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“The Eye of The Beholder” For Nonprofits.

October 3, 2017 | Charles Van Vechten


I was at a meeting recently where I overheard a familiar comment… “Don’t make the invitation look too good, people will think we don’t need their money!” There is this belief among nonprofits that development and event collateral materials shouldn’t look too high quality or too expensive. I get it, you don’t want to look like you are spending frivolously, and you don’t want potential donors to think that you are irresponsible in any way.

This idea may or may not resonate with you, but if it does, the issue is that it doesn’t address the fact that yours is not the only nonprofit asking for support. In San Diego alone, there are close to 10,000 nonprofits vying for a limited pool of supporters. In this regard, nonprofits are just like any other company – and need to stand out to be noticed by your target audience.

How you might ask? The answer is simple – create a solid brand that sets you apart and create materials that appeal to your target donors and supporters. This means understanding your prospects and positioning yourself visually and strategically to be attractive to them. If your prospects are thrifty and understated, you need to speak to them in a way that respects their outlook. Conversely, if your targets expect the best and love shiny beautiful things, then you need to stand out and be seen by them.

Smart nonprofit organizations need to look at branding and marketing materials as an opportunity to reach their constituents and prospective supporters in very targeted and appropriate ways. It’s important to understand that supporters have their own individual perceptions and that to grab them, you need to see what they see. If you aren’t thinking this way, here are some first steps to assist your efforts.

  1. Know What Makes Your Targets Tick
    You need to reach your prospects on their level. Don’t create materials to satisfy your aesthetics, make sure you appeal to theirs. Investing in some brand strategy and research will give you valuable information that will help you to better understand the individuals and organizations that allow your nonprofit to fulfill its mission.
  2. Spy On Your Competition
    As mentioned, nonprofits have fierce competition from thousands of other nonprofits. Research how your competition reaches its supporters. What methods do they use? What do they say? And remember, your competition is not only an organization that does what you do – it can be any organization that is targeting your same supporters. You need to do whatever you can to standout from the others. Understand what they do to attract supporters, and then do it better.
  3. Use Your Special Sauce
    What makes you, as an organization, special and unique? Figure this out and use it to your advantage. This is the key that helps your prospects understand why you are special and why they should support you.

Donors and supporters have become much more sophisticated in recent years and before they hand over their dollars, they want to feel connected to your mission and trust that you will manage their money well and make the greatest impact possible. You need to speak to them on their level and every aspect of your brand should reflect this. You need to understand that your success is understanding “the eye of the beholder”.

Branding, Nonprofits

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