This article is an expansion from an article originally posted in our March/April edition of the Nonprofit Hub Magazine. This is the second in a five part series on overcoming the struggles of starting a nonprofit organization.
Before you tell the world about your new organization, take a lesson from the Boy Scouts: Be prepared. The last thing you want is to make a spectacular introduction without the appropriate branding or marketing strategy to support it.
At best, you’ll pique some interest only to lose it shortly thereafter because, simply put, people won’t embrace and support what they don’t fully understand. Worse, you may be labeled “the boy who cried wolf”—someone with a grandiose announcement without the ability to back it up. Either way, it’s not a good way to begin your new venture.
Marketing can be an uncomfortable subject for nonprofits, largely because it’s not always well defined. Some view it as a fancy term for fundraising. Others think of it as a glossy sales pitch.
But the truth is, marketing is an essential part of building your organization’s brand. Your marketing strategy communicates who you are, what your mission is and how you want to impact the world. The ultimate goal of nonprofit marketing is to create a conversation about the work you’re doing, what you plan to do and how current and potential supporters can be a part of it.
Resist the urge to shy away from branding because it’s seen as “too corporate.” Branding is not just for the business world; it’s what sets you apart from others.
There are over 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the United States alone, and everyone is competing for attention. If you want your new organization to thrive (or even survive), you must create a consistent brand. Here are a few strategies:
If you can’t be the only or the best, be different.
You’re probably not the only organization focusing on your specific cause or issue, which, of course, splits the donor and volunteer populations. That’s okay. You don’t have to be the biggest or the best—you just have to be different. Determine from the get-go what your nonprofit’s unique traits are and leverage this information to attract support.
Let your brand reflect your values.
Branding is more than just a well-designed logo—it’s everything from the name of your organization to the way you communicate with your audience. Don’t make people guess at what you’re about. Let your messaging, logo, colors and name all reflect your mission and values.
There’s no point in establishing a brand if it can’t be easily identified. This means maintaining the same look and voice on all of your marketing materials including your website and social media accounts. Consistency builds trust and community.
When it comes to actually creating marketing materials, I get that you might not have a large budget, especially in the beginning—that’s common. But there are several marketing tools you can use to prepare for your “new organization” announcement that won’t cost an arm and a leg, and they’ll help foster support from within your community that you might not get otherwise. Here are four to start with:
1. A website. Everything, including your donors, is online. A well built website will make it easy for your new supporters to spread the word about your organization, offer financial support and find information. Think of your website as the most visible reflection of your organization. Is it an expense? No—it’s an investment with a potentially huge ROI.
2. An email newsletter. Email newsletters are an easy way to keep people up-to-date on what’s happening with your organization. Fundraising campaigns can be easily shared and forwarded. And people are used to getting e-newsletters, so they’re typically well received. A report from Nonprofitmarketingguide.com says that email newsletters are the most commonly used marketing tool for nonprofits. There’s no need to wait—you can create a newsletter as soon as you’re ready to announce the news about your nonprofit.
3. Social media. Social media is the cheapest way to reach your audience. And I’m not just talking about Facebook. Instagram is great for sharing photos and videos while Twitter is effective for sharing relevant articles and information as well as connecting with like-minded organizations. Also consider Vine, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouTube.
4. An event. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction, especially when you’re establishing connections and trying to build relationships. Planning an event and inviting key community members to hear the announcement of your new nonprofit may require significant effort, but the payoff could be huge in terms of gaining community support.
The key to a successful announcement is good planning. No matter how passionate you are about your new endeavor, you won’t get the response you desire if you start spreading the word without the appropriate brand strategy and marketing materials to support it.