Several years ago, I was asked by a colleague to join a non-profit board that needed someone with branding and marketing expertise to help them grow. What I found was an organization that had no clear purpose, no distinct role in the community, and no plan for growth. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Fast forward to today. The organization now has a clear vision and mission. A strategic planning process is in place. The right staff members are on board. And we just launched a new name and brand that reflects the true purpose of the organization. Everyone involved believes in success now.
This didn’t come easily. It required leadership from board members, community leaders, major donors, and a new executive director to rethink the entire organization, top to bottom. And we had to make some tough decisions about people, programs and money along the way.
It could not have been done without the leadership, expertise and commitment of people who are accustomed to making tough decisions. Many of these people are leaders in their companies, from CEOs to entrepreneurs, who do not have extensive experience in the non-profit sector but have the desire to help. This is where you come in.
As a business leader, you take for granted many of the things it takes for an organization to succeed. You are constantly evaluating the direction of the company, how you are differentiating yourself competitively, and what capabilities your organization needs to have to achieve its goals. There are many worthy non-profit organizations in your community that would benefit from your expertise in these areas – and there is a benefit to your company as well. Here are just a few ideas.
The strategic planning process is second nature to companies who must efficiently allocate resources in pursuit of their objectives. Non-profit organizations who perpetually struggle with securing funding and maximizing its impact can benefit tremendously from something you do annually as a matter of doing business.
In our case, we were fortunate to have the local IBM community relations representative on our board. She helped us secure an IBM Impact Grant to assist with the strategic planning process including a new vision, mission and goals. It was a tremendous starting point on our journey to reinvent the purpose and direction of the organization.
You can create the same opportunity for a non-profit organization in your community. Use your strategic planning process to help a non-profit board and staff envision the future and build a plan for achieving it. Your leadership and outside perspective will help them break through any perceived barriers and define how they can increase their impact.
By their nature, non-profit organizations lead with their heart and embrace anyone else in the community that addresses the same issue. The problem is they are all competing for the same resources and there is not a big enough pie for everyone. They have to ask themselves “why should a government entity, community foundation, or corporation fund my non-profit’s request versus another?”
The answer lies in competitive differentiation. This is not a concept that comes naturally to a non-profit organization – in fact they usually cringe when you say the words – but it’s central to your thinking as a business leader. The discipline you use to identify target markets, define value propositions, and develop buyer personas is a valuable perspective for a non-profit that needs to carve out a niche and make a compelling case for funding.
The process of differentiating a non-profit implies that it does something other organizations in the community do not. In the business world, that thinking is a fact of life. In the non-profit world, it feels awkward and against their nature.
But it really doesn’t need to be. Every non-profit can have a unique value proposition that complements the role other non-profit organizations play in the community. It requires defining what they stand for. It requires a brand.
In our case, we started the brand development process when I first joined the board, but it didn’t take hold until we hired a new executive director who was willing to think differently and openly about the future. Then, everything fell in place. We were able to define what makes the organization unique, develop the vision and mission statements, and make the tough decisions that were needed to move in the right direction.
The result is an organization that has a new name, revenue and program model, board and staff structure, and marketing promise to the community. We call it the 34-year-old startup because we literally rethought everything. Most organizations will not need such an extreme makeover, but all can benefit from defining what makes them unique and taking actions to make that distinction stronger.
Marketing is a struggle for most non-profit organizations because they simply don’t have the staffing, funding and expertise to do it well. Take one look at the 2018 Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic and you’ll know why marketing scares the daylights out of most non-profits (and companies, for that matter). Fortunately, they are willing to learn.
Corporate and agency marketing professionals can make a huge difference by helping a non-profit develop target audience personas, shape how the story is told, and put a simple infrastructure in place for a digital marketing program. With some guidelines and training, the non-profit staff can take it from there.
So, what’s in it for you?
Not that you are in it for you, but there is a proven benefit to companies that get involved in the community. Studies show that Millennials and many other employees seek to work for companies that have a sense of purpose. People want work that has meaning. Involvement in the community not only meets that need but it also develops your employees professionally in ways that come back to benefit your company. Deloitte has some excellent research on the benefits of corporate community engagement if you are interested.