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What’s Your Problem?
What’s Your Problem?

Brand Review Competition Reveals Nonprofits’ Marketing Challenges


Wondering what kinds of marketing challenges small and medium-sized nonprofit organizations are grappling with? The applications submitted by a wide range of nonprofit organizations as part of Red Rooster Group’s Free Brand Review Competition show nonprofits struggling to improve their branding and fundraising in different areas. The majority of entries came from small and medium-sized nonprofit groups looking for solutions to their marketing problems. There seems to be a pattern of marketing-related concerns that commonly afflict nonprofits regardless of their operating budget or their cause.


Problem #1: Specific Programs that Overshadow an Agency’s Central Brand

What happens when the visibility of your programs overshadows your organization? If your organization offers a variety of programs and services it can be difficult to establish and maintain an agency-wide marketing campaign. Your organization’s reputation and ability to attract fundraising for other programs may suffer as a result. One of the applications we received was from an organization that provides support and recovery services to people suffering from addiction and other mental health issues. Because the organization offers more than twenty different programs, its leaders have found it extremely problematic to market them in a systematic way that connects them all back to the umbrella nonprofit. The outcome is a fragmented, unfocused marketing strategy that fails to give the organization the strong brand image it deserves. This is symptomatic of a lack of strong central branding and management. If each program creates its own marketing, then they compete with each other rather than complementing one another and strengthening the agency’s overall brand.

Problem #2: Converting Clicks into Donations and Devotion

Your nonprofit may have an interactive and informational website that engages your target audience. You might have hundreds of followers on Twitter and more “Likes” on Facebook than you can count. And maybe you host annual fundraising events that attract tons of attendees. But what good are website visitors, social media support and gala guests if they don’t produce tangible results in terms of contributions of time, effort and money to your cause? Whether a radio station seeking to convert listeners into members, a museum looking to turn fans of a subject into supporters of the institution, or a nonprofit trying to encourage program participants to become donors of the agency, many find it difficult to convert listeners, site visitors and event attendees into organization donors, members and advocates.

Problem #3: Naming Nuisances

Before a donor can get to know what your organization does, their perception is shaped when they hear your organization’s name. Your organization’s name is a very important component of your marketing efforts. You want the name of your nonprofit to convey what it is that your brand is all about, and you want potential clients and donors to remember your organization in a positive light. But the names of some organizations were developed a long time ago and are now outdated. Nonprofits that were founded several decades ago faced different considerations in developing an organization name and may have used longer, overly descriptive names with geographical or outdated terms.

Changing the name of your nonprofit is no easy task, but sometimes a necessary one. Consider one of the organizations that applied to our brand review competition and is in the process of renaming themselves. Their old name contained the word “handicapped,” which is no longer a politically correct term, and so they are creating a new name and using the opportunity to give their organization a brand overhaul. Another nonprofit explained in their application that their name is somewhat generic and as a result they are often confused with other organizations devoted to a similar cause. Your nonprofit may need a name change if it is obsolete or doesn’t do enough to distinguish you from other organizations.

Problem #4: Stressful Social Media and Trying New Technologies

If you feel that your organization is behind in the race to collect fans and followers, you are not alone. Many of the brand review applicants mentioned that they’re interested in using social media to promote their organization, but that they just don’t know where to start. After all, there are numerous social media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Flikr, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare, Tumblr and more) and not all of them are necessarily well-suited as tools in your organization’s marketing plan. One nonprofit even expressed in their brand review application that they are worried that their target donor demographic consists of people who are reluctant to test out new technologies, and so they fear that using new media and the web to market their cause will ultimately be unfruitful and a waste of time. The ever-evolving universe of social media and technology can be intimidating, so remember that you’re not alone in learning how to navigate your organization through it.

Problem #5: The Need for More Unrestricted Funding

If your organization provides support services to people who are ill, impoverished, homeless or otherwise less fortunate, in all likelihood you have received restricted funding and donations from people who want their contributions to go directly to providing services. It may be easier to focus fundraising efforts on supporting specific projects because you can then demonstrate to donors the well-defined difference their funding has made. However, many small and medium-sized nonprofits rely on unrestricted funding to take care of general operating expenses. Without a significant amount of unrestricted funding, your nonprofit may struggle to dedicate an adequate amount of time and resources to developing a marketing and branding strategy.

Problem #6: Reliance on One Funding Source

While some nonprofits are funded primarily through governmental organizations or large foundations, it is generally steadier and allows nonprofits more freedom if they pull funding from a wider diversity of sources. If your organization relies heavily on just a few donors, a single annual fundraising event, or government grants to supply you with the money you need for your programs and operating expenses, you could be in a very difficult situation should one of your central funders not renew their grant. It takes a significant amount of time and effort to build a thorough plan and develop an extensive base of donors. Although this is a daunting task, it’s definitely best to approach the matter proactively rather than wait for dire need to arise.

In their quest to make the world a better place, nonprofit organizations often face stumbling blocks when it comes to strategic marketing and communications. The team at Red Rooster Group wants to reassure you that you are not the only organization dealing with these difficulties, and you should feel free to contact us if you need help to overcome them.


Howard Adam Levy, is Principal of Red Rooster Group, a New York based graphic design firm that creates effective brands, websites and marketing campaigns for nonprofits to increase their visibility, fundraising and communications effectiveness. Contact us at info@redroostergroup.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Elaine Fogel says:

    What you describe is so ubiquitous in smaller nonprofits. It’s sad that the ones that submitted entries to your contest are in such dire need and you can’t help them all. What they really need to do is consolidate.

  2. Howard says:

    Elaine, you raise a very good point. Many of the smaller and mid-sized nonprofits need help with different areas of their marketing. We originally intended provide a full brand review to 1 organization, but were moved by the need and are helping 6 organizations.

    I agree that for some organizations consolidating would help. Collaborating in other forms can also help nonprofits do more, learn and grow. This year’s New Jersey Non-Profit Conference is dedicated to the theme of Making Connections Count: Thriving in a New Era (Friday, Dec 2, 2011). The Center for Non-Profits will be posting info on their site soon. http://www.njnonprofits.org

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