June 28, 2015

Four ways to stay ahead of nonprofit trends

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Stay on top of trends: there are many ways your association and members can effectively use design-driven communication to more effectively advance your mission.

design thinking mattersAfter two days of listening and learning from state nonprofit association leaders at the National Council of Nonprofits’ 2015 Learning Confab, I came away with information overload, and a heightened awareness of the work being done at a national and state level on behalf of the sector.

What I learned will help me in my work as a board member (of Second Harvest Food Bank and Sonlife), and as an advisor to the many nonprofits and collective impact organizations which I serve. It was the most engaging event I’ve attended in a long time; almost every topic appealed to me at some level.

The state nonprofit associations, guided by the National Council of Nonprofits, are doing very effective work to help nonprofits of every size with training, compliance, and advocacy. Each association’s constant challenge is to raise its voice, be influential, and have a seat at the table as a valuable contributor to the culture and communities in which they serve.

Often, sub-sector associations offer a more direct conduit to bring resources to the staff, into the boardrooms, and to the community leaders who look to local and regional nonprofits as essential contributors to the quality of life in their communities. It's important for state associations and sector associations to collaborate.

The National Council states "Being up-to-speed with the latest technology and best practices in communications/marketing is no longer optional–it's mandatory for a nonprofit's sustainability and effectiveness."

Based on the trends facing nonprofit organizations, there are many ways your association and members can effectively use design-driven communication to more effectively advance your mission.

Two days are difficult to compress into a few hundred words, but I’m going to try anyway. Here are four insights to help your association and the nonprofit members you represent:

Understand the difference: identity, voice, and brand

  • Be consistent and coherent with marketing and design-driven communication:
  • In every way—strategic, inspirational, relational, and aspirational—think of every aspect of your communication as an integrated system designed to communicate why, how, and what you do.
  • You may have many messages to share with your supporters; be certain that you are sharing them with one voice.
  • Your one voice is the unique purpose, perspective, and path of design-driven communication you follow to connect your mission with your audience.

Know your audience to make them part of your mission

  • At any time, you will have multiple audiences. As Stephen Covey states: Seek first to understand (how to communicate with them), and then seek to be understood.
  • Know where your audience is listening: There may be more relevant platforms than Facebook, Twitter, and other social media through which to share your message.  Seek out opportunities for opinion columns, editorial opportunities, and expert insight that can be published in business journals and blogs.
  • Speak your audience’s language: avoid using acronyms of any kind; always use language to communicate with clarity to the audience you are trying to reach.

Advance your mission through advocacy

  • Use content marketing to articulate and declare your expertise and your availability as a resource to legislators, media and the business community. Contribute to conversations that are being held around topics such as economic development, quality of life, and employment.
  • Engage in conversations outside of your sphere of influence, to understand how your organization might be affected by and have impact upon issues and decisions at local, regional, and state levels.
  • Be consistent and coherent in your visual communication, paying close attention to how design represents your organization as a silent ambassador.
  • Teach and show your board how to be ambassadors, advocates, and champions for your cause.

Engage your donors to advance your mission

  • Listen to your donors; interview your funders. Get your board members involved in the conversations as often as possible. It’s important for supporters at every level to know that the board is interested in their perspectives.
  • Understand the path, or journey, your donors follow from the time they are attracted to your organization; to how they are informed and inspired; and to where they become engaged.
  • Your donors' and funders' journey does not end when they are engaged; this is the beginning of where you steward the relationship.

There's seems to be so much to do, and so little time! Don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed. The work your organization is doing is meaningful, relevant, and important.

To have influence and a seat at the table with influencers and decision-makers, integrate intentional and design-driven communication into every aspect of your organization, as you adapt and change in order to make your vision a reality. One day at a time, you'll see a noticeable difference.

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