You don't own your non-profit brand

warrenThe other day, I was in my home office trying to wrap up some work before dinner. The television in the other room was tuned to PBS and Charlie Rose was interviewing Warren Buffet and a few other rich guys. They were talking about the late Coca-Cola President Don Keough who recently died. I was trying hard to ignore the background noise and distraction, but then the following five simple words floating into my office:

“The people own the brand.”

These words came from Warren Buffet’s mouth in response to a question Charlie Rose asked about the time when Coca-Cola removed its Classic Coke from the shelves and replaced it with a reformulated New Coke and the public appeared to backlash.
These five simple words got into my head and have rattled around for the last few weeks. They bothered me, but they certainly sounded wiser than I ever might be.
It got to the point where I actually typed these five words into a Google browser, which is when I found a post titled “You Don’t Own Your Brand Anymore, Your Customers Do” over at iYogi Blog written by Sairam K.
I love the iYogi Blog post, and it is certainly worth a click from you. It crystallized everything for me and got me thinking about the following questions for your non-profit brand:

  • When is the last time you talked to your donors, clients, staff, and volunteers about what the brand means to them?
  • What are your key messages (and I don’t mean your marketing tag line) and how do they align with what people think about your brand?
  • How do you monitor your brand and what people are saying about your brand (especially on social media)?
  • Have you thought through how and what your responses might look and sound like in the event your brand comes under attack in social media circles? And more importantly, have you thought about the damage you might do if your strategy is simply “deleting” posts on your Facebook page?

I think the reason Warren Buffet’s words rattled me so badly was because I thought the organization owned the brand, but in reality staff and volunteers simply care for and steward the brand. The people (aka donors, community leaders, staff, clients, the community at-large, etc) do indeed own the brand.
What does this mean for your organization and your marketing/communication efforts? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Do you value your non-profit brand?

halo3Your non-profit brand is powerful. It is coveted by major corporations. It doesn’t matter if you are a major non-profit juggernaut like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or if you’re a teeny-tiny rowboat out there in the vast ocean of non-profit organizations. You are still valued. The mere fact that you are a non-profit organization, regardless of your mission, in and of itself is valued by corporate America.
These are all things that started rolling through my mind in the last few weeks primarily because of a Walmart ad I saw on television. I’m sure you’ve seen it, too. It is the ad featuring a number of different Walmart employees who list off all of the great things about working for this retail giant including:

  • education reimbursement benefit
  • health insurance as low as $40/month
  • career path opportunities (e.g. from the stock room to the boardroom)
  • matching gift program for every charitable gift made by an employee

It is this last bullet point that keeps sticking in my brain. In fact, it has bothered me for weeks. I knew in my gut there was a blog post somewhere in that commercial, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it . . .  until this morning.
walmartThe following are all facts (OK, they are facts according to Wikipedia so you may want to take them with a grain of salt):

  • Walmart is the world’s second largest publicly traded corporation
  • Walmart’s 2 million employee workforce makes them the largest private employer in the world
  • Walmart is the largest retailer on planet Earth

It would be fair to say that when Walmart sneezes, everyone catches a cold. This 800-pound gorilla of the retail sector is so big, they set prices for certain products in the many different marketplaces.
So, you’re probably asking what does any of this have to do with you and your non-profit brand.
Think about for two seconds. Here is one of the world’s most valuable and recognizable brands, and they’ve woven this message into their sale pitch:

Walmart is a good place to work because they match their employee’s charitable giving

In effect, Walmart is telling consumers the following things through this simply statement:

  • Walmart is a good corporate citizen
  • Walmart is charitable
  • Walmart’s strategy for keeping their philanthropy local is focused on their employee’s giving

halo1Have you heard of the “Halo Effect“?
In simple terms, the halo effect is when one brand affiliates itself with something the public considers “good,” which by effect means they are also “good“.  For example . . .
Charity is good. Walmart gives to charity through its employees. Therefore, Walmart must be good.
I believe my high school geometry teacher would’ve classified this phenomenon as “transitive properties“.  I think?
The fact that Walmart is shouting from the mountaintops that they match their employee’s charitable giving is a sure sign they believe the your non-profit brand is seen as a force for good in your community.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve talked with a non-profit professional who doesn’t see the value of their generic or specific non-profit brand. To those of you who think you are too small or insignificant, I point you in the direction of Walmart as proof that you have something to offer businesses and corporations in your community.
Of course, there is a catch . . .
If you are abusing your non-profit brand, you will never be able to take advantage of the halo effect and integrate it into your fundraising plan as a cause-related marketing or sponsorship strategy.
halo4You may be wondering what I mean by “abusing your non-profit brand“. Here is just a short list of neglectful things:

  • running programs that don’t generate positive outcomes or impact
  • hiring poor employees and not training your employees
  • recruiting board volunteers who won’t and don’t advocate for you when circulating through the community
  • recruiting board volunteers who are seen as dubious by the general public (e.g. criminal, too political, or just simply a gadfly)
  • not investing in capacity building or organizational development, thereby increasing your liability and exposure
  • not having (or implementing) a written marketing plan and consequently being the “best kept secret in town

The mere fact you are a non-profit organization puts you in a very special public light. I really believe this is what the Walmart commercial tells us. However, what you do from that point is up to you.
Do you want to invest in your non-profit brand and position your agency to take advantage of cause-related marketing and corporate sponsorship opportunities? Then I suggest you pull together a small task force of smart marketing people in your community and ask the following questions:

  • How are we communicating with donors? How do they perceive us?
  • What does the community at-large think of our organization?
  • What are we doing online and through social media? What are our strategies? Are they working? Are we reaching the audience we intended to reach?
  • What is our case for support? Is it written down? How are our board members and volunteers using this resource? How is our staff using this resource? Is this message being heard by our supporters?
  • What stories are we tell? How are we telling them? How old are those stories? Are the people we ask to tell those stories good storytellers?
  • If there was such a thing as a “marketing toolbox,” what tools are in that toolbox? How are we using those tools? What is missing? What needs to be added?

Whoa . . . I could probably go on all day with questions for your marketing task force, but this is a good start.
How are you investing in your non-profit brand to make it more valuable? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847