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