Expert Q&A: Current Brand & Creative Opportunities for Nonprofits
As we wrap up with the last day of the DMANF Washington Nonprofit Conference, there’s certainly a lot to think about in terms of revamping strategies for this year. We heard a range of insights, from smarter co-op programs, to disruptive acquisition techniques, to prepping messaging for legislative and environment changes, and creating cultures of giving. We sat down with our own in-house branding and creative expert, Roy DeYoung, to get his take on the current landscape, as well as what nonprofits can do to amplify their story, and reach the right audiences now.
- Talk a little about Brand in the nonprofit world, versus Brand in the commercial world. What are the challenges facing nonprofit brands right now?
You know, there are so many similarities in the world of commercial and nonprofit. When it comes down to it, the differences and the challenges really stem from what’s going on from brand to brand, and more importantly, what’s currently going on in the world. If we think about nonprofits who’ve been around for quite some time, a challenge is that many haven’t really evolved their story. Because there’s so many brands vying for attention in this crowded consumer environment (and that’s quite a challenge in itself), not evolving your story to meet key audiences can ultimately lead down the path to irrelevancy. For nonprofits in particular, funding is a major inhibitor, more specifically funding to really nurture the evolution of the brand. In for-profit, there’s generally more dollars to experiment and iterate on that story, but staffing, resources and a lack of other necessary components make it difficult to justify working on brand. Especially when it’s not directly connected to the donor path.
- Disruption is the theme for this year’s DC Conference. How can nonprofits break through right now, and make an impact? How can they reach the catalysts in the world who will share their stories?
Well first, rather than disruption, I’d like to talk about the idea of frictionless. If I could say anything related to this, it’d be that nonprofits need to quickly adapt to a frictionless donor experience. The expectations are higher today than ever. As a nonprofit, if you feel you’re spread too thin across different platforms or channels, then scale back. Focus on a few that you do really well, and that are making the necessary impact. The best advice I can offer is: don’t overextend yourself to the point of irrelevancy. But than being said, the mobile experience is absolutely critical – make this a primary focus if it’s not already.
With this administration, nonprofits need to be looking at the small donors. Just as both presidential candidates focused on the smaller “isms” of society, the micro-groups that really ultimately swung the balance, nonprofits must look to these smaller groups. They’re the ones that plan to double contributions to organizations this year, and it’s not just left, more liberal communities, but also ring wing voters. Both groups are so polarized, and so immensely passionate about so many issues right now. Nonprofits need to get their messaging and experience in alignment with these passions. Now is the time to acquire donors.
Whether people did or didn’t vote for Trump, there’s also this level of perception that the economy is going to get better, which also impacts mid-large sized organizations. This could be a record four-year time period for fundraising, if nonprofits can truly reach their audiences in a meaningful way.
- What about the nonprofits that fall more towards the middle of the spectrum, in other words, not the Planned Parenthood or the environmentally-focused org? What can, for instance, a health organization do right now to break through?
A heart health organization should focus on this fact: people in the US are under a tremendous amount of stress right now. There’s this social consciousness of despair and distress. Now is the time to reach people, and educate them about the balance of exercise, community service…taking the news in small doses, and really paying it forward with kindness and community. These are the values and messages that nonprofits needs to be leading with. Another significant element to focus on, is that millions and millions of people may soon be without healthcare. If this does happen, prevention is going to be hugely important. Preventative medicine and health habits will become more significant, and so there may be a need for some really black and white messaging – if you don’t have access to health care, you need to make real changes to your life.
- Let’s shift gears a bit…given that we’re seeing this explosion of immersive technologies and new formats for storytelling, what kinds of new techniques should nonprofits consider this year?
I’ve seen some really beautiful, impactful applications of Virtual Reality done by nonprofits. I recently experienced one called “The Beast” done by a firm called Koncept VR in collaboration with World Vision. I was totally immersed, and taken to a Honduras village where a young boy was speaking to me about this life there, and how others had tried to escape to a new world on “the beast” – in this case, the train. The story was powerful, but the fact that I was completely detached from my reality, and integrated into the reality of this young boy and his village…it connected me to the story that was being told. There is enormous potential for nonprofits with these types of immersive, uninterrupted experiences – it’s these moments that matter for reaching donors and making that impact that ultimately compels someone to give.
I also think there are missed opportunities for podcasting. There are few better ways to connect today. When someone puts a headset on, listening while commuting, it’s generally an indulgent moment. And brands are finding that they’re able to make stronger emotional connections with podcasts than video, for example. But if video is going to be explored, consider using series, or ways to keep users constantly connected. Make them want to come back for more, and more importantly, make it a two-way conversation. People are more willing to help curate the content than you’re likely aware of, but there are passionate communities out there who want to contribute to the message.