When you create your communications strategy, Sarah Durham says, it’s like raising a barn. You need a lot of people working together. You’re better off with the whole picture in mind before you hand out those hammers and saws. And you’re better off building from the ground up.
In Brandraising, Durham recommends that nonprofit organizations trying to make their communications more effective take time and take the long view. Begin by examining your organization. Is everyone clear about:
- Vision: the future you are crying to create
- Mission: the role you are playing in creating that future–as distinct from the roles other worthy organizations are playing
- Values: what you believe and care about, so that if they changed, you would be a very different organization
- Objectives: what you will do this year toward achieving your mission
- Audiences: who you are trying to reach, for what purpose
- Positioning: “the single idea we hope to own in the minds of our target audiences” (for example the March of Dimes = fighting birth defects)
- Personality: how you want your audiences to experience your organization.
How much time do you spend at your nonprofit talking about these things? Probably not much. So, does everybody at the organization understand them the same way? If you’re really fortunate, perhaps. But taking the time now to make them explicit–and make sure they’re shared–will pay off sooner rather than later.
Getting these “organizational level” pieces strong and sturdy lets you come up with logos, colors, taglines, and key messages that truly express who you are. The more your staff, Board members, and committed supporters are involved in putting the pieces in place, the better they will be at using them consistently when they write, talk, post, tweet, blog, or take photos or video about the organization.
Knowing your agency will only take you so far. Durham insists that nonprofit organizations must know your audiences and how they experience you. That means knowing a) the touch points where you come into contact, b) what your audiences (clients, donors, media, policymakers) expect from you…and c) what they actually find when they turn to you (or you turn to them) for help. Don’t guess at this. Do the research to find out.
When you have put all these pieces into place, you’re ready to choose your media and your messages and create a calendar and (crucially) a budget. Durham’s final chapter gives good advice on how to make sure you keep reinforcing the brand you have built. Even when new staff and Board members join, you can build an understanding of your organizational identity right into the orientation process.
Durham recognizes that not every nonprofit has the means to do a complete brandraising, especially all at once. She includes a section on “When You Can’t Do It All.” She also offers cheaper alternatives throughout the book, including sending surveys to your audiences instead of shadowing them in the field, or developing certain items in house and saving your consultant budget for where you need an expert or outside perspective. Smaller nonprofits may have to be creative to apply some of her advice. But there’s a lot of good advice in these 170 pages. Some of it will be useful to everyone.