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Archive for June, 2011

Target Audience and Brand Work for Nonprofit Organizations

Boards frequently complain to the CEO that “we’re not getting our name out there.”  What do these board members mean? Do they want to see stories in the New York Times?  USA Today?  On the NBC evening news?

This is a great example of why marketing is an important area of effort for nonprofit organizations. The nonprofit needs to be clear on who their Target Audiences are.  And among them must be those receiving services (primary customers), prospects who might benefit from the nonprofit service (prospective primary customers), donors (supporting customers) and donor prospects (you get the drift).

Nonprofit organizations with substantial ($5 million or more) budgets usually have a communication staff professional who sees to outreach to Target Audiences. The vast majority of these public benefit organizations (small to mid-size) cannot afford such a staff position. In this case, the board works with staff to identify volunteers with expertise in communications and public relations to advise on and help shape messages.  It’s not just about creating messages and getting them out “there.”  Wherever “there” is.  Using e-mail including Constant Contact, newsletters, media releases to print and broadcast outlets, releases to corporate newsletters in the nonprofit service area, releases to church bulletins.  All of this work helps get the message out.

But what message exactly?  Each nonprofit has a story to tell.  The staff person or volunteer task group working to identify the Brand and get Brand messages to Target Audiences approaches this work in a thoughtful, plan-ful way.  Shipping out a stack of press or news releases to various media outlets does not cut it.  Contacts at these outlets should be cultivated, relationships formed, and in a deliberate way, information goes to these media.  If this is done in a sound manner, if the messages are low on hyperbole and high on interesting facts for readers or listeners…reliable, solid information….the story will be told, the message will get out there and people (i.e. board people) will be happy.

But guess what.  This is work.  And if there is not staff to do it, the board needs to help locate volunteers who will do justice to this important job..

When all this happens, the nonprofit and its stakeholders get closer to the kumbaya experience.

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What Is It About Boards and Fundraising?

I wish I knew.  But I have some ideas about this I want to share.

For board members who have been through the wars with a nonprofit organization, there is a reluctance to jump into fundraising if it hasn’t been in the job description from the beginning. After all. The Book of Genesis doesn’t discuss fundraising. So, if you’re an original constructionist, you might have a good biblical argument against boards raising money.

But let’s look at the reality of nonprofit work.  The board of directors have legal and fiduciary duties, and set strategic direction. And underneath it all we hope we might find a passion for  the mission. Members aren’t sitting on this board just to occupy space and time. Seek out the sense of commitment to the stories of this nonprofit, the people it’s helped over the years, the value it delivers to the community. When we know there is this passion, we have something to build on to move members to add fundraising to the board job description.

Here are some suggestions to overcome the miasma, neuritis and neuralgia when someone says “fundraising:”

  • There are likely two or three board members who are friendly to the concept of fundraising. Work with these people to demonstrate the value of helping raise money to their colleagues.
  • At every board meeting, be sure there’s at least one story of success around the mission.
  • And at the same meeting, find a success story of a board member who helped make a connection that brought in a resource to the nonprofit.
  • As you work to build confidence in more board members to raise money, talk with your colleagues at other nonprofits whose board members are more “highly evolved” in their fundraising experience. Invite a member of that board to discuss the value of board fundraising at a future meeting of your board.
  • Show board members the value of networking. That they can do helpful things to advance the mission between meetings.

As you work on this approach with amenable members of your board, you’ll build a growing circle of Friends of Fundraising.

It’s contagious!

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Cultivating Leadership on the Nonprofit Board

As nonprofit organizations form, grow, transform…the needs of the board of directors change.  And by that, I mean the mix of skills that can help the nonprofit organization develop proper strategy and do the legal and fiduciary business of an effective governance group.

For the newly forming nonprofit, it’s common for the person organizing the group to seek friends and acquaintances to serve, to meet State requirements.  Over time, as the organization grows and begins to deliver service and the need for revenue changes, the original board members see that that the work of building capacity is changing. Some founding board members decide to move on.  At that point, the time is ripe to create a small nominating or governance team on the board to work with the executive to find volunteers who can help take this enterprise to the next level. And these new volunteers need to demonstrate commitment to mission if they’re going to pass muster for board service.

As the nonprofit grows to face new challenges and meets with success, the demands on senior staff change, too.  The effective nonprofit board works to build capacity to train staff (as well as themselves!) in nonprofit best practice.  Whether it’s sending staff to conferences or college courses, the board knows the investment is essential to keep their staff team as close to the leading edge as possible to deliver on the mission and bring home the bacon.

Members of boards of directors have their eyes on the big picture:

  • Quality of the service delivered
  • Clarity on role board plays vs role of staff
  • How roles and demands can change over time

Taking the time and money to train leaders, to grow and evolve leaders, is an essential to nonprofit effectiveness.

Does your nonprofit board of directors have a plan to grow competence and capabilities of your leaders as the market changes?

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Are You Targeting the Right Audience?

Fundraising is a specialized skill-set for nonprofit professionals.  There are elements of selling that apply. But as Jeffrey Gittomer tells us in his Little Red Book of Selling (2005, Bard Press) the focus needs to be on the donor “buying,” less on the nonprofit “selling.”  And this is exactly why understanding principles of marketing (simply: a value exchange between two parties) is essential for fundraising success. So nonprofit leaders know who is the target audience, compose messages that resonate and make sense to the audience, seek to form a relationship with the donor, and present brand clarity in communication with prospective donors.  Note that I say “communicate with.” Not communicate “to.”

A person I look to to keep my thinking sharp and in marketing mode is Seth Godin. His blog (simply: Seth’s Blog) http://bit.ly/jrUVFr. Click this link to land on his recent post “Selling Nuts to Squirrels.”  The central point I take away from this (please share your thoughts here once you’ve read it) is: small to mid-size organizations, profit-making or non-profit, need to know and focus on their target audience, i.e. sell nuts to squirrels. If we have the clout of Facebook, we might stand a chance changing the worldview of skeptical audiences to reluctantly come on board because all my friends have joined and I don’t want to be left out. Seth talks about the clout of Starbuck’s: it’s been rather successful (some recent right-sizing required in the face of a shrunk economy) and has shaped worldview of coffee consumers these past two decades.

For those nonprofit leaders among us who aren’t representing Harvard University or American Cancer Society or the Mayo Clinic: we must tailor our expectations, our messaging, our communications about our brand based on the reality of the resources we have to work with. We work at selling nuts to squirrels. Not to dolphins.

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