Successful nonprofit campaigns begin long before #GivingTuesday

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Although cultures differ, the fundamentals of for-profit branding and marketing still apply, writes one of the co-founders of Interplanetary.

A CMO at a major nonprofit organization recently reflected on her struggles transitioning from a position at a national communications company. It wasn't easy, she said. Not only did she have to adjust to a different culture, she had to discover new ways to solve problems in a world that operates quite differently from the one she came from. Her challenges echo the experiences of many other nonprofit marketers we've worked with over the years, and we have discovered a few insights worth sharing.

Whether you are a marketer working at a nonprofit, an agency employee or someone considering making the transition, here are five strategies to help ensure success.

Be an educator, move quickly. Like any other CMO, a nonprofit marketing executive has a limited window to effect real change, so they shouldn't be fooled by the "relaxed" culture. There will likely be resistance on many fronts; from getting the budget they want to initiating necessary staff changes and encouraging junior and senior staff to become brand evangelists. To accomplish these goals, the marketer needs widespread buy-in.

But few in the organization will understand most of the things usually taken for granted in the corporate world, especially the fundamentals of branding and marketing. So, education is important. One nonprofit CMO created marketing roadshows to win over the board, her senior-level peers, her internal team and the 50+ executive directors from around the country. She taught them how marketing and advertising campaigns could have a beneficial impact on what they were doing and brought in analytics experts to develop real ROI forecasts. She was able to demonstrate measurable results that led to additional funding and successfully created an army of brand evangelists who supported the marketing team's campaign.

Include fundraising in your brand strategy. Think of fundraising as your sales channel and donors as shareholders. In the for-profit world sales and marketing teams work together coordinating programs, but in the nonprofit sector fundraising and marketing departments often operate independently. Aligning both under one umbrella ensures coordinated campaigns where donors understand more about the causes they support, resulting in increased donations and involvement.

One of our clients, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), had historically limited its outreach for fundraising events such as the Light the Night Walk to those who already had an affiliation with the cause. But by articulating that anyone could have an impact on the fight against blood cancer, and explaining why curing blood cancers is often the tip of the spear in curing many other forms of cancer, the campaign broadened its reach for participants. The fundraiser garnered new supporters, became LLS' fastest growing event and turned into a powerful storytelling platform for the organization.

Mine and amplify hidden gems. Any company or organization needs to convey what makes them relevant, different and unique from their competitors. Nonprofit marketers quickly agree that today's donors are smarter and want to hear more than just "give." They need to understand what organizations are doing to make a difference and want proof of success. 

This might seem obvious, but most nonprofits have limited communication resources that are primarily reserved for donation drives and events. So there are likely many success stories that go unreported and assets that have been overlooked. The people closest to the mission, those who deal with the scientists, researchers, doctors or educators, have stories, facts or figures that become compelling proof points to the public. For instance, in the case of LLS, a long forgotten statistic was reintroduced: In 1964, the chance of surviving the most common form of childhood leukemia was 3%. Today it's 90%. It became one of the most compelling reasons for public support.

Limited budgets don't limit opportunities. Most nonprofits don't have the same budgets as for-profit companies, but that doesn't mean that their money can't be made to work harder. Local chapters generally have strong relationships with local media, so leverage them. To maximize donated media, consider that local media outlets have great latitude and discretion over which PSAs to run. Ads that are clear, use celebrities, and are well produced and executed tend to be favored over those that are not.

In the case of one national nonprofit, the CMO facilitated collaboration between local chapters and local media by distributing a small amount of money from the national media budget to the individual chapters. This money was used to negotiate larger free media placements. Once local media opportunities were finalized, the national office supplied the creative assets. The resulting exposure magnified the campaign's reach and effectiveness in those markets.

What is your consumer bond? Connections in the for-profit sector for CPG, financial services, etc. are often achieved by conveying the rational product benefits, such as being faster, cheaper, better or having new features. It can be challenging to find ways to create an emotional connection for many brands, although some like Apple and Harley-Davidson have mastered it. But for nonprofit marketers the emotional connections come more easily. They need to focus more on the organization's impact, using rational proof points that will excite and motivate donors to get off the couch and become more involved.

A CMO or marketer in the nonprofit world faces many of the same challenges that their for-profit peers encounter. Even so, many times one of these essential strategies unique to nonprofit cultures go unaddressed. But each strategy is a key driver to successful nonprofit marketing, and by having successful campaigns in place well before the end of year donation swell, nonprofit marketers will maximize their returns on programs like #GivingTuesday.

Joe Dessi, a 25-year marketing veteran, is a founding and managing partner of the New York-based advertising agency Interplanetary

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