Do You Need a Post-recession Turnaround?
It's been a tough few years for a lot of nonprofits. But with life returning to the economy and many fundraisers reporting improved numbers, maybe now is the time for your turnaround.
But know that there are some things you might be tempted to try that simply don't have the potential to create that big, positive change you need to get back in the game like you used to be.
A new brand won't turn you around
You may already have heard from brand gurus who tell you that a shiny, modern, new-and-improved brand is your golden ticket to a turnaround and a perpetually bright future. It's an exciting prospect: Throw out that old look you've grown so tired of! Replace your logo with something you'd be proud to show your pals! Get a whole new Visual Identity System that was developed by brand gurus who wear the coolest eyewear you've ever seen! Maybe even change your organization's name to something that sends shivers up and down your spine! A whole new generation of richer, cooler, smarter donors will flock to your cause when they see your new brand. It's a no-brainer!
Problem is, it won't do the trick.
If you are very, very lucky, the result of your new brand will be neutral. If you're like most nonprofits that do this, the new brand will unleash a revenue hit that's somewhere between painful and catastrophic, and lasts for years.
I know my predictions sound dire, but I've watched it happen too many times to harbor any illusions. It goes this way for two reasons:
1. Brand is not where the action is in fundraising. That is, brand — as defined by a set of logos, colors, fonts, slogans and other communications techniques — just doesn't make that much of a difference.
Fundraising is about motivating people to take specific actions. The font you use to do that just doesn't have the horsepower to move the needle — unless it's unreadable, in which case it can move the needle a long way in the wrong direction. Which brings us to the darker and more painful side of nonprofit rebranding:
2. Brand gurus hate your donors. They hate how old, unsophisticated and middle-class they are. They hate the literal, straightforward, untinged with irony, wordplay or cleverness messaging that actually moves your donors to action. The Visual Identity System capable of reaching your donors would be an embarrassment in the brand gurus' portfolios.
So they brand for themselves: cool, modern, clever stuff that will look great in their portfolios. Maybe even win an award. And you, having a lot more in common with the gurus than with the donors, say, "Wow!" It's the coolest thing ever. You can hardly believe the ugly crap you used to do before the new brand!
But your donors? Those corny, old folks just don't get it. They can't tell who you are anymore. They're not making any emotional connection with the new look and feel. Often, they literally can't read the spindly, modern sans-serif fonts printed over dark backgrounds that the new brand requires.
Instead of a new brand, get a better offer
By better, I mean a donor-centric call to action that's:
- A great deal for your donors.
Get it right, and it's an expression of your cause that helps donors see how critical they are to your mission. Giving becomes a thrill, packed with psychic rewards and connected with a story they can tell about you and about themselves.
A great fundraising offer is the heart of successful fundraising. When it comes to brand, your offer is what matters. It can help turn things around in a hurry.
Amazing ad campaigns won't turn you around
The brand gurus' cousins, the ad agency people, have something they hope you'll buy: an ad campaign.
And they know how to sell it. They create a clever, beautiful message that makes your heart sing, that captures your aspirations and tickles your aesthetic sense.
The amazing ad campaign is a lot like the new brand — well-targeted to please you and to bulk out the portfolios of its creators ... but simply unable to get any traction in the world of real, live donors.
That's because "awareness," "aided recognition," "noted scores," "impacts" and other ways of measuring airy nothingness are not meaningful goals for hardworking nonprofits.
Think of it this way: Would you rather make 100 people slightly more "aware" of you — or would you rather move 10 (or even five) people to actually take action and write you checks?
Instead of an ad campaign, take control of your data
I realize there's hardly anything less sexy than data. But data is where it's at.
You should be able to ask a question like, "How many donors do we have in the three West Coast states who've given between $25 and $100 with cumulative giving under $250 during the last 18 months?" And to that question get an accurate, meaningful answer — more or less instantly.
If you aren't there, you are not in turnaround territory. Great data capability can help you:
- Target the right donors at the right times with the right messages.
- Invest the right amount in cultivating each donor.
- Spot trouble before it gets out of control or opportunities before they pass.
- Avoid those boneheaded errors that annoy the heck out of donors.
Being on top of your data won't win you any awards. It won't even make you interesting at parties. But it can help transform your fundraising and bring about the turnaround you need.
Here are a few more popular moves that will not help:
- Hiring a new marketing director from the commercial world who's unencumbered with fundraising knowledge.
- Nicer headquarters.
- A socia-media campaign.
- A smartphone app, QR codes or mobile giving.
None of these things are going to do it for you. Instead, try things like these:
- A website that's easy to navigate and has a robust and simple online-giving back end.
- A detailed fundraising plan, so you know what you're saying to whom, when and in what media a year in advance.
- A fanatical focus on serving donors.
- Making sure things like your state registrations, IRS filings and postal permits are always accurate and up to date.
- Prompt, error-free caging of donor gifts, with fast and accurate receipting.
See the pattern? If you need a turnaround, the glamorous things aren't for you. You'll be lucky if the glamour moves don't end up destroying you. Your turnaround will come from a focus on the basics. Yes, that's boring. But the boring stuff is what makes the difference. FS