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Market Your Nonprofit's Anniversary to Improve ROI

by Gary Kullberg

Opportunities in a Challenging Environment

The economy, unemployment and overall consumer and corporate confidence have clearly been damaging to the nonprofit industry. A new study by Giving USA Foundation shows that charitable giving fell last year by the largest percentage in five decades.

While individuals and institutions gave nearly $308 billion in pledges during 2008 - a healthy commitment by any standard - it nonetheless represents a decline of over $6 billion from 2007, or 5.7% on an inflation adjusted basis. While the real decline started in the Fall of 2008, this year isn't shaping up to be much better. What can a nonprofit do to begin turning this around?

The Importance of Branding

Some nonprofits have understood the importance of branding their organizations, but most give it only "lip service" while continuing to put pressure on their fundraisers to produce even more. Now, an important new study from Cone, LLC and Intangible Business quantifies the leverage that a stronger brand could provide.

The study ranks the top 100 U.S. nonprofit brands among organizations providing social, environmental and animal related services. Historically, while many surveys have analyzed the financial side of nonprofits and many have looked at image and awareness data, this new study puts both sets of information together and presents a Power Brand Rank. Comparing a brand's "revenue rank" with its "image rank" points to a number of marketing implications:

  • A high "revenue rank" coupled with a low "image rank" suggests the potential financial growth if the image rankings were strengthened

  • Similarly, leveraging a strong brand image asset should lead to incremental financial rewards.

The question then becomes, what's the best approach for a nonprofit to take to build brand awareness and image. (It should be noted that while this study did not include universities, civic or cultural institutions, there is no reason to believe the conclusions regarding the importance of branding would differ for these organizations.)

Nonprofit Anniversary Marketing

The anniversary of your nonprofit's founding is an ideal opportunity to galvanize your employees, board members, donors, foundations, government and corporate sponsors, and to re-kindle their commitment to the relevance, importance and needs of the organization.

This is a unique opportunity, with the potential for a yearlong marketing program that, done properly, sets the stage for your fundraisers, strengthens your longer term brand image and improves the organization's ROI.

For-profit organizations, both large and small, have long recognized the importance of company anniversary marketing because it isn't just the latest advertising, public relations, direct mail, internet or event program. Rather, it is a unique chance for an organization to link the strength of its past to its plans for the future. For nonprofit organizations this story can be especially important among new members, volunteers and donors.

And, importantly, anniversaries do not need to be celebrated in multiples of 25 years. Your 33rd can be as powerful as your 75th.

Planning for an anniversary marketing program should begin well in advance of the anniversary year. As you begin to develop your strategic plans and budgets, you also should audit your resources and perhaps conduct research to determine what your stakeholders really think. This research also can provide a benchmark against which to measure your progress and ROI at the conclusion of your program.

A theme and logo are essential. You should also consider a historical book, or CD, newsletters, direct mail, multiple events and the internet to communicate your story. Advertising and public relations may also play a part. All of these tactics require coordination and integration with your overall strategy, mission and vision statements.

Further, you should consider hiring an outside consulting group. Not only will they bring "fresh eyes" to your situation, but they will have the experience and ability to coordinate all of the facets of your program, something that your staff or volunteers may not have the time or expertise to do.

Today's marketplace is uncertain, distrustful and, frankly, afraid of the future. When you celebrate your historical success, and position yourself for a vibrant future, you reassure people about your staying power and relevance. Ironically, the current environment couldn't present a stronger marketing opportunity.

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About the Author:

Gary Kullberg has served on five nonprofit Executive Boards, two as President and one as Vice Chair. He is the CEO of the Kullberg Consulting Group (KCG), founded in 1994, a strategic alliance of sixty entrepreneurially driven marketing and marketing communications companies whose service,, provides both effective strategy and execution to organizations and brands celebrating their milestones. KCG brings together the combined experiences of its members, who have worked with over 585 organizations, profit and nonprofit, in 21 major industry groups.

copyright © 2009 Reprinted with permission.

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