Fabulous at Work


What Non-Profits Can Learn from the Commercial Sector


Unique Selling Proposition …Benefit-Oriented Messaging…Brand Management… sounds like a bunch of advertising execs talking strategy, doesn’t it?  Could be.  Or, it could just as easily be a bunch of development professionals.  At least it should be!


As a marketing professional who’s spent over two decades in both the commercial and non-profit sectors, I’ve discovered that these two worlds are more closely aligned than many think.


Take “mission” for example.  Many committed development professionals would have you believe that the only mission in the commercial sector is to separate consumers from their hard-earned dollars.  They’d be surprised to discover that in the commercial world before any advertising is crafted there’s lots of discussion about mission – they just call it something else.  Commercial advertisers talk about the product’s Unique Selling Proposition:  what makes the product they’re promoting different from all the others.  Their product must fill a need or help their customer solve a problem; in essence this is their “mission.”


There are thousands of non-profit organizations out there.  What’s the unique selling proposition of your organization?  How are you communicating that message to your “customers” – your donors?


If you’re an animal welfare organization, think about your competition.  You’re not just competing with your potential donor’s entertainment budget, or the rising cost of gasoline — but other charities…even other animal welfare organizations. 


Think about laundry detergents.  Their advertising pits one product against another.  This is how the advertiser communicates their brand’s unique selling proposition.  What makes your animal welfare organization different from others?  Are you clearly  communicating those differences in your appeal letters?


Since we’ve already stooped to comparing our altruistic, imaginary animal welfare organization to the likes of mere laundry detergent, let’s take a closer look at the advertising that features those detergents: the circulars that are stuffed in your mailbox every week.  What can we learn from them?


Retailers have become experts at driving traffic – at creating a sense of urgency with their increasing reliance on sales.  They know how to get their customers up off the couch and into their stores this coming weekend.  What reasons are you giving your donors to donate today? 


Re-read one of your direct mail letters from last year.  Could you just as easily be sending this same letter out in your next mailing?  I hope not! 


While the over-arching reasons to give may not have changed in the last 12 months, your latest appeal letter should tell donors what you’ve done with their previous donations, how much progress you’ve made recently, and how your current efforts would benefit if only they made a gift right now. Why should they give today and not next month, or even next year? 


Now that you’re busy re-writing that appeal letter, take an even closer look at the reasons to give.  Does your letter go on and on about whales, or dolphins caught in tuna nets, or bears in India?  While this may be central to your mission and should be the cornerstone of any fundraising letter, don’t forget about what’s in it for the potential donor.  Why should they give?  What will they get out of it? 


Advertisers in the commercial sector refer to this as Benefit-Oriented Messaging.  Instead of touting that their laundry detergent now includes color-safe bleach, our crafty commercial advertisers will say that their product has been reformulated to now get your whites whiter.  They’re selling the “sizzle” not the “steak.” 


Promoting benefits is easy for some membership organizations.  Oftentimes they have a membership card that entitles the donor to discounts at local restaurants, theatres, galleries, etc.  But there are other forms of benefits too.  If your organization has a donor newsletter or sends electronic updates don’t forget to promote this benefit as well.  (Example:  Our quarterly newsletter will keep you updated on all our rescue efforts, so you’ll learn first-hand, from those in the field, how your dollars are making changes in India.)


Then there are all those “soft” benefits.  Some complain that soft benefits are harder to sell, but any copywriter worth their salt can make those seem just as desirable with a turn of a phrase.  Recently I read an appeal letter for a public television station. It promoted its programming as being “a window to a world of the unknown.  It can educate, inform and

enlighten. It can take you on an amazing adventure to far off places, back in time or even into space!”  Wow!  I want to go on that adventure.  Sounds like a benefit to me.


Identifying your unique selling proposition and crafting benefit-oriented messaging are all part and parcel of your Brand.


A brand is more than a logo or a tagline.  Building a brand starts from the inside, out.  The cornerstone of your brand is your mission, but ultimately your brand is defined by the actions of your organization.  Everyone in your organization needs to be able to understand and communicate the mission.  In essence, everyone in your organization is responsible for “the sale” not just development or major giving staff.  Consider asking everyone in your organization to craft an “elevator speech.”  How would they describe your organization and the work you do in 60 seconds or less.  How does their image of the organization compare to the one you “sell” in your fundraising letters.  Getting everyone on the same page is Brand Management.


So, next time you’re at a cocktail party and hear two marketers talking unique selling proposition …benefit-oriented messaging…and brand management, don’t assume they work for Johnson & Johnson.  They just may be two savvy development professionals.




New Year’s Resolutions for the Fundraising Professional


New Year’s Resolutions.  Everyone makes them.  They’re a way to start good habits that hopefully will last the whole year through.  Here’s my Fundraising Resolutions for 2008.  If you get into these good habits and stick with them, you’ll be sure to have happy donors… and more net revenue at fiscal year end!


Don’t be a Tease.  Stop using teasers on every OE.  Save them for when you really have something important, witty or exciting to say.


Mail More.  Resolve to test just one more renewal effort or donor appeal this year.  Similarly, continue to mail your lapsed donors as long as they outperform your acquisition results.  Don’t be shy about mailing.  And don’t make a decision about how many times to mail based on your or board’s personal preferences.  Your response rates will indicate when you’re mailing too much — or not enough.


Get Online.  All direct mail appeals should give donors the ability to give online.  Web donors should be sent email as well as direct mail solicitations.


Say Thanks…Sooner.  Audit how quickly your organization mails acknowledgements.  Set a goal of mailing all acknowledgements within a week of receiving the gift.  Gifts made online should be acknowledged immediately via email.


Get Specific.  Re-read your appeal letters.  How is your organization different from others with the same (or similar) mission; is it clear from these letters?  Do you spell out for donors how their gift will affect the lives of others?


Read Your Mail.  Read donor comments that come in response to your fundraising appeals.  This is one of the best ways to really understand what resonates with your donorbase.


Make a Commitment.  The Commitment to Consumer Choice went into effect October 2007.  DMA members have a 12-month transition period to implement the new Consumer Notice requirement.  By October 2008, DMA members should be implementing the Consumer Notice Requirement of the CCC.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s