Monday, February 18, 2008

Putting Your Best Brand Forward

Many of the non-profit organizations I encounter don't believe they need to worry about public relations, marketing or branding. Many of them get great press from time to time without really trying, and many of them rely on active supporters to spread their message to new people.

The problem with this organic approach is that it's unlikely to result in a consistent experience for those who happen to encounter any or all of its disparate pieces. Each person walks away with a different impression of the organization, and the cycle continues.

The face of the organization - its brand - is worth deliberate and conscious maintenance at the very highest levels of both board and executive management. Consistent messaging, accessible materials, and clear presentation are the responsibility of the organization - not the press, and not its supporters. The better an organization's public relations efforts are, the more credibility it will have in the long run with the media and with the public in general.

Many organizations are concerned that by looking too polished - too branded - supporters may begin to believe that the organization has become successful and is no longer in need of donations. This, of course, is belied by the fact that the organizations that raise the most money are usually high-visibility brands. The fact that projecting an appearance of success leads to success - and projecting an appearance of scarcity leads to scarcity - is counter-intuitive for many non-profit managers.

Two excellent posts - one from Katya Andresen and one from Michele Martin (h/t Beth Kanter) - came to my attention today that explore how a mindset of scarcity generates more scarcity. Michele Martin explains it this way in her post:
From what I can see, most nonprofits operate from a scarcity mentality. We are constantly talking about what we lack--money, information, staff, resources. There's a strong feeling that there isn't enough to go around and so the focus is on grabbing the largest share possible for your organization and holding onto that share for dear life. In a scarcity mentality, the impulse is to hoard, not to share--at least when it comes to anything of value. And the focus is on the individual organization, on survival and limits, not on the collective social mission and on growth.
While non-profit managers must be prudent about how an organization's resources are allocated, failing to invest in the organization's brand has long-term consequences that shouldn't be ignored. An organization's brand strategy speaks volumes about its ability to both project, and attract, success.

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