Stand Out for What You Believe in (extended)

Here is the extended version of the article I wrote for Personal Branding Magazine earlier in the month:

The non profit sector is an incredibly competitive one, in the US alone there are 1.4million nonprofits registered and every year that number increases. A lot of charities are operating in a similar or “same space”. We often people say “There are too many charities” hear, but we seldom hear people say “there are too many coffee shops in this town”. The fact is these organisations exist because there is a need. So why does this question arise? Possibly because the sector is not for profit (although I rather like the Suddes Group term ‘For Impact’), or is it because non profits aren’t facing up to the challenges they face and aren’t doing a good enough job in communicating their reason for exisiting?

There are some very real challenges to non profits and one of the biggest ones they face is how to stand out from the crowd, especially when they only have limited resources to make noise. There are a number of strategies a non profit can employ to stand out.

Firstly charities need to understand their brand. This doesn’t mean understanding what people internal to the organization (staff, board) understand about the brand (although that would be an interesting exercise to see how diverse those are!). All too often non profits live in a bubble and are immersed in a world where they eat, drink and sleep the cause, but this isn’t the reality in the outside world. So what is crucial is understanding what donors, service users, and people who don’t fit into either category, say, think and feel about the brand. As Marty Neumer says, your brand isn’t just your logo, product or identity “It’s a gut feeling a person has about a product, service or organisation”.

Once this has been undertaken it is important to then discover what the organizations unique space is. By examining the organisations proposition and comparing it to the competition, a unique position will begin to emerge, a space that can be owned. This doesn’t mean moving away from the core mission, it just means starting to see where the mission fits. Once a charity has done this they need to weigh in behind it, commit to this position and begin exploring how to communicate it. Charities need to remember that they will raise money if people know who they are and what they stand for.

Dan and Chip Heath talk about the importance of stickness, they state that “A sticky message is one that people understand when they hear it, that they remember later on, and that changes something about the way they think or act”. This should be a mantra for every non profit. Organizations need to spend time thinking about how they can translate their position into a message that is clear, simple, concrete that resonates with donors in a way that makes them take action. This takes time, but, it is time well spent.

The donor is the lifeblood of the non profit organization. I encourage non profits to look at everything with “donor eyes”. The donor must become the centre of the non profits world; they should be listened to, consulted and even allowed to decide where some of their funds go. By engaging people at this level they will begin to feel ownership and even more passionate about the cause. They become, as Ken Blanchard and Shelodn Bowles put it, “Raving Fans”. I suggest that non profits need to create ‘sports fans’ for their work. When you listen to a sports fan they talk about “their” team and how “we won” that game. They wear their team colours with pride, they want everyone to know that they support the team. Imagine the potential if non profits can harness this powerful type of engagement.

One way to acheieve this is by creating a movement. A movement is something that people can get behind, it has momemntum. It has a clear direction and it is not fully controlled by any one person but by a group of people all acting in similar way, led by their goal and a shared belief that leads them to act. Members of a movement are excited by it, they are passionate about it, they are Raving Fans. I think a great example of a movement at the moment is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Jamie Oliver gets movements, I think he always has. He has an incredible capacity to understand and capture the essence of peoples passions and package it in a movement, and as a result his Food Revolution has huge support with almost 600,000 people signing his online petition.

A typical way to end this article would be to state that “this is a very challenging time for non profits”. But it’s always a challenging time. Non Profits that want to sustain their operations deep into the next decade and beyond need to ensure that they are clear about what they stand for and that they are communicating this in a clear, consice, ‘sticky’ way. They need to stand out for what they believe in. Is it simple? No, it takes time and effort. Is there more to it than this? Yes there is a book’s worth. Is it possible? Absolutely.

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