“How to Give” is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.
THIS MONTH’S QUESTION:
I’m the newly elected board chair of a small animal wellness organization. We have wonderful, passionate board members, but they’re not very interested about the marketing side of our work. I know that to grow our impact, more people need to know about our organization. How can I turn these board members into brand advocates for our nonprofit?
Board members, while super important and very high-level at most organizations, are still volunteers, and as such, there are limits to the skills that they’re going to walk in the door with.
Since it’s not their job, per se, to get better at digital advertising or event planning or storytelling or any other marketing skill set, often it falls on the board chair, or the executive leadership at the organization, to put forth the resources to help them develop new skills and advance the ones they have.
Brand advocacy is one of these skills that often needs to be developed. Loosely defined, you can think of “brand advocacy” as word-of-mouth marketing that’s congruent with the message your brand is putting out into the world.
Every time someone tells their cousin or bestie how convenient TD Bank is, they’re being a brand advocate for TD Bank. The difference is that TD Bank has oodles and oodles of resources to saturate the marketplace and help the average person know what the company’s brand is: convenient. Green. Secretly Canadian?
For a nonprofit with limited capacity, this type of market saturation or ubiquity is much harder to come by. Luckily, dear reader, I recently hosted J2 Design’s Good Talk! panel all about this exact topic, so I’m going to bring in one of our esteemed panelists as a ringer: Justin Nordell, executive director of the Philadelphia Folksong Society, which produces the annual Philadelphia Folk Festival.
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Justin gave our audience some of the most memorable branding advice I’ve ever has the pleasure to hear: He gifted us with the “three As” of accessibility, authenticity and aardvark.
“Making yourself and your internal team accessible to your external audiences is incredibly key to your success,” Nordell said. “We’re living in such a new age. It’s important to be in touch and in tune with how technology can bring people in.”
The Philadelphia Folksong Society will often use Facebook Live to give donors and community members “exclusive” access to content that makes viewers feel more involved, and hopefully become more invested in the organization’s success.
“When we were looking at a new building, I took people on a Facebook Live tour and put a link to donate at the bottom. And we got over $1,000 over the course of my seven-minute tour of the building,” says Nordell. “People were just so excited about what we were embarking on. Letting people be right there, looking behind the scenes …We want people to be a part of that experience.”
“A great logo goes a long way. However, I think branding is very much an internal thing and it has to be very internal before it can become an external,” Nordell said. “It’s about what your employees say and share about you, it’s what your board members say and share about you, as well as your membership base and your customers. And people can tell when it’s a copied and pasted, canned response again and again and again. You need to be on brand, on message, sharing the same message but in your own unique ways.”
Messaging guidelines can feel strange, like you’re curtailing someone’s passion when you lock them into saying the same things as everyone else. But these types of guidelines can actually give board members a healthy amount of freedom while relieving anxiety over saying the wrong thing.
One of my favorite ways to help board members is to give them formulas for how to draft email messages, introductory paragraphs to speeches, or social media messages. Something along the lines of this:
- Paragraph 1 — Our mission + “that’s why I got involved, because” [INSERT PERSONAL STORY HERE]
- Paragraph 2 — Our vision + program description (best used for a program you’re passionate about!)
- Paragraph 3 — Call to action + impact story about your role as a board member and donor
By allowing moments of personal expression coupled with agreed-upon messaging, you can ensure that your fellow board members still feel connected to the cause while all nailing the same core messaging.
“Be one of the first,” Nordell said. “When you open up that dictionary, double A, aardvark — one of the first. You want to make sure that you are looking at being an innovator, looking and seeing what other people are doing. You don’t have to be first, but you do have to be one of the firsts. It’s looking at who else has done this and who has done it well.”
Some good examples of this type of benevolent plagiarism is to look toward different cities, states and countries that are working for the same cause as you. There isn’t going to be much national competition for your fundraising dollars — most animal welfare organizations are driven by individual donations and local foundation funding. So, see how others are messaging their missions! There might be some gold in there that you can mine to create compelling impact statements that feel right for your board.
“I feel like time and time again, we beat ourselves up especially as staff, but definitely on boards, because we are constantly trying to reinvent these wheels,” Nordell said. “Square never works. Round is great. Let’s continue with that. And let’s look and see what other people are doing.”
There you have it, folks! Some of the best brand advocacy advice from one of Philadelphia’s rising nonprofit stars. Accessibility, authenticity and this cutie:
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