In the non-profit world, where the critical functions of marketing and fundraising are still too often viewed as having distinct and separate roles, there is a broad misunderstanding about what brand marketing is and what role it can play in supporting the entire organization.

This disconnect stems from the general tendency of fundraising specialists to believe their marketing colleagues are too wrapped up in the soft and fuzzy ‘big picture’ to do anything practical to move donors to action. On the other hand, many non-profit marketers believe the fundraisers are too quick to jump right into asking supporters for money and are often guilty of delivering inconsistent brand messaging through the channels they control.

Faced with some powerful forces of change—the advent of digital technology and changing demographics chief among them—an increasing number of non-profit organizations are recognizing the need to overcome the challenge of internal functional siloes and are focusing their energies on developing cohesive marketing brands that are supported by smart, integrated fundraising activity through multiple channels. The impetus for this new focus on brand is simple—it helps non-profits and charities build recognition and trust and, ultimately, raise more money. How so?

The more somebody recognizes your organization, the more they’ll trust you and the more likely they’ll say yes when you ask them for money. Since donors experience an organization’s brand through the fundraising efforts they are exposed to, that fundraising activity, in effect, becomes a component of the organization’s overall brand marketing effort.

For example, a growing number of people who receive direct mail fundraising solicitations automatically visit the sender organization’s website before they decide whether to donate. Knowing this, it’s vitally important for the organization to be able to present a consistent and professional brand image across these channels and any others that may come into play.

How this should work in practice is that when a non-profit is preparing for a fundraising push, it must ask itself what its key messages will be and—once established—it needs to stick with them, regardless of the medium being used. This can be achieved by having brand consistency across all fundraising channels, including direct mail, online, print, out of home, telemarketing, etc.

Branding your individual programs can also help a charity raise more dollars by encouraging greater engagement in a meaningful way. This begins by creating a defined and branded program for monthly giving, major giving or planned giving. Creating specific visuals and messaging for a particular segment, will help convince a supporter to become a more deeply engaged donor because:

  • It will unite all your materials for that particular program;
  • It shows donors that you appreciate and recognize their added commitment; and
  • It gives your donors a feeling of belonging to a special community of donors.

When you create a branded program for a segment of donors that is consistent with your brand but specially tailored to reach the hearts of those most likely to give, you will better encourage your donors to be moved up the donor pyramid.

Donors have experiential encounters with non-profit brands

Fundraisers are often noted for setting direct mail as the focal point for the bulk of their donor outreach activity. Nowadays, however, donors and potential donors have experiential encounters with non-profit brands at so many different levels, including many in which the non-profit has no control over what is being said about the organization. Thus, the only way some level of control can be regained is to have a consistent and strong underlying brand at every touch point and—where possible—have consistent campaigns that support the brand.

The change is technology driven, as the way people interact with brands of all kinds is vastly different than it was as recently as five or 10 years ago. Truth is, the brand game has changed for everybody, including consumer brand marketers, many of whom have transitioned to the non-profit space in recent years (full disclosure: I’m one). Marketers who come in from the corporate side sometimes have a tendency to only see the branding challenges that need to be addressed and they often forget about Dorothy Donor, who is still very much the bread and butter for a lot of non-profit organizations. Fundraisers, meanwhile, are correct when they say it’s important for them not to lose their traditional base, but the truth is that traditional donors are starting to age off direct mail lists and they can’t be replaced through traditional fundraising methods.

Your brand needs to make money for your organization

You have to make sure all of your channels are helping each other out and making money for your organization. The only way you can ensure that is to integrate your solution. It’s harder to know where your donor is going to be, so you have to have all your angles covered. If you’re not where your donor is, you can be sure your competitors will be.

Fortunately, a strong underlying brand message can help you become much clearer and more direct in how you speak to people in all areas of marketing and fundraising. Maintaining a clear and consistent brand across everything you do increases donor trust in your organization and ensures all your marketing and fundraising efforts are not just coordinated but truly integrated. And understanding how to maintain clear brand consistencies while respecting the particular strengths and opportunities offered to you by each of your channels and tailoring your message accordingly is what will maximize your donor dollars.

The key is to apply informed brand thinking and marketing strategy to figure out how to make an emotional connection with your donors through your fundraising efforts. That connection needs to not only get people to agree that your mission is important but also to get them to write a cheque and support you.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Jennifer Meriano

Jennifer Meriano

A strategic, multidisciplinary brand director with over 15 years of experience, Jennifer Meriano specializes in working with non-profit marketers who are looking to address brand and integrated marketing challenges within their organizations. She is director, brand & integrated marketing at Stephen Thomas Ltd.

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