There are over 23,000 nonprofits in Hong Kong, of which 6,300+ were approved tax-exemption charitable organisations. With so many charities in town competing for our small changes, it is a fairly common scene nowadays that there are three charities hitting the street to sell ‘flags’ on Saturdays, almost every Saturday. Similarly, there are quite a number of direct appeal TV shows or advertorials on air from time to time. But how many of these charities you can name or able to tell what they are standing for? In today’s information overwhelming world, it is not unusual people confused one organisation with another or worse can’t recall it at all. It is, therefore, important for charities to think extremely hard about how to get their messages delivered, and more fundamentally, what that message at the first place is?
In the commercial sector, it is not difficult in identifying successful companies which command a very strong and distinctive brand proposition. You name it. IKEA, cost leadership and unique Swedish designs provide its target customers (young buyers) excellent value; Virgin Group is famous for being a challenger brand, the cheeky upstart that shakes up industries to provide something different and better; Apple is relentlessly focusing on the product; CSL a leading provider of mobile services; the list can expand infinitely. Of course you might also argue that they are companies without such a strong brand at all but are still in the business for years, or possibly decades. Yes, that’s true either. But how many such ‘no brand’ companies are doing their businesses as successful as those I mentioned, in term of scale, capability in money making or global reach or capture a lion’s share of mind among target audience? Business executives should have such brand proposition awareness in their DNA in an attempt to help establishing and strengthening their brands in the crowded marketplace, in particular those who come with a marketing background.
Back to the nonprofit scene, what’s the situation there? Like marketing in the commercial sector, nonprofits should also have to define very clearly of what message they are trying to deliver, to which audience group through what platform or channel. But in reality, it’s pretty common in notice there was no message at all among many local small and medium-sized charities. Whenever they were being asked about the organisation’s purpose, they simply answered by laying out what they were doing. Yet it is not as complicated as rocket science in realizing there must be some other organisations out there doing more or less the same thing, serving similar beneficiary groups. Alternatively, some other organisations humbly shared their mission statement as an answer or highlight it on their publicities. Very often mission statements, strategies, and visions are dull, meaningless, and difficult to follow, not easy to fully understand by laymen. Mission statements are supposed to serve as an internal guidance in steering decisions, strategies and actions of an organisation. Once this fundamental was recognized, it is easy to aware that mission statement is not supposed for using on advertisement or publicity in this sense. Whereas on the other extreme I came across organisations, which come up a number of not-so-related, diverted messages deliberately in hope to appeal to various supporter groups instead of having a unified one-size-fit-all one. But they are indeed placing themselves in a very dangerous position that their messages would end up become neither fish nor fowl that not only unable to appeal to the supporters but instead turn them away. Think about the elevator pitch in business world or as an exercise at B-schools, what would you say in a minute in introducing your organisation that excited your supporters and prospects?
Here’s an adaptable checklist that could guide your thinking in crafting your organisation’s brand proposition.
- Weigh and examine what your organisation represents and stands for, not what was being done or in the pipeline. In most cases, the work of a nonprofit is not uniquely exclusive to a particular organisation. As aforementioned, what was being done can easily be replicated by others and hence won’t help in differentiate your organisation from others. There must be something so unique that is so align with your supports and prospects’ passion and able to touch their heart. So why don’t it be rephrased from as plain as Working for the Protection of Workers' Health to Creating a Healthy Workplace for All of Us.
- Keep your message full of enticing, concrete, and powerful imaginations. Peter Drucker said your Mission Statement should be brief enough to fit on a t-shirt. I would similarly apply this thinking into the brand proposition of an organisation. Supporters and donors are not giving to your organisation, they are investing in the society through you! So the message and brand proposition should allow them to imagine of how their effort and contribution could able to betterment the society, giving them the impression that they are part of the Alpha team in solving the so and so social issue. It could be something like Together we bring hope to underprivileged children rather than We are feeding underprivileged children with daily meals.
- Avoid overwhelming audience with details from the operational aspect. Founding members or veteran board members of an organisation are always too proud of their achievement or operational excellence of which they are simply unable not to talk about it whenever this is the chance but that’s not what their support interested in knowing upfront. Yes, supports may ask about it at some point during a conversation or it has to be there at your funding proposal, but it shouldn't be the focus at the beginning as I can say for sure through my experience that it will certain bore your supporters and drive them away before long. Echo what I have said earlier, supporters being draw to an organisation is very much because of their belief that the organisation see the big picture of a particular issue and that they can be part of the solution in solving it through supporting the organisation. With this in mind, operational superiority is merely a declaration of how good the organisation is doing in delivering the good solution to the good cause in this sense. Nonetheless, such good cause and the proposing good solution still have to be good enough that worth supporting upfront. Hence instead of telling people your organisation has the lowest overhead or able to keep the anonymous of your service users, it is better to say you are providing them emotional supports that they can't get elsewhere.
- In the extreme case that I laid out before where organisations have a list of messages or propositions, it may worth enlisting the professional help from a communication agency or a consultant (it is always nice to have one, which is willing to provide pro bono service) in determining and configuring one single message and brand proposition that can work well in representing the organisation and able to appeal to a wide range of audience without jeopardizing the core of the existence of the organisation.
I have not the slightest doubt that all charities and the cause that they are addressing worth our supports, regardless of financially, time, expertise or whatever else; yet the fundamental concern is they have to stand out and let us know, aware of and interested in them at the first place, otherwise, no matter how great they are, what wonderful job they are doing, they will lost in the crowd.