by Tony Fannin, President, BE Branded
The not-for-profit world has been rocked hard by the economic downturn. Though they have noble causes, it still takes money, so they still need to attract and play nice with for-profit companies who can contribute millions of dollars in one fell swoop. There used to be the aura that non-profits didn’t need to act like a business. They were involved with a higher calling. They had more volunteers than employees. They didn’t want to be seen as being “bought” by aligning too closely with commerce.
All of this has changed in the last few years. The non-profits now are competing for limited dollars. They are actively engaged with marketing themselves to donors and corporate sponsors. They are having to show ROI beyond just the “feeling” they give you for contributing. Branding is becoming a key contributor in their survival. Non-profits have realized they need to talk the same language as the corporate world because they realize that relating to their customers (corporate sponsors) is a good thing and it’s not selling out. Branding has become as vital to success as volunteers executing the grass roots plan. Branding equals donations and corporate sponsors. This money pays for the good work they are performing.
For example, America’s Second Harvest was an organization who fed needy families and individuals. They were moderately successful, but the need outstripped resources. Vicki Escarra was hired as CEO in 2006. She immediately realized that people didn’t know who the organization was. More problematic, the corporate world didn’t know they existed. Vicki set out to, starting from scratch, create a brand that meant something to the corporate world as well as the general public. The questions she got on the inside was why spend money on branding when there are so many people to feed? But, Vicki knew the potential of what could be if their branding efforts caught on and how much more good they can do around the country. Strong in her convictions, she hired several firms to her marketing and branding team. Vicki knew that she needed to appeal to her customers (the corporate world) in order to leverage a great brand to gain access to millions of dollars in donations.
One big change was the name. No one really knew what America’s Second Harvest did or what they stood for. The name was changed to Feeding America. Along with a strong launch and consistent marketing, the brand team gave volunteers a clear brand message. The results: After 30 years America’s Second Harvest had about a 22% awareness rate. The new name had a 20% awareness rate after only 16 months (the end of 2009). They now have become the “go to” charity for many large companies and celebrities. Feeding America has corporations such as WalMart, General Mills, Kraft, PepsiCo, and many other Fortune 500 companies, as nation-wide donors and supporters. Shows like American Idol and The Biggest Loser have ran promotions on their behalf. They’ve raised over 33% more money compared to this time last year.
Feeding America has positioned their brand as a leader in relieving hunger in America. Their “gamble” had paid off in multiples. The money spent on rebranding and marketing has yielded dividends that are more than just money. The real dividend of the branding investment is helping more people with real needs around the U.S.