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This Giving Season, Make Sure You Stand Out

November 30, 2015

Pencil_standing-outDo you feel like you’ve been on the receiving end of the same marketing advice for years? Or that the outdated marketing tactics promoted by fundraising blogs, websites, and experts isn't relevant to your fundraising strategy – and might actually be killing your results?

Here's one I hear pretty often: "If you show them the logo three times, they’ll remember it."

Whenever someone offers advice like this, my first impulse is to ask: "Do you have a study you can point me to that offers evidence in support of that claim?" As you might imagine, the conversation usually turns pretty quickly to other subjects.

So what does it really take for your organization's brand to resonate and be remembered by donors at this time of year?

Here are five things that will help:

1. Stand for something. In general, donors care more about the cause or issue you represent than your organization. Which means you need to boldly promote what it is your organization stands for and then empower your audiences to support that mission. Your messaging should use emotion, clever wordcraft, and compelling images to separate your organization from all the other organizations out there. And remember: You can't be everything to everyone. Or, as my dad used to say, If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.

2. Communicate with your donors throughout the process, not just at the end. Through our research, we've discovered that donors want to know what organizations are doing with the resources donated to them. In other words, it's imperative that you help individual donors understand how you're using their donations – and that you don't wait twelve months to tell them. As soon as you receive a donation, tell the donor about the person or project his or her gift will benefit, and then make an effort to communicate on a regular basis the change his or her support for your organization is helping to create.

3. Stop sounding like other nonprofits. It can be tricky to balance industry best practices with the need to cultivate your organization's unique voice, but it's essential: if you sound like everyone else, you'll end up getting lost in the crowd. Your aim, instead, should be to create a conversational tone that is appropriate for your cause and issue – one that invites and elevates the conversation above the usual buzzwords. Donors today expect to give to causes that are supported by real human beings, not PR machines. Remember that when you are talking to them.

4. Move from transactional to experiential relationships. Most nonprofits focus way too much on building a transactional relationship with their donors. You know what I mean: 1.) This is who we are. 2.) Here's why you need to support us. 3.) Please donate. 4.) Thank you for your donation.

That's the kind of relationship that most donors, if they do decide to give, will tend to forget almost immediately. It's the little things that go into an experiential relationship, in contrast, that help convince donors your organization is making a difference – and make them want to support you every step of the way. From real stories about individuals who benefit from your efforts to images of those people doing great things, you want to bring your donors along on a journey of transformation.

5. Make sure your email communications are meaningful. If your nonprofit is like most organizations, the first thing it does after receiving a donation is to add the donor to its e-newsletter list. But is that what they want? Newsletters should be reserved for the very engaged donor, the donor who has made it clear he or she is interested in every aspect of your programs and events. For the others, limit your communications to six email messages a year. Each message should provide a glimpse into the life of a person who is benefiting from the work you do and/or alert the donor to a milestone achieved by your organization thanks in part to his or her support.

The problem with tried-and-true marketing advice is that everyone has heard it. And while some of it may be useful, it definitely is not designed to help your organization stand out from the thousands of other organizations competing for donors. If you really want your organization to stand out, you need to experiment with different channels, messaging, and approaches to discover what actually works for your cause and your organization. The goal, as always, is to develop a unique voice and message, not to borrow or imitate someone else's.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_newDerrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and creative agency that works with nonprofits to increase their impact, and co-author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, to be published in February by Wiley. In his previous post, he shared five reasons why the public is losing interest in your cause.

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