Community foundations exist to help local area residents manage their charitable giving and to funnel local funds to where they’ll do the most good in hometown neighborhoods. Most community foundations judge their success by two factors; the amount of good they do in their neighborhood and the amount of money they raise. And because much of the money the foundations raise goes back out the door and into the community, it’s critical that the groups are aggressive with their fundraising efforts and continue to add dollars to their asset base.
What does this have to do with branding? It’s simple. Recent real-world experiences by community board advisors Ekstrom & Associates shows that the foundations that clearly communicate their vision and goals to givers raise more money than those foundations that don’t — often significantly more.
Many donors want to give locally, and they want to know that their dollars are going to impact their own communities. It makes logical sense, therefore, that such donors would look to community foundations in the first place. After all, local foundations are clear about where they do their work and even tend to have the community name in their title; (The Miami Foundation and The Greater St. Louis Community Foundation are good examples).
But when donor mindset is to make sure that they’re giving to the most pressing current or future need within their area of interest or passion, assurances that the foundation has a clear strategy to accomplish those goals are critical. And that’s where the brand messaging becomes so important.
Big donors (the group every foundation wants to attract) are attracted by big ideas. They want to be excited and energized by the great things that the group is doing and everyone wants to be part of the passion. They want to see the vision. They want to touch the fire.
But that’s not how most foundations sell themselves. They talk about safety and security, CPA-approved programs, and investment strategies. Important points, sure, but unfortunately those assets are just cost-of-entry promises in the community foundation business. That is, all of those fundamentals MUST be in place for people to do business with a community foundation but those mechanics are not going to excite very many people enough to contribute very much money.
Think about your favorite restaurant. They’ve got good food, a great location, a wonderful atmosphere, and friendly service. And those are probably some of the reasons you look forward to going there. The fact that the restaurant has a whole back-of-the-house operation – dishwashing, ordering, accounting, housekeeping — is not why you go.
But if those back-of-the-house operations drop the ball and you’re served rancid meat on a dirty dish, you’re not going to return. After all, you’ve never heard someone recommend a restaurant by telling you that they “have the cleanest plates in town,” have you?
Great restaurants need to do everything right to get you to return, but first they need to do something exciting to get you there. Foundations, too, need to provide you with tax strategies and donor advice and accurate metrics to make you feel good about donating, but they need a big vision to attract you to them in the first place.
But let’s be clear, shall we? We’re not really talking about foundations or restaurants here. Those are just metaphorical vehicles presented to make a point. What we’re really talking about here is your business and how you brand it. I’m sure you’ve got your fundamentals in line and are pretty pleased with your operations. And, as we’ve seen, those things are critical to run your business. But what’s your big idea? What’s your vision? What’s the message that you’d put on the battle flag, unfurl above the castle, and rally your troops around?
When John F. Kennedy promised that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade (1970), he didn’t discuss propulsion, thrust or trajectories. He introduced the concept, sold the vision, and energized the nation. That bold statement inspired major changes across the country, from improved math and science scores to a higher college enrollment census to a successful moon shot.
According to Frank Luntz in Words That Work, “People knew that Alka-Seltzer was taken for an upset stomach, but market research showed that nobody knew how many they should be taking — so most people were just taking one. But when viewers saw the famous, ‘Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, oh what a relief it is,’ ads, purchases of Alka-Seltzer nearly doubled overnight.”
And speaking of revenues doubling and closer to home, CEO Javier Soto re-energized The Miami Foundation by newly establishing the legacy charity as an agent of change in the South Florida community. Thanks to Javi’s bold leadership, donations to the organization have more than doubled in one year.