As executives in the nonprofit space, one of the most important roles we have is to market and bring value to our brands so that we are able to achieve our mission. At the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs, this is a responsibility we take very seriously and intentionally.
It starts at the beginning of each year when we formulate goals for the organizations. As we work to fulfill our strategic initiatives, we are mindful of the importance of budget, program impact, and bottom line in determining how to leverage and promote our brands.
What are some keys to success in bolstering your brand? Ensuring that your goals are aligned and that you are ready to identify potential opportunities—such as strategic alliances—and then taking advantage of them. To form strategic partnerships, an organization—and its top executives—must be willing to put itself in the public eye, demonstrating that it is not afraid to share and listen to ideas. Most of all, it is vital to be authentic, trustworthy, and honest. In terms of identifying potential partners, one of the most important factors is being able to ascertain strong leadership in the potential partner. I believe these leaders share the traits I noted previously. You cannot be afraid to plan bold ideas and think big.
Our recent placement of Sunny, the “puppy with a purpose” on NBC’s TODAY morning show, at the Henry Viscardi School is an example of how we brought value to our brands through a strategic partnership. The school provides an enriched education to children with severe physical disabilities (pre-K to age 21), who may also require life-sustaining medical treatment during the school day. This was an out-of-the-box partnership for both organizations. We have heard numerous stories in just the past few weeks of the positive impact that Sunny has had on the lives of the children who attend the school. Sunny’s placement also created significant interest in both organizations’ missions. On Sunny’s last day on the TODAY show, the program ran a five-minute feature wrapping up his 18 months on the show and highlighting his new career.
In addition to strategic partnerships to build your brand, it is important to be aware of your industry’s environment for two reasons: (1) to see what the competition is doing and (2) to see what you can do better. For instance, at the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs, we continuously work on our search engine optimization and website keywords to increase our traffic, digital awareness and visibility, and we are always looking to highlight iconic moments, such as when we rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, and for the future, becoming an Empire State Building lighting partner and ringing the opening or closing bells at the NYSE.
Another important factor in marketing your brand is being able to communicate with your constituents and potential donors in the way they prefer. When we cultivate donors, our rule is to be honest and transparent in all communications. We use traditional mailings, phone, or email to discuss planned giving options with donors who are 70-plus, for instance, while we target millennials on social media. We use all forms of social networking to actively connect with our followers on more than a dozen accounts between the two organizations, and we use these channels to drive traffic to our website and demand to our programs.
While it is easy to be reactive in communicating, we find it is very important to be proactive and intentional in our messaging. We ensure that we have a solid plan to tell our stories to the public and that we are always sincere and passionate when we do so. Working in all types of media allows us the opportunity to present very clear messaging to very different types of constituents.
Ultimately, what’s the best way to market and build your brand? Be sincere, authentic, intentional, and diverse in your strategy.