July 21, 2015

Strengthening Nonprofits Through the Cause Collaborative

Matthew Billingsley • Chief Creative Officer

June saw the return of the Cause Collaborative after a two-year hiatus. The return brought with it a new format, new speakers and a new location that felt more intimate. The wait was worth it. This year’s version was designed with more panel and audience interaction along with a tighter, single-speaker panel who presented points on the following topics:

  1. Strategy: Nonprofits of all sizes must clarify core values to create a compelling vision.
  2. Branding: Enhance your brand for everything your organization uses to represent itself.
  3. Development: How individual and corporate relationships develop fundraising plans.
  4. Measurement: Determine if your organization is asking the right questions, the right way, to the right people.

The workshop’s goal was to inspire and motivate nonprofit leaders and associates to think deeper about their purpose and how their impact affects communities.

Why strategy is essential

Every nonprofit organization must start with your purpose: “why do we exist?” This much seems obvious but it was surprising to see the number of hands in the room who could not describe their organization’s strategy or general plan within 30 seconds. Many nonprofits can answer the “why” through their own passions for creating impact but may struggle with “how.”

The best way to answer “how” is to determine your 3-5 core values. These are the guiding principles that determine your course of action from year 1 to year 30 and beyond. As you create or re-evaluate your nonprofit’s strategy and its values, keep the following objectives in mind:

  • Provide legitimacy to your cause and vision
  • Motivate and guide your stakeholders; internal (e.g. board members, staff, volunteers) and external (e.g. local community, donors, businesses/funders, etc.)
  • Your organizational values should be based on input from these stakeholders
  • Allow for flexibility, being able to move laterally is recommended
  • Nonprofits must create positive experiences for sustainability. Determine with your team what experiences you will provide to anyone who is associated with your cause

Your nonprofit will only be as valuable as the strategy defining it.

Nonprofit brands must instill trust

Trust doesn’t happen overnight and takes time to cultivate and earn. According to Jason Moore of Fulcrum Creatives, a nonprofit’s brand is: “A gut feeling that evolves through the many complex and interconnected interactions that individuals have with your organization. Brand creates equity and trust when groups of individuals have shared positive experiences and opinions.”

It’s important to define what a “brand” is not. It is not your logo or your visual marketing system. Nor is it your product/service or your communication plan. These are just enforcers of people’s opinions of your nonprofit; unique identifiers but not your actual brand.

It was smartly noted how brands are no longer (or are sparingly) managed by traditional broadcast models—originating from one place via marketing or promotional efforts. With the rise of blogs and social media, brand management and monitoring now happens through an engagement model. In the simplest terms, this means your audience has more power than ever to affect and influence your brand.

Here is a test to see how strong your brand image actually is. Can everyone in your organization answer the following three questions? Would they answer them the same way? Would your external audiences answer them the same also?

  1. What do you do?
  2. How do you do it?
  3. Why does it matter?

Once your internal staff can align answers to these you can then speak with authenticity to your external audience. This is where trust through your brand is achieved.

Developing your plan

The overwhelming #1 question people wanted to know (via show of hands) was “how can my organization raise more money?” The answer was surprisingly simple: keep the donors you have. Roughly 2/3 of donors, or 65%, do not make a second gift. The  best logical place to start is to create an annual plan with donor retention being the main focus. Developing the plan begins with building your team. The team will consist of the Board of Directors and CEO/Executive Director. Once the team is in place the plan can begin and should contain these five top-level components:

  1. Locate all previous donors
  2. Decide how volunteers will be approached to give
  3. Figure out how to approach prospective donors
  4. Create a timetable
  5. Monitor and report for follow-ups.

Once you have a solid plan in place you can proceed to make the ask. The effectiveness of engagement will vary depending on preference but from least effective to most: snail mail, e-mail, phone call and face-to-face. There is no one silver bullet method and every nonprofit will differ. Just remember that people give to causes, not the organization – personal relationships always beat a cold letter of intent or other printed solicitation.

Meaningful measurements

The final segment of the day dealt with how to mine and analyze data to increase effectiveness. There is a lot to useful information to unpack so we’ll follow up in a separate post here in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, read our tips for measuring effectiveness via Google Analytics.

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