Trust Matters: Cultural & Market Forces Driving Strategic Reinvention

When your community trusts you, they'll stop at nothing to help you achieve magnetic results.

When organizations approach Mission Minded to talk about brand strategy and strategic planning initiatives, they are often responding to a challenge in their reputation or trajectory,  or have a new major goal they want to achieve, such as a successful capital campaign. These challenges are internal to the organization, which is an important distinction to make when you consider why major change is necessary. 

However, as we discussed in our webinar last month, more and more organizations are responding to the challenges presented to them by the external landscape. This can be an opportunity to widen your impact beyond what you envisioned in your initial goals and the clients who come to us with a keen sense of how current trends are affecting their organization often achieve the biggest results. 

In this post, I’m going to explore a few trends we are seeing in the landscape. Interestingly, there’s a theme that binds these together: refreshing and strengthening trust with your audiences. Because your audiences’ diminished trust = your organization’s diminished impact

For each, I’ll talk about how you might consider and incorporate the trend into your brand or strategic planning in ways that further the mission and impact of your nonprofit, foundation, or school.

Do Your Audiences Add Up?

Nonprofits and schools often navigate a delicate balance between upholding their values and maintaining support. When you take a stand on contentious issues, you risk alienating some audiences who may hold different views. One need only scan the day’s headlines to see this play out on university campuses. And we recently hosted this webinar that explored if and how organizations should speak up and speak out.

If your organization resolves to double down on your values, you’ll need to consider if and from where you’ll lose support. That consideration is due not to weaken your commitment, but to identify what new audiences you will need to attract and engage. 

Many community foundations are strategically shifting their focus, and their brands, to make a greater impact on things like racial and economic justice. To stay true to their new strategy, foundations are creating new policies about where donor-advised funds (DAF) funds can be granted. In this environment, community foundations can expect some DAF holders not aligned with a new positioning and values to choose to move their funds elsewhere. Replacing that funding means prioritizing new audiences such as community giving circles, or mid-career professionals who share the same goals.

If there are current audiences who don’t align with your organization’s values, then seek out new audiences whose values are aligned. Because if your brand and messages make claims to values that some supporters don’t share, you risk losing not just their trust, but the trust of others who will no longer see you as authentic to what you say you believe.

Staff Turnover: Short-Term Challenge, Medium-Term Opportunity

The great resignation may be winding down, but almost every employer has been impacted by the turmoil and recalibration of work-life routines coming out of the pandemic. If your organization is seeing staff churn at any level, or if you suspect you employ more than a few “quiet quitters,” now is the right time to fine-tune or revitalize your brand. 

Note I said fine-tune or revitalize. Your brand strategy is the reputation you are seeking to build and shape with your most important audiences. Does your brand resonate with your current internal team? Will it attract and build trust with the talent you need to have greater impact? What needs to change or evolve to do so?

We recently worked with a social and health services nonprofit with a brand that promised to end HIV in their region. However, some employees felt disconnected from that idea. They saw their work as broader, encompassing those who lived at risk from HIV and other chronic illnesses. Moving to a brand positioning of “where loving kindness meets practical care” allowed them to widen the tent to include both ideals. The re-calibrated brand unified the divide between employee groups — and re-energized the team.

It’s critical that your most important brand ambassadors — your staff — understand, buy into, and feel ignited by your brand. That begins with using your brand as the frame for staff orientation and continues with employee-focused initiatives like organizational culture-building, and even performance reviews.

Rebuilding Trust in the Age of AI and Deep Fakes

Artificial intelligence (AI)-driven deep fakes have sparked widespread distrust in institutions of all types. With these technologies producing increasingly convincing synthetic media, the line between reality and fabrication blurs. News outlets, governments, activists, and advocates face scrutiny as content authenticity is questioned. Your audiences’ confidence has suffered as their skepticism has deepened. And digital content is just one facet of this crisis that is magnified and compounded by politics and polarization.

Technological solutions and media literacy efforts can work to address part of this void of disinformation and distrust. But there’s something even more important that you can do, and that is to rekindle trust and re-forge relationships.

Mission Minded’s strategic plan work with a scrappy community arts center set the stage for them to magnify their impact. We facilitated planning that encouraged them to imagine not just what was important for their internally focused organizational sustainability and growth, but to consider what their community most needed and would support. This involved taking on a bold leap forward to acquire an historic downtown building that could expand their footprint and their exposure to new audiences. The strategic planning process built trust by inviting in existing and new stakeholders to the conversation, so that what they most valued was reflected into the final plan. Together, this reinvigorated community began to think about themselves in a bigger-picture, elevated way. With their strategic plan as the guide, they began to signal their new vision and bring all their programs, productions, and audience experiences into tight alignment. The trust this built in their community can be measured by their success raising $6 million for their capital campaign, that fundraising events have yielded 500% more revenue in just 3 years, and that they have seen a 300% increase in participants in their arts classes on their other campus. 

Trust gets re-built in legacy organizations when you have a vision for the future and share it with your community. Embarking on a new strategic plan and refreshing your brand are two big-picture ways to accomplish that. But just as important, in the day-to-day you can rebuild trust by bringing more humanity to your audiences’ experiences. Now is the time to re-invest in the in-person meetings, the handwritten notes, and the person-to-person connection that AI, for now, can’t replicate.

Gutsy Thinking That Gets Results

A variety of forces are causing your stakeholders to be wary and mistrustful. That’s why your strategy and brand have to inspire them with something they can believe in. Your brand is the promise you make about the experience your audiences will have with your organization. Now more than ever, everything you do must be in authentic alignment to keep true to that promise.

Join us for an upcoming webinar planned on this topic:

Cultural & Market Forces to Watch: What’s Driving the Strategic Reinvention Imperative?

Thursday, June 20, 2024
12:30-1:15 pm PT/3:30-4:15 pm ET

In this free session, Mission Minded co-founder Jennie Winton and I will be spotlighting the ways we see your landscape shifting and how your organization can leverage new opportunities to further your mission and impact. In the session, you’ll have the chance to learn from other organizations and share your own experiences.

The leadership challenges and opportunities you face keep evolving. At Mission Minded, our vision is that organizations like yours that make the world better have what you need to succeed. Let us be your partner in navigating this shifting landscape and spotlighting your path to greater impact.