Branding Your NPO’s Biggest Dreams

National Harbor, Md. — “I have a plan,” Martin Luther King Jr. declared from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial following the March on Washington in 1963. No, that’s not right. He said: “Team MLK is the seventh most powerful brand in advocacy.” No, that’s also incorrect. Maybe it was “we’ve empowered people to transform lives.” That’s not correct, either.

During his keynote, “How Big is Big?” at the 2017 Bridge Conference, Alan Clayton, chairman of Clayton Associates, put a bland spin on history to prove a point: Dreams need to be big, broad, and long-term. Successful organizations don’t market their own credibility. They brand the promises they make.

The most successful ambitions tend to be simple, fast and easy to digest, inspiring, and impossibility ambitious, meaning that there will always be a fundraising need, Clayton said. Organizations can focus on the why of their work, the what, or how they are doing it. Focusing on the why is what sets successful fundraising shops apart, he said.

For examples, Clayton pointed to MacMillan Cancer Support’s “no one should face cancer alone” and Save the Children U.K.’s “no child born to die” campaigns. Both ideas were big and communicated an easy-to-understand “why.” On the other hand, Action for Children highlighted the time its social workers spend with children as compared to peer organizations. The strategy didn’t work because it answered the wrong question — how as opposed to why.

    When considering a goal or ambition to pursue, Clayton recommended thinking about three things: What issue is your organization in unique position to try and solve?; Can that goal be communicated simply?; and, Does the goal require significant fundraising? Other considerations Clayton shared included:

  • Avoid compromises to your greater ambition. Royal Society for the Prevent of Cruelty to Animals Australia (RSPCA) ran messages of sickly, hurt animals with the line, “Sorry, we don’t have enough inspectors.” Those six words, as powerful as Clayton says he’s seen in a long time, garnered the organization support of 1 percent of all western Australians. Save the Cows, on the other hand, made numerous small concessions relating to imagery and messaging to the point where it strayed far from its anti-torture message into something softer and less visceral, he said;
  • Convincing supporters is about stories, not data. Ambition plus stories equates to messaging similar to the film “Sliding Doors,” Clayton said. It’s a single story that splinters into good and bad based on one moment. Your beneficiary could have been worse off without the help of your organization. Children’s Hospices Across Scotland is an example of an organization that has focused its marketing to include many individual personal stories; and,
  • Reimagine. Strong organizations continue to redefine the initial dream, stopping every few months or few years to pivot and reposition with fresh ideas. “How big is big?,” Clayton rhetorically asked to close his presentation. “You can’t dream big enough.”