3 min Read
October 7, 2010

Using Technology to Grow Nonprofit Peaches

At most nonprofits, new campaigns or communications projects usually start with a flurry of activity. And if they’re online projects or campaigns, they’re often hastily conceived, designed, written, and launched.

To get things moving fast, copy is written and designs are developed on the fly, often with little or no strategy behind them–sometimes using ideas, colors, or even logos that the organization itself doesn’t use. Staff members will spend all their time getting these campaigns up and running and then watering them, like seedlings, as they bloom into full-blown advocacy, outreach, or fundraising projects in a matter of weeks. To work the gardening metaphor even harder, it’s almost like the nonprofit is a peach tree bearing fruit that looks more like oranges and lemons: only vaguely related, if at all.

Over time, these special projects can start to wither. Staff time to devote to them gets limited as new initiatives get underway, or the community grows so large it requires more time to manage (who’ll be the mayor of the lemons?). It might get difficult to respond in real time to all the conversations that unfold. Because the project started up so fast, it may even lack a clear objective, or ways to measure results. Organizations find themselves understaffed to manage the multiple websites, Twitter streams, Facebook pages, etc., so the relationships these initiatives sparked get neglected.

So how can we launch innovative campaigns that use all of this rocking technology to advance our missions and build relationships without driving ourselves stark, raving mad and confusing the people we connect with?

What’s a poor nonprofit to do?

Here at Big Duck we’re big believers in two tried-and-true marketing concepts: positioning and personality.

Positioning is the big idea we want to establish in the minds of our target audiences.

Personality is the tone and style we use to communicate.

When we help organizations shift their communications, we often start by establishing clear organizational positioning and personality, regardless of whether it’s a branding project, website, campaign, etc. That’s because it’s critical to have some way to weave together all communications. And that big idea has to emerge from a nonprofit’s vision and mission above all else.

For example, let’s say the Lead Pencil Association of America (names changed to protect the innocent) launches a revolutionary “Lead the way” campaign to get folks to throw out pens and go back to the classic yellow #2 pencils. They use a special look and feel (yellow with pink and grey, perhaps), Facebook page, Twitter hashtag and background design, and so forth, and it’s very different from the organization’s typical blue and black, rather serious branding. You can bet that the organization’s leadership wants to capture the 10,000 people who are connected to the project and be sure they know who’s behind the campaign. Even more so, they want to convert them to donors or advocates for future Lead Pencil Association work. But with the media and the messaging so disconnected, that’s going to be a seriously uphill battle.

On the other hand, a well-defined brand like Apple computers makes sure that every campaign they launch ties back to their core positioning and personality. Remember the “Think different” campaign featuring Ghandi and Einstein? Or the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” commercials of the past few years? Both campaigns are different conceptually, but they’re united by a common underlying strategy about how Apple wants to be perceived. Someone who participates in a social media action as part of the “Think Different” campaign can’t help but know that it’s an initiative of Apple computers, right?

Let’s grow peaches.

What we love about positioning and personality is that they’re actually time- and cost-saving tools any nonprofit can use. Sure, it’s work to figure out what they should be for your organization and build buy-in. But once your organization’s positioning and personality are completed and approved, it becomes so much easier and faster to grow peaches.

When each initiative you launch clearly links back to the “mother brand” of the organization, you’re building a much more cohesive and valuable community, no matter what technology you’re using.Want more about how to do it? Well of course, there’s Sarah Durham’s book, Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Money and Visibility Through Smart Communications (Jossey-Bass, 2010), or read the seminal book Positioning: The Battle for your Mind by marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout.

Here’s to tasty peaches. Please tell us more about yours.