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There are 14,000 non-profit organizations in Cincinnati alone and 1.97 million in the US.  Non-profit isn’t a niche, it is a category.  But a category that operates very differently than other for-profit categories in that its biggest source of revenue is from the philanthropic donations of others.  And when the work of non-profits can look and feel the same to potential donors, it is critical to stand out with a clear and compelling story as to how you are creating meaningful impact for your cause as well as what the donor cares about too….which may or may not be your cause.   Here are 4 ways that can help you build this value:

  1. Establish a mutual mission.  Non-profits tend to fall in love with their causes. But in order to thrive, you will need to appeal to people who may not have a personal appreciation or understanding of your cause.  The way you do this is by repositioning your work as something they care about as well.  Many will do this by trying to appeal to sympathies. But frankly, this will only go so far…and it is what everyone will do.  We suggest blending this with broader community, environmental and/or personal concerns and principles the donor cares about.  Answer these questions:
    1. What does my donor care about and how is our work aligned to that?
    2. How does my cause benefit the community my donor lives in?
    3. How does this help forward my donor’s goals?
  2. Be able to articulate why you are a good investment.  If people choose you over others to grant their hard-earned money, they want to know you will use it wisely to deliver on the shared mission.  The best way of doing this is by showcasing impact.  Again, this is the impact the donor would care about.  So, do the hard work to analyze the data and pull the stats.  Answer these questions:
    1. How am I generating impact the donor would care about? 
    2. How is this impact different from other agencies who are doing similar work?
    3. What do we have that others don’t that makes us uniquely positioned to deliver on the impact?
  3. Focus on the humanity.  In order for our non-profits to thrive, you need to appeal to a broader group than those who may have been touched, can empathize with or are interested in your cause.  The one thing we all have in common is we are all humans, and it is our humanity that unites us.  Non-profits can tend to rely too much on what they do versus why they do it.  Generally hidden in the “why” is an insight that unites us on a more human level.  Answer these questions:
    1. What is an insight we could all agree on that unites us?
    2. How can I humanize the people we serve or the experience we offer in a way donors can appreciate?
    3. How can I tell the story of those I serve in a way that honors them and provides perspective?
  4. Create a consistent and compelling experience with your non-profit.  It generally takes 6-7 consistent touchpoints before someone is convinced to follow a call-to-action.  Which means all the ways a donor could engage with your non-profit need to be intentionally cultivated  both verbally and visually because one-off or bad experiences could lose them.  The way you do this is through brand.  Brand becomes your playbook for ensuring your communications represent a meaningful presence that captures the attention of the donor.  It is also what empowers word-of-mouth ambassadorship which is the strongest marketing channel.  Answer these questions:
    1. Are all our communication and marketing channels cohesively and compellingly telling our story?
    2. Are there channels that are working harder for us in reaching donors?
    3. Do I have enough of a consistent presence to generate the 6-7 touchpoints?

We realize we put a lot in front of you, but this is meant to inspire, not overwhelm!  So take it step-by-step.  Chances are when you read through this, there was an area that you sparked to.  Start there.  And if you are struggling, reach out.  We offer a free 60-minute working session that will help put you on the right path. Thanks for all the work you are doing to serve your community and the people in it.  We look forward to helping you on your mission.

Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an agency focused on solving business problems through brand.  They are your strategic collaborators.  Your creative partners. Your personal coaches. Backed by their forthright approach, their flexible “coach-train-do” framework ensures you get everything you need and nothing you don’t. Which is key in helping small/medium B2B, service-oriented businesses and non-profits achieve big goals despite lean budgets. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com  and April@Forthright-People.com.  Check out their podcast! Marketing Smarts.