Who Is Really Making the Decision?
As an agency that specializes in helping nonprofit organizations develop their brands, we often get calls from marketing managers or development directors who want to improve how their organizations communicate. It’s natural that they are the ones who reach out to us or are the ones we are put in touch with by a referral source.
However, in our initial conversations with them, I ask who will be making the decision about the organization’s brand elements—such as the logo or website—and often I hear, “I will.”
Then I ask if anyone else in the organization needs to see the work, and they say, “I will show it to my boss.” (read: Executive Director).
I then ask if the board needs to see it, and they say, “Oh, I guess so.” This is said without any hint of understanding that a dozen people will have a dozen different perspectives and can easily derail any work that was done, especially if they have not been part of the discussion about goals, needs and criteria by which the project will be evaluated.
The Importance of Top Level Buy-In
It’s important to realize that organizational-level work, such as revitalizing an organization’s brand, requires input and buy-in from the organization’s leadership. And that their input and buy-in needs to be an integral part of the process of developing the brand, not an afterthought.
I have witnessed projects in which months of work (and tens of thousands of dollars) was scrapped because leadership wasn’t incorporated into the process. The attitude that “We don’t want to waste leadership’s time until we have something to show” is terribly misguided. Leadership needs to sign off on a direction before it is developed, not after.
So why does this happen?
I believe this stems from a false sense of the brand manager or development director’s role. While serving as the point person who is charged with managing the project internally, they may also serve as the organization’s “brand champion,” the person who initially identified the need for improving their organization’s brand, and the one who is trying to rally the organization around that need.
However necessary these roles, it does not translate into the authority to approve the project. In fact, it usually doesn’t. And therein lies the danger—the person most vested in the project believes they have a more central role that their enthusiasm for the project will be projected onto others, who will go along with their recommendations. They subsequently minimize the need for the proper buy-in from leadership along the way.
And it isn’t always hubris that leads to this unwarranted sense of power. The board may have said, “Do what you think best,” or “we’ll leave it up to your judgment.” But, then, when the final product is presented, the board says, “Whoa! We didn’t think you would go that far!” Or one member will say, “No, that icon just doesn’t do it. We can’t use it.” Then it’s back to square one, with time and money wasted.
It’s wise to avoid the danger of having a project scrapped because the real decision-makers are see only a finalized product. Involve all levels of decision-makers early and often to ensure a successful project. Not only will you avoid last-minute revisions, you will also get a better product because more voices have been heard.
As principal and strategic director for Red Rooster Group, a branding agency that specializes in promoting nonprofits, Howard specializes in synthesizing the essence of an organization into a compelling brand. Throughout his 25-year career, Howard has helped countless nonprofit organizations revitalize their brands, gain visibility, increase membership and improve their fundraising and marketing.
Howard believes in the power of the nonprofit sector to address our society’s challenges and in helping nonprofits harness the power of a strong brand to further their mission. In addition to running Red Rooster Group, Howard runs brand workshops for the Association of Junior Leagues International, speaks at nonprofit conferences and writes for Guidestar and other publications.
He has won countless awards for his work and was recently selected as a featured Storygiver by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, New York City Chapter.