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Top 10 Nonprofit Cause Strategies

With more than 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States, nonprofits are increasingly competing with one another for the same donor dollar. To differentiate their brands and gain support from both individual and corporate sponsors, nonprofits are developing programs that stand for something that donors care about, recognize and believe in. In the most successful cases, they even inspire new social movements that rally supporters for causes much bigger than the nonprofit organization itself.  Following are the top 10 strategies (and some of the unique demonstrations of their use) that I believe we will see impact nonprofit cause branding in 2008…

1. Leadership Positioning: Historically, nonprofits engaged in a one-way monologue with donors through ‘one-offs’ such as single events, sponsorships or direct mail. Today, nonprofits must engage in a meaningful dialogue with donors to build trust and long-term loyalty for the organization and cause. For example, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation not only works to find a cure for breast cancer, it also stands for sisterhood and engages women by appealing to their interests through activities such as ‘Sing for the Cure,’ ‘Cook for the Cure,’ and even ‘Laugh for the Cure.’

2. Uniform Focus: To be truly effective, nonprofits cannot be everything to everyone. In defining mission and economic strategy, they need to identify their ‘unique service proposition.’ That is, what does your organization offer that no other organization does? And then, how do you make that capability relevant and meaningful to donors? Heifer International Group has taken a complex mission of ending hunger and creating sustainable livelihoods and made it accessible to the average donor. Whether donors choose to buy a cow or a hive of bees, they understand what their gift brings to families in need.

3. Customer Relationship Management: To best service corporate partnerships or manage specific campaigns, nonprofits are creating dedicated account teams. These teams help increase organizational flexibility to meet the specific needs of individual programs and clients. Save the Children has dedicated contacts for each corporate partner to ensure tailored service for sponsors.

4. Passion Marketing: In addition to telling donors what they do, nonprofits must also emotionally engage donors to build relationships for the long-term. A 2005 Yankelovich study entitled the “ Importance of Brands in Consumer Involvement with Nonprofits” found that 75% of donors give because they have ‘a personal belief in the goals of the organization.’  By creating local events, personalized communications, or web-based communities, national nonprofits are providing meaningful experiences for supporters that help build loyalty at local levels. American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women is a world-class example of this. Local nonprofits are doing the reverse. They are tying their efforts to movements, using national awareness and messaging built by others around their ‘issues’ to garner support at home.

5. Sponsorship Risk Mitigation: While corporate sponsorships provide valuable income to nonprofits, they must be careful to structure mutually-beneficial and protective relationships. Risks, including implied product endorsement, can lead to hefty legal bills and damaged reputations. To avoid these issues, nonprofits are now clearly articulating all aspects of sponsorship packages and performing due diligence to make sure that no conflicts of interest exist between the nonprofit and sponsoring companies.

6. Social Enterprise Investment: Leading nonprofits are seeking sustainable revenue and awareness generation by engaging in social enterprise or cause commerce. By opening their own retail boutiques, licensing their logos, and offering paid-for support services, nonprofits are capitalizing on their brand reputations and unique mission offerings to raise money for their causes. The Museum of Modern Art sells a plethora of art items where proceeds benefit the museum, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation sells a line of paint at Lowe’s inspired by paint found in historic homes.

7. Ethnographic Targeting: Nonprofits are also developing special campaigns focused on target demographics. These campaigns not only build emotional and lifestyle appeal with target audiences, but also create interesting sponsorship opportunities for corporate partners. The American Diabetes Association has created tailored programs for demographics of different ages and ethnicities that deliver materials relevant to those audiences and also attract sponsorship from companies interested in reaching segmented markets.

8. Partner Activation: Once nonprofits identify their focus areas, they should leverage all of their assets to reach program participants. For the Great American Clean-Up, Keep America Beautiful leveraged a number of methods, including in-store promotions, educational promotions, celebrities, and corporate sponsors to recruit over two million volunteers to clean up litter around the country.

9. New Media Integration: Technological connectivity provides new opportunities for connecting with both program participants and donors. The American Red Cross uses SMS/text to raise funds. Similarly, the American Lung Association leverages blogs and chat rooms to create an intimate and connected community.

10. Alliance Formation: Alliances with media organizations, other nonprofits, trade associations, and volunteer groups can greatly increase the resources available to a nonprofit. For example, Share our Strength partnered to write the Great American Bakesale into an episode of the sit-com “Eight Simple Rules” to raise awareness and visibility.

The tactical implementation of any number of these strategies helps nonprofits deliver experiences that intrigue, delight, and fulfill their target audiences while simultaneously delivering meaningful social impact and boosting their marketing abilities to raise money for their organizations. Cause branding for nonprofits is on the rise and is no doubt being shaped in-part by this work.

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