Nonprofits that have survived through the rough economy may be facing an uphill branding battle even while people begin returning to their former levels of charitable giving. The right messaging and marketing strategies could make all the difference in how smoothly the crest of that hill is reached.
In a time when “approximately 87% of nonprofit organizations report the decline in the U.S. economy continues to impact their operations”…it’s important to look to brand reinforcement to help refill the coffers. Yes, a good part of the blame for the current struggles nonprofits are facing can be placed on the recent recession. There’s no denying that tightening budgets and corporate downsizing inflicted a double-whammy on charitable organizations. Complicating the issue is that, even as those budgets start to loosen again, they are not doing so at the rate needed by nonprofits to gain ground after 5+ years of increased demand on their services. As society slowly climbs back to ‘the way it was’, more than half of nonprofits find their donation income at a plateau, if not lower than before the economic turnaround.
However the economy can’t be burdened with the full blame of today’s challenges for nonprofits. Ironically, some of the onus also falls on marketing and communications strategies which quite effectively kept them afloat during the economic downturn. During the hardest times, the savvy nonprofits appealed to anyone and everyone on the basis of crisis. Branding for nonprofits turned from niche to something much more general: “In these hard economic times, we are an organization in crisis… we need your support to stay in business.” Like the triage team in the E.R., people rallied for their cause and pooled resources simply to keep it ALIVE.
But now, as the economy is looking rosier, it’s getting harder for nonprofits to motivate donors with the ‘crisis’ cry. In the general consumer eye, nonprofits are businesses, too… so, as they hear reports of higher employment rates and business recovery, the crisis appeal has become a weak one. Moreover, as nonprofits relied on this for years, they got further away from the core branding on which they were founded – and succeeded in building – before the economic downturn. As the economy has recovered, many nonprofits have fallen into a bit of a branding limbo…no longer able to be the organization in crisis, but grappling for an identity without it.
In order to get back on their feet, nonprofits need to remind consumers of who they are, and recover their brands. On the positive side, the strongest branding platforms, from visual identities to written positioning, are already built. Nonprofits now have to:
Refresh people’s memories.
Educate them on the ‘deficit’ the poor economy left because of increased need.
Embrace ‘newcomers’ to expand their donor base.
Finally, the biggest brand recovery bonus of all for nonprofits is the opportunity to embrace tools that were nascent around the first time they asserted their brand – that is, before the economic downturn. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Apps. As nonprofits turn the corner from the downturn, there are new ways to simultaneously recover and empower their brands. Effectively using social media platforms can distinguish an organization as the “breast cancer leader at work right here in your neighborhood every day,” or “the ballet that upholds all classical integrity while pushing boundaries”, and help them connect in a meaningful way with supporters.
Do you think that some nonprofits are better poised to come back than others? Does it make a difference whether they are a national, regional or local brand?