Like people, your organization’s brand is only interesting if you focus on something besides yourself. Yet many nonprofit organizations we meet suffer from Boring Date Syndrome. You know the type. You meet them for a first date and they talk relentlessly about themselves the entire time, never showing any real interest in you. Unless it’s to ask what you think of them.
You wouldn’t ever have a second date with someone who suffers from Boring Date Syndrome. You wouldn’t offer to help them get cured, either. You’d probably just walk away, or swipe left.
If your nonprofit’s communications focus only on the details of you, you’re probably leaving donors yawning, itching to get away, and missing the chance to nurture the kind of relationship that makes them really want to help you achieve your mission.
When we work with our nonprofit, foundation, and school clients to help them think about the right brand strategy the first question is never about them. We don’t ask, ”How do you want to be perceived?” Instead we ask, “Who matters most to your success and what do they most value?”
So think deeply about your audiences — the people most likely to give you the time, money, partnership and support you need to fulfill your mission. Once you’re very, very clear on the hopes and dreams of your audiences, you can craft the brand positioning and messages most likely to appeal.
If Stodgy Stu and Old Fashioned Olga are your best donor prospects, then you’d better be sure your brand reflects the dignity, grace, and lack of modernity likely to appeal to them—even if your executive director is known for her hip style and your operations director is replacing outdated program delivery with innovative new service delivery models. Building a good relationship with your audiences is based on understanding them and putting the parts of your organization that can authentically appeal to them front and center.
Take the time to create a character profile of what makes your audience members tick. They don’t see themselves as “donors,” “major donors,” or “new volunteers.” They see themselves as moms, activists, and nice people. And you should address them that way.
Give your target audience a name as though he is one person, and then list all the things that matter to him. Dabir the Do-good Donor cares about his city, feels proud to live there, and wants others to enjoy it. He’s passionate about the arts, volunteers at a local elementary school (even though his children are grown), and goes for hikes on the weekend.
Knowing what matters to Dabir will help you speak to him in a way that resonates. This may mean you don’t start with what’s most important to your organization. Eventually you can get there, but only if Dabir wants to be in conversation with you. And he will, if you start the conversation by asking him about him.
If putting this into practice feels harder than it sounds reading it here, just imagine you’re on a first date with a person in your target audience. Imagine how you’d charm your date. Would you barrage this new acquaintance with facts and figures about yourself? We hope not.
Are you wanting to refine your organization’s brand strategy? Mission Minded can help! Let us know how we can support your upcoming branding project.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2011 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one impact coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton