work, several of the local arts organizations decided to share office space and many of their back-office functions (accounting and finance, phone service, IT). This allowed each organization to reduce their expenses and as a result enhanced their financial position. It also had the unexpected result of building close relationships between the organizations leading to collaborative projects and fundraising events. The community at-large ended up benefiting from improved programming and a greater offering.
The organizations participating in each of these collaborations all have the opportunity to gain community support through their efforts. Let’s explore 3 ways they can maximize these opportunity:
1. PROMOTE THE IMPACT - As we mentioned above, most nonprofits understand that collaborating around an issue has the potential to increase the impact being made. However, in regards to leveraging this impact to gain community support if you don’t tell them, they won’t know. This means you need to share what’s being done through the collaboration on your website, in your print materials, through social media, and during conversations. Be careful not to overstate your role and be sure to share the spotlight with the others - but promote the impact that’s been achieved.
In the example above of the arts organizations, some of the partners recognized the opportunity this provided to increase community engagement. They demonstrated to new and potential investors that they were good financial stewards and that a larger percentage of their annual budget was allocated to programs and services. They also were also able to show an increase in the satisfaction level with the programming. They marketed this to community members thereby increasing attendance and support .
2. LEVERAGE PARTNER RELATIONSHIPS - Collaborating with other organizations has the potential to open doors to a large number of people in your community. United Way provides a great example of how this can work.
Shortly after graduating college, I worked for an organization that was extremely charitable and promoted this atmosphere to their employees. United Way worked closely with this organization throughout the year to host a number of employee fun days and other events. Through this collaboration the organization received great PR in the local community (with the help of United Way) that enhanced their reputation and ultimately resulted in increased business. On the other hand, United Way was able to build relationships with hundreds of employees and potential supporters. Both organizations considered the relationship a win and both were eager to open doors for the other.
3. BUILD REFERRAL RELATIONSHIPS - When you collaborate with other organizations, especially those with a common mission, you may find that you share a client, donor, or volunteer base or have many of the same contacts. To some this ‘sharing’ may seem more like ‘competing’; however, there is a great benefit to building referral relationships through collaboration. For example, there may be times that you can’t meet a client’s needs or you have reached your maximum capacity. Obviously, it would be beneficial to have some form of client referral network with similar organizations so that the he or she can still get the help they need.
It's also important to build referral relationships with organizations different than yours. In the example above of the group that came together to make the town more handicapped accessible, this is exactly what has happened. By addressing the need for additional accessibility, the partner organizations have built a shared database of qualified, willing volunteers in the community. They also have developed a database of local businesses that are willing to donate supplies and/or employee time to meet community needs. Now, as situations arise they have begun referring volunteers and donors to one another to help overcome the challenges each organization faces. It’s inspirational to see these organizations working together to strengthen the community without regard for who gets the credit.
Collaboration continues to play an important role in meeting the needs of our communities. However, many nonprofits I’ve worked with are still trying to find ways to leverage these collaborations to benefit their individual organizations. It is my hope that these 3 tips will get your wheels turning around ways collaboration can increase your community support. Do you have other ideas for increasing community support through collaboration? Please consider sharing them below.
A recent survey of more than 900 nonprofit leaders reveals a major communications crisis facing the industry - messages are simply not connecting with donors, volunteers, clients, and other key audiences. In fact, this survey (GettingAttention.org) indicates that many nonprofit leaders characterize their primary messages as poorly targeted, difficult to remember and uninspiring. Uninspiring?!? Unimaginable!
On a regular basis I speak with nonprofit leaders that are struggling with this very issue. Board members and staff are not networking or fundraising for the organization because they don’t know what to say. Advertising and marketing dollars are being wasted because no one is paying attention. Organizations are failing to connect with people that really care about their issues and therefore are under-resourced. Though this is a serious issue, it is one that can be easily resolved by being strategic in the creation of your marketing messages.
As we mentioned in previous articles on developing a strategic message, strategic messaging is the process of intentionally creating messages that appeal to the desires and motivations of your target audiences - whether donors, volunteers, funders, government officials, or partners. While strategic messages are consistent with the organizational mission, they are presented from the viewpoint of the audience.
Strategic messages do more than just generate attention and interest, they are targeted messages that will motivate people to act on your behalf and help you accomplish your goals, because they realize they will be satisfying their own desires at the same time.
Step 1: Know what you want.
What action do you desire? This action will be the foundation of your messaging and serve to answer the question, “Why are you communicating at all?”
Step 2: Identify and understand your target audience.
Determine who can best help you achieve you goals and what motivates them to get involved. This requires understanding the moods and motivations of individual audience segments so that you can create appropriate messages for each.
Step 3: Find mutuality.
Ultimately, the goal is to find that common ground or shared space where your needs, wants, and desires intersect with those of the audience(s). This intersect or overlap is what opens the door to engagement.
Step 4: Create your strategic marketing messages.
Finally, it’s time to write the message. When writing, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Be relevant. Keep the audience in mind for each message and always write from their viewpoint. Too often, organizations get to this point and then fall back into the trap of writing from their internal perspective. Don’t fall to this temptation. It will be helpful to include members of the audience and have them evaluate what you write to see if it speaks to them and resonates with their desires.
Avoid jargon. As nonprofits, we have all kinds of acronyms or clinical terms that we understand but make absolutely no sense to the listener (or reader, recipient). Don’t allow these to be part of your message. This may be challenging - but it is critical. You can ask your friends and family - those unfamiliar with your work - to see if they know what you are trying to say. If not, change it.
Keep it short. Ideally, strategic marketing messages are no longer than 25-30 words. Length is important because as we said early on, they need to be easy to remember so that people with a variety of levels of communication skills and familiarity with the organization can use them. They also need to be short so that the listener can remember them without feeling overwhelmed.
Remain consistent. Finally, keep in mind that the message should ALWAYS remain the same, but how it is presented can be unique for each person. Rebecca Leek, author of Message Matters, says in her book, “Words are flexible, the message is not.” So massage the words not the message.
Keep in mind, this is a creative process. After your message is created, you will still need to consider the implementation and evaluation of the messages. You will need to evaluate how effectively your message connects with your audiences and possibly make changes based your findings. Many organizations will also need to change their target audiences from time to time - resulting in an updated or new strategic message.
The goal of strategic messaging is to give everyone in the organization simple, compelling, and memorable words they can use to connect with a variety of audiences - getting them excited about what your organization is doing. Creating them well will also make poorly targeted, unmemorable, uninspiring nonprofit marketing messages a thing of the past.