How to Brand Your Nonprofit Organization for Success

Nonprofit Branding and Marketing AdviceIf you’re starting or running a nonprofit, you’re most likely aware of the rise in competition for donor resources over the past two decades. The Internet and online giving have increased the opportunities for smaller nonprofit start-ups to gain recognition and compete in arenas where larger nonprofits once solely existed.

The rise in competition goes hand-in-hand with changes in the marketplace. There are now three unique donor generations in the marketplace with their own distinct behaviors, drivers and preferences. More than ever, donor relationships are being conducted and maintained online. Social media is increasing the reach of brand exposure, and whether you realize it or not, buyers are defining your brand, even if you aren’t.

In light of these challenges, how can you successfully distinguish your brand and your voice to rise above the competition?

Define Success

First and foremost, you should know what success looks like. Why is your brand important to the world? What do you hope to achieve? How do you envision someone relating to your brand? In addition, you should understand the purpose of your brand initiative. Are you overcoming an old brand, creating a new one, exploring new territory? Paint your picture of success, so that everyone inside and outside of your organization can share in your vision.

Know Your Values

So often, organizations get hung up on “what” they do and forget that audiences are more inclined to be motivated by “why” they do it. Hundreds, or even thousands, of others are likely doing “what” you do, but there is potentially only one of you doing it for the reason “why” you do it.  Ultimately, your brand should help audiences understand where you stand and what you believe, so knowing why you do what you do and the underlying values that guide your beliefs are key to informing brand direction.

Know What Your Audience Values

Audiences are more inclined to connect with your message and brand when it relates to something they value. Donors value the idea that they’re making a difference, they value personal stories of success, they relate to living things and they look for signals that they can trust you. Having a clear understanding of what your audience values will allow you to shape your brand and relate in ways that they are most likely to notice, share and appreciate. Greater identification with your brand leads your audience to brand advocacy and, if nurtured, can grow to become increasingly passionate believers and brand evangelists.

Create a Plan of Action

Good brand positioning should include a plan to communicate to your audience. When learning what your audience values, you should also be collecting information on the behavior and preferences of your audience. How does your audience learn about you? Where do they get their information? In which ways do they like to participate and how often?

By collecting all the ways that an audience can engage with you through online and live experiences, you can consider whether you have the tools, platforms and communications necessary to usher an audience into deeper engagement. Are you giving your audience the tools to advocate and share your stories or events with others? Are those stories and events properly branded, and is there a call to action that drives them to take the next step?

Considering these questions will help you build the plan that delivers your brand promise in a way that respects and reflects the values and passions of your audience.

The “New PR” Can Deliver Big (and FREE) Results for Nonprofits

Nonprofit PR Advice - Excellent ReadPublic Relations as a discipline has undergone significant changes in the last 20 years. Gone are the days of mailing press releases and placing dozens of calls a day to a long list of reporters that might possibly be interested in your story (truth be told…they mostly hung up on the callers). Though some lament the changes since they have mostly resulted in fewer face-to-face or even voice-to-voice communications, the reality is that used effectively, new technology has advanced our ability to successfully execute a PR campaign. PR strategists can now track the success of messaging, what reporters are writing about (how often and for whom), who is reading the content (where and when) and much more. There is a new software application being launched what seems like every month to help PR professionals do their job more efficiently. But, the traditional foundation of PR remains the same – spread the message in earned placements.

Given the challenges that nonprofits face – staffing, budget, resources – PR is one of the most effective and efficient ways for a nonprofit to spread its message. Despite what many communications professionals learned in college (hours and hours of lectures…ugh) most PR is not about crisis communications or promoting a household brand. PR is about communicating your organization’s message to the people that are most likely to communicate it to the audience you most care about. It pretty straight forward. PR isn’t rocket science, but it is knowing what to say, how to say it and to whom you want it said. And, through measurement, making sure all of that is getting through to your audience.

PR is an elegant use of messaging and tools carefully developed and executed to reach your audience. However, before an organization can begin “communicating,” it must first determine who it wants to reach. Who is the audience that can most positively impact the organization? Next, develop the message/messaging that will best resonate with that audience (for example: determine if your messaging should be formal, casual, quantifiable data, emotional, etc.). Once you’ve tackled those – audience and message – the research begins. If you don’t already know the reporters, bloggers, or influencers that are writing about and talking about your organization and its key issues (don’t worry – most people don’t know or only know a few), then you need to do your research and develop a list of those contacts. Once your first steps are complete, it is time to start cranking out content and putting it to work!

There are a variety of content tools that PR professionals use to communicate an organization’s message to the media and the broader target audience. They include:

Press Releases – despite what some reporters say, the press release is not dead. However, it has evolved. Short news announcements that briefly outline the news are far more preferable than long, detailed press releases often used in the past. Graphics and photos are also always appreciated. Even better news for nonprofits is there are a wide variety of free press release distribution services so the cost of sending your announcement to the media is zero.

Media Advisories – these aren’t dead either and as “mini-releases” they are shorter, who, what, when, where-style announcements that are ideal for announcing events.

Social Media Content – this covers a great deal, but the good news for nonprofits is that content developed for social media can be re-purposed in a wide variety of ways. Not repeated, but reworked so similar content can be used for blog posts, Facebook posts, tweets, pins, etc.

Email Pitches – since a large number of reporters are now covering several beats and media outlets are understaffed, they tend to largely prefer pitches via email (vs. phone calls). The content that is being used for social media and press releases will also likely be the basis of a good email pitch. The keys are to make it short, sweet, compelling and actionable. Sell your story/issue/concern in a few sentences and ask for the next step (specify the action you want them to take or the follow up action you plan to take). Above all…be professional and human.

Phone Pitches – much of the approach that works in email pitches, works in phone pitches with the important addition of when you get them on the phone, show reporters the courtesy of asking if they have time to speak with you.

Issue Statements – nonprofits are in the ideal position to make statements about issues being discussed in the media. The key is to develop and distribute the issue statement in a very timely manner. As soon as news breaks that the organization can speak to in a meaningful way, draft a quick statement to that effect, offer the name and title of the person that can be interviewed on the topic and distribute it to the media (this can be done via press release distribution platforms or email).

Awards – don’t miss any opportunity to be recognized for your great work. Although there are some paid awards that wouldn’t be ideal for a nonprofit, there are many free ones that all you have to do is complete the nomination form. And, if you win an award, don’t forget to tell everyone about!

Speaking Opportunities – share your success with others. Sign up to speak at conferences where you can share best practices with other nonprofits.

And more!

With smart planning and the commitment to doing it right, PR is an incredibly effective tool for nonprofits to get their message out. Don’t miss the opportunity to put it to work for your organization.

The Three-Pronged Approach for Tracking Your Marketing Efforts

Marketing AdviceWhile good storytelling is the baseline attribute of quality non-profit marketing, it’s important to remember that good storytelling doesn’t occur in a vacuum. When you use your story to draw in more constituents and donors, you’re only taking the first step. Beyond that, you need to refine your storytelling efforts through careful tracking that allows you to iterate and improve your current approach. But how do you determine what’s worth tracking, and how should you go about tracking it?

Every non-profit digital marketing campaign needs to implement metrics if they’re to measure and refine their approach. Whether it involves search results, email marketing or social media, there are many areas that allow organizations to gain insights into their efforts—provided they know how to read the signs.

But first things first—before you’ve determined your marketing performance indicators, the first order of business is to map out your game plan. For this, it helps to look at your marketing goals on a macro and micro level. From a wide perspective, you should determine a few overarching marketing goals that you’d like to accomplish over the course of a year. Whether this involves increasing donor retention rates, cultivating partnerships with other organizations, or expanding your volunteer base, it’s important to put your foot down on specific, achievable milestones so that you can measure your success and make future improvements.

From here, you’ll need to take a closer look at your goals and then determine the specifics of how you’ll be measuring their success. This is a two-part process, which requires both the right metrics, as well as the right tools to measure them. These vary based on where the tracking is taking place, and below we’ll cover three approaches: Social, Email, and Search.


When it comes to nonprofit metrics, the website is your prime domain, and the one you’ll want to be keeping closest track of. By keeping tabs on the details of your search traffic, you’ll be able to find out more about your website and learn whether your efforts are working in other areas as well, including those in the Social sphere. From referrers, to poorly-performing pages, user location and user habits, search analytics tools allow you to take a deep dive into how people are interfacing with your organization.

Google Analytics is the be-all end-all of search analytics tools, but the struggle comes in using it effectively. The brunt of this work is done in the planning process we discussed earlier: While Analytics will provide you with a wealth of information, the best thing you can do is find the statistics that are most relevant to your goals, and try to improve those accordingly. Luckily, Google offers discounts for nonprofit users – something that can prove very handy for any organization.

Possible Metrics to Track and Improve:

  • Total Site Traffic
  • New Vs. Returning Visitors
  • Referral Sources
  • Donation Conversion Rate (Unique Monthly Visitors divided by Total Monthly Conversions)
  • Donation Page Bounce Rate


Because non-profit organizations have such enticing stories to offer their audiences, follower numbers, page “Likes” and +1’s can be satisfying to track. But keep in mind that social benchmarks can often be deceitful, as followers don’t necessarily equate to increased conversions, and vice versa. We suggest tracking social metrics on less of an independent basis, instead working to determine how your social efforts are affecting your other efforts. However, it’s still very important to get a baseline idea of your audience’s social participation, and always worth it to try and grow these efforts.

When it comes to social tracking tools, try free options like Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics. Offering engagement numbers, reach statistics, and information about visits, these integrated tracking tools allow you to learn more about your audience, as well as how they’re deciding to engage with your content.

For a more in-depth approach, try implementing tools like Radian6 or Sysomos. While these solutions will cost you more than the free options of Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics, they act as more generalized tools for developing a social intelligence around your organization. We recommend these for larger nonprofits who need to be able to view all aspects of their constituency’s social involvement.

Possible Metrics:

  • Likes
  • Retweets
  • Comments
  • @Replies
  • Shares
  • Sentiment


Email is one of the most effective ways that nonprofits can reach out to their constituencies. Compared with other methods, it’s quick, it’s inexpensive, and it yields a high return on investment. One of email’s other big strengths is that it’s easy to make adjustments in comparison to, say, a website.

Most of the tools you’ll use for tracking email will come built-in with your existing software. Most Constituent Relationship Management platforms like Salesforce, Zoho, and Raiser’s Edge, for instance, all have integrated email tracking options. However, you may also opt for a different service to send and track emails, like MailChimp, Constant Contact or iContact. These tools will all help you to keep track of all your email tracking needs, resulting in better a more guided overall effort.

Possible Metrics to Track and Improve:

  • Delivery Rate (Amount of emails sent – Amount of email bouncebacks)
  • Clickthrough Rate (Amount of emails sent / Number of users who have clicked an included link)
  • Unsubscribe Rate
  • Open Rate

To Gain New Online Donors, Give Up Some Old Notions

Gain New Donors - Nonprofit AdviceThere’s a lament heard repeatedly at many nonprofits: “Our donors are aging out, our traditional media is underperforming, and I can’t make online work. Where are we going to find our future donors?

Tackling this issue requires  some really smart thinking and loads of testing, so I won’t insult you with platitudes. Well, maybe one:  Creighton Abrams wrote, “When eating an elephant take one bite at a time” (apologies to my animal welfare and environmental clients). This article’s bite is about tossing out some perceived wisdoms you might be holding onto, and helping you turn online advertising into a successful fundraising channel.

Your audience IS your digital strategy

Let’s start by extricating this overly-used, meaningless word “digital.” People once painted on cave walls. Now they share photos of their hunt with their followers. Things change. It’s all “digital” now. We are touched by digital messages nearly every waking hour of the day: whether working, leisure reading, viewing, or browsing. Start your strategy with a hypothesis of your target audience’s daily habits and develop a touchpoint plan that envelops their day and incorporates many publishers and channels (i.e., display, social, incentivized, affinity email).Your audience will tune in to some and tune out of others, but online is a frequency medium, and messages become cumulative and finally stick.

Cast a wide net

Your online test should begin by casting a wide tactical net.. Our initial plans for nonprofits always include one or more of the larger networks (Aol, Yahoo), with target demographics that include what we know (our current donor profile), what we hope to discover (i.e., younger donors), and a smattering of what we don’t know (surprise!).

Creative best be sweet

The ideal creative approach could be the subject of  its own article. In brief, you should develop at least 3-5 creative approaches. The concepts should span a motivational and emotional spectrum, and the messaging should allow you to test value propositions and messaging approaches. But keep the brand tight. Your brand is the glue that holds the campaign together, so make sure all of your ads feel connected and build a brand voice together, rather than compete with itself for attention.

Don’t miss a thing

Your web team and ad team need to work hand-in-glove when it comes to tracking the activity of your launch. Every ad unit, search result, social destination, or text link needs to be tagged, and every page on your web site needs to be pixeled. Campaign intelligence will be the lifeblood of your online campaign.

Also be sure to factor in other drivers that may be in market when your online test begins. Is there DRTV running? A mail drop? Make sure you establish web traffic benchmarks and donation baselines so you can isolate the results of each tactic.


The moment you hit the big “Go” button, the real work of your campaign begins. Sorry, you can’t “set it and forget it.”Keep your hands on the levers of the campaign control room. Tweak the media by watching the performance by publisher, time of day, and audience segment. That doesn’t mean that each segment gets the same optimization but rather knowing that each segment is OK to operate with its own top performers. A unifying theme might exist in line with an overall strategy, but it’s our job to know when and where to pull those levers. Optimize the creative by testing calls-to-action, photography, and copy. And do it all in real time. The need for speed and fluidity means your media, creative, and analytics teams need to be at the same table.

Toss “the control”out the window

Times used to be simpler. Crowning a winning creative was as easy as examining the results of package A vs. package B. With online, there is a tangled web of targeting, publishers, and creative. If you analyze it correctly, you can define which creative works best for which specific audience member. That means the master King Control will not have as much power over the common creative, as each ad will remain active where it individually shines. Also, online creative is very susceptible to creative fatigue. With our own studies, we’ve defined that a creative concept can begin to fatigue within 10 days in market (this varies depending on media spend). That means your control creatives will need to adapt and evolve to survive. 

Keep source code…in its cage

Up until now you may have looked at the source code results of your online marketing and seen the majority was from search engines. In order of popularity it was Paid Search, Organic Search, and then Direct-to-Site, right? And click-throughs from your display program or other online ad efforts were infinitesimal. The conclusion is often, “Display doesn’t work, but search is great. Let’s put all our money in earch.” Not so fast…. That’s like giving the cash register credit for store traffic.

To grow an online fundraising campaign, you’ll have to lose your dependency on source code data to make campaign decisions. We know your finance team will still want to see that data, and you should show it to them, but if you are making marketing decisions, push source codes to the side, and look at the full picture.

Remember when we told you to tag every impression and pixel every web page? That data will illuminate the full path that donors traversed to contribute on your site. Now you’ll know which publishers introduced donors to your organization.  You’ll see the hidden influence of creative impressions. You will be able to finally decipher which placements are inspiring searches, which are leading to donations. Growing an online campaign is all about funding the top of the funnel so search can excel at closing the deal. Source code data will never give you that insight.

New-to-file, new life

Getting started might sound like a lot of work (it is), costly (it doesn’t have to be), and complex (it can be). But when you start seeing new-to-file names topping 75% (and you’ve got a solid CRM strategy in place), you can see the importance of trawling these waters.

Your future donors and current donors are online, engaged throughout the day. It’s a pretty good plan to have them see you there too. Even if your organization only has a modest marketing budget, applying some of these strategies will open new pathways to find your elusive online donors.


Top Five Marketing Techniques for Nonprofits

Top Five Marketing Techniques for NonprofitsMore than ever, nonprofits are battling for the attention of not only those they service, but also from donors, foundations, business and civic leaders, members and volunteers.

It is important for a nonprofit to frequently communicate with its constituency to maintain top-of-mind awareness before those who are essential to its success.

A nonprofit is tasked with doing “good work”; at the same time, it also must generate the revenue necessary to fund its mission.  And fundraising requires a clear, targeted and ongoing marketing campaign.

There are many inexpensive marketing tools that are available to help a nonprofit communicate more effectively, but they do require knowledge and effort to be effective.

Here are some proven and cost-effective techniques that can help a nonprofit successfully reach its key audiences:

  1. Rethink direct mail: Even at the nonprofit discount rate, nonprofits spend small fortunes on direct mail. An affordable and effective alternative is email. There are numerous web-based software programs – My Emma and Constant Contact to name two – that can assist both small and large organizations with database management and message dissemination. What’s great about some of these programs is that your message avoids the pitfall of getting relegated to “junk” or “spam” mail. It also will self-maintain your recipient list by deleting addresses that no longer exist or of those who wish to be deleted. Lastly, the intelligence it provides regarding which recipients opened the email and what they read, is valuable information.
  1. Traditional media is alive and well and loves a good story: A few years ago, the mantra was “the media is dead.” The reality is that most communities are serviced by at least one major daily newspaper as well as weekly newspapers; two to four local television networks; radio talk shows; city magazines; ethnic media outlets; and local online websites. Nonprofits need to form meaningful relationships with the media who are generating content 365 days a year and looking for good stories. Nonprofits have good stories to tell. Learn how to be good storyteller: describe what you do and who you service in a one-page “pitch” letter; send it to your local columnists and television and radio talk show hosts; and ask for an informal meeting. You’ll be surprised by the results.
  1. Optimize your website: Too many nonprofits abide by the slogan, “if you build it they will come” when it comes to their websites. A good website is necessary, but unfortunately doesn’t always reach your audience as they are not going to visit frequently. To drive new traffic to your site, search engine optimization (SEO) utilization must be employed so people can find your site in the first place. To increase repeat visits, content needs frequent refreshing. It should be easy for visitors to contact you and the website should compel visitors to enter their emails. Social media icons should be displayed prominently to make it easy for viewers to “like” your nonprofit and engage in dialogue. One caveat: many nonprofits build large databases of Facebook “friends.” Realize that that having 5,000 friends doesn’t mean all 5,000 will see your message posts, just a percentage. Advertising may be required to increase message dissemination on Facebook.
  1. Frequency, frequency, frequency: If your media outreach efforts result in an article, radio or television spot, don’t stop there. Display the placement on your website and social media and attach it to an email to your targeted audience. Also, remember there is a world of media and one good feature does not a media campaign make. Maintain a presence; frequency is the name of the game. The same is true of websites – they should not be static “electronic brochures.” A website can be an interactive go-to source of information for viewers if it is frequently updated with fresh and relevant content.
  1. Virtual is not always best: We have some wonderful tools at our fingertips today to make things easier and more cost-efficient, but keep in mind that for nonprofits, nothing beats face-to-face contact. Nonprofits are generally in the human services business and in-person meetings can go a long way to forming or strengthening connections. Arrange small luncheons and walking tours with members, donors, and civic and business leaders. Events where you make personal contact with your supporters are immensely important.
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