In my last article of my nonprofit series, I gave advice on how to tell if your non-profit is uncool…er…climatically challenged. ”But Molly,” you may have thought to yourself, “now that I know I have a lame non-profit, what do I do about it?” (Many thanks to those who not only thought it, but dropped me a line to ask.)
To answer that, my dear reader, I offer you the following advice, culled from my years working with non-profit organizations of various sizes and temperatures. Rest assured, your organization is not alone.
1. Protect your brand like you would a dog or a small child. It’s needy, incapable of rational thought and prone to wandering off when you’re not looking.
This spring, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced a partnership with KFC. The partnership, called “Buckets for the Cure” quickly provoked the ire of bloggers, media, media watchdogs, and even Steven Colbert who asked “WTF?” Years of brand and loyalty building vanished seemingly overnight.
If there are only two words in your non-profits marketing dictionary, they should be these: Cause. Dissonance. It takes years to build a successful brand and only a second, or one poor decision, to destroy it. This non-profit will rebound eventually, but in a bad economy, is that a risk your organization can take?
2. Take some (calculated) risks*. “But, Molly,” you may be thinking to yourself. “Didn’t you just warn us about risks?”
Well, yes and no.
In a bad economy, co-marketing can be your best friend. Play nice with your sponsors and they’ll open up a world of promotional opportunities, even if only by splashing your information on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Think in context. A partnership with KFC might be a good idea if you’re promoting biodiesel.
Don’t let fear of a potential controversy prevent your organization from living a little. But know what you’re getting into and how much your donors and board can take before they get antsy.
3. Translate the geek speak. Speak plainly without assuming your audience is comprised of people lacking in general intelligence. You know the moment at your last cocktail party when eyes began to glaze over and you had to backtrack and say everything you just said in a completely different way?
4. Know that your organization is a sum of its parts. Each staff member from your administration to your ED has a network, life and passions outside the scope of your mission. Let them integrate their personality into their projects in strange and wonderful and exciting ways. Even if you don’t get it at first, the end result may surprise you.
5. Be transparent. Make it clear to anyone who may care what your organization is up to. Be clear on everything from finance to programs; make it available on your website, or in your annual report. Don’t be in a position where you’re being accused of hiding things. Be up front about things before you have to be, and it won’t come back to bite you later.
6. Know thyself first. You obviously care about your organization’s mission (or a mission. Somewhere.) How do you keep up with your groups? Think about your preferences, the social media and other sites you use, how you get your updates. Poll your staff, then poll your donors. Communicate with your donors, users and followers in much the same way you like to receive communications.
7. Skip the gifts. Seriously. If your organization absolutely must give a gift to a major donor or government official that just passed a bill on one of your projects, make it a token gift that is fitting, inexpensive and doesn’t violate any tax laws. (The exception? Always, always, always recognize your underpaid, overworked staff whenever possible. Even a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop once a year goes a long way. But ditto on violating tax laws, and the aforementioned embezzling.)
8. Know which members of your staff belong in front of media, general public, politicians and donors and which ones don’t. Some people freeze in front of an audience or a camera. Some think great on their feet, some need a moment to prepare. Some just give lousy press conferences. There’s no right or wrong way. (Well, maybe the last one is wrong.)
I had a yoga teacher in San Francisco who would say, “Stretch until discomfort, not pain.” It’s one thing to encourage staff to stretch, another to put them in a position of embarrassment. Don’t hurt your staff or your organization.
9. Know how to take a hit without looking like you’ve just been punched. It will happen. It may be financial (a major donor doesn’t re-gift). It may be controversial (your corporate backer utilizes sweatshops with child labor.) Your organization may suddenly lose a key staff member during a crucial time. A disgruntled employee may make an internet splash. Prepare when you can, roll when you can’t. You organization may never learn how to fall well, but maybe it can learn how to land.
9. Eschew cool for cool’s sake. There are a lot of fun platforms to try out, new technology makes everything seem shiny and exciting. Even if something is free, though, the staff time required to implement it may not be. If it doesn’t make sense for your audience, your budget, your mission or your goals, skip it. Something else will come along in a minute and a half that is a better fit for your organization.
10. If all else fails, stop talking.
Know a hip non-profit? Write them and say thanks, or better yet, make a donation of time or money. Don’t know any hip non-profits? Search for some at Idealist.org or check out a few of my favorites: Women’s Law Project, The SCA, and National Parks Foundation.
Like this article? Check out 10 Tips for Happier, More Productive Non-Profit, 12 Signs Your Organization Isn’t As Cool As You Think It Is, and my blog.
Think the puppy’s adorable? His name is Bo and he and many puppies just like him need good homes. Find out more.