Many non-profit organizations have already cottoned on to social media as tools for reaching and engaging potential and existing donors/supporters. Still, many charitable organizations hesitate to fully integrate social media platforms, such as online communities, into their overall corporate strategies. They maybe do realize that engaging (potential) donors via online communities can create powerful value, but it is also clear that they sense financial risk.
Logically, at charity organizations there is no room for error. Nevertheless, I am convinced that non-profits can heavily benefit from hosting a brand community. Especially now, “in times were people are overwhelmed with hundreds of philanthropic endeavours vying for individual and corporate donations and attention” (Weisnewski 2).
According to non-profit community specialist Weisnewski, “doing good” has become a “shop-and-compare commodity, with an onslaught of images and messages bombarding people just like for consumer goods” (2). I believe that investing in your brand by hosting a brand community (on a new platform or using existing social media platforms) can be the golden differentiator. The end result? “You will attract like-minded donors and provide the foundation for the long-term meaningful relationships that will lead to consistent support, funding and growth” (Weisnewski 4). Building relationships is about trust.
According to Cynthia Round, “people are making purchasing decisions based on how closely aligned their values are with an organization and how much they trust what that organization is providing. This is as true when it comes to making donations to non-profits as it is for buying consumer products” (Weisnewski 4). Brand manager Cynthia Round continues: “people make purchase decisions for a variety of reasons, but the decision to donate your money is made 100% on faith and how much they trust the charity organization” (Weisnewski 4). “The confidence one has in the brand has a lot to do with the choices people make about donating their time and money” (Weisnewski 5). Round works for United Way America – a non-profit organization in the U.S. “Our brand is not just our logo or tagline, it’s everything we do,” she says (Weisnewski 5). In 2003 the organization redesigned their website with an integrated online community. The website now contains sections where people from all walks in life share personal stories on how they are involved with the organization and see themselves part of the change. Other sections are devoted to advocacy and volunteer possibilities. “We are creating a total experience around our brand because that is what a successful brand is: a total experience,” Round explains (Weisnewski 7). United Way discovered that after their efforts of investing in their brand through their online community, that “their strong brand was 67% of the reason why people chose to invest in their charity. That is a clear and powerful return-on-investment” (Weisnewski 8).
Katya Andresen, vice president of the charitable giving site ‘Marketing for Network for Good’ explains: “Companies are under increasing pressure from board members, shareholders, employees, customers and the community to be positive contributors to society – and this is good news for non-profits. They are looking to co-brand with charitable organizations that share their core values. That is why it is more important than ever for non-profits to be able to communicate their brand easily and succinctly in everything that they do” (Weisnewski 9).
Brand communities are an opportunity for non-profits to create transparency and start a dialogue with existing and potential donors. “Non-profits get mission myopia, because we care so much about what we are doing that we forget to find out what our potential donors’ interests and concerns are”, Katya Andresen explains. “A brand community is a way to find out these interests and concerns. You can ask people to donate their time, ideas or opinions. It is a way to make people feel part of the change that your charity is aiming to bring in the world” (Weisnewski 9).
In part two of this post, I will show you a model that I developed to visualize the importance of the online experience for non-profits.
Until next time,
Photography: Mateusz Łapsa-Malawski