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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Attracting Resources in Today’s Complex Marketplace

By Sarah Lange

Today’s non-profits face myriad challenges: the recession and dwindling donor loyalty have lead to reduced charitable giving on all fronts, leaving the 1.4m domestic non-profits competing for a shrinking pool of funds. Technology, globalization and generational shifts have changed the charitable marketplace in ways that most non-profits have not yet fully recognized. More than ever, non-profit organizations need to adopt marketing practices that provide them with visibility and credibility while connecting them with donors, funders and other stakeholders that can provide them with the resources they need to fulfill their mission.

Well-resourced organizations employ a rigorous, comprehensive communications program that utilizes message marketing and branding to attract and retain stakeholder attention, loyalty and dollars. These agencies have found a way to continually demonstrate that they are relevant and dynamic in a changing environment, have differentiated themselves from their competitors, and are doing it in a way that is easily digested.

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In today’s fast-paced society, agencies have seven seconds to capture stakeholder attention. In those seven seconds, non-profits must find a way to keep their audience engaged long enough to move to action –make that donation, buy that ticket, call that legislator. When an organization is not consistently in the public eye, uses myriad colors and images, and sends different messages about its core mission, it results in confusion, which undermines credibility and confidence among stakeholders. As a result, donors may choose to invest their charitable dollars with an organization about which they feel more confident. Agencies can prevent this by being more public, speaking with one voice and presenting a singular face.

The connection between rigorous marketing and successful fundraising is well-demonstrated. Most of us believe that fundraising is about asking for and getting money. At its core, fundraising is about building relationships with philanthropists and helping them fulfill their need to support positive change in the issues they care about. Successful fundraising depends on identifying and connecting with people who care about your mission. Without a comprehensive communications program, this is like shooting buckshot in the dark.

Most non-profits have hundreds – if not thousands -- of donors, who require cultivation and stewardship in order to deepen their relationship with (and giving to) the organization. Given the size of most development departments and a general reluctance among board members to engage in solicitation, a comprehensive communications program ends up serving as the primary vehicle through which most stakeholders stay connected to the organization. Such a program consists of both outgoing (ex: email, newsletters, etc.) and incoming (ex: social media) communications strategies, which incorporate branding and message marketing.

Studies show that non-profits with a well-recognized brand do the best when it comes to getting the resources they need. Branding captures the essence of an agency’s mission in a clear and quickly recognizable manner and influences the way it is perceived by the public. Consider the Golden Arches – whether visiting a McDonald’s in Greece or Boston, we know what to expect. Branding can help a non-profit achieve the same end by helping stakeholders make a quick and positive association between a particular image and your organization.

No branding effort is complete without a marketing message, which ensures that everyone that comes into contact with the organization understands its mission in a clear, succinct way. A compelling marketing message speaks to its audience by triggering an emotional reaction, because it is aligned with their needs. An agency can understand the needs and motivations of its stakeholders through focus groups and surveys, using the data to craft an effective marketing message. The message needs to grab the stakeholder’s attention, provide a solution to the problem at hand, promote trust, demonstrate results, and differentiate the organization from its competitors.

Together, the brand and marketing message serve as the foundation for all marketing efforts and need to be integrated into all communication strategies, including print, radio, ads, business cards, presentations, websites, proposals, brochures, reports, etc. Integrated into a rigorous, comprehensive communications program, branding and message marketing will help non-profits attract and retain the resources they need to fulfill their mission in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace.

Counsel to more than 150 organizations and their leaders, Sarah is Principal & Founder of New Era, a consulting firm focused on helping non-profits integrate best practices across operations. Sarah has raised more than $50m from foundations, corporations, the government, and individuals and has served on the faculties of Clark University, Boston University School of Social Work, Worcester State College, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. For more information, visit http://www.newera4nonprofits.com


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