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"Dear Tom..." Brand v. Case Which takes precedence?
Tom Ahern

January, 2016

Dear Tom,
 
Does the case for support inform the brand or vice versa?
 
I believe the case for support comes first and then the branding can be constructed accordingly. However today I have just had a senior manager who is guiding brand development suggest the opposite. Can I ask for your insights please?

Malcolm Sproull
Fundraising Manager
CanTeen.org.nz 
 
 
Dearest Malcolm,
 
So, which does come first...
 
...the "brand development" chicken or the "case for support" egg?
 
"Either" is the right answer, I'd say.
 
Even better (assuming you enjoy each other's company): your brand and your case can advance in parallel, sharing discoveries as you go.
 
Here's why: this isn't a true chicken-or-egg puzzler. Brand development and cases answer pretty much the same questions when all is said and done.
 
And yet....
 
There is one significant difference between a case for support and brand development: the audience in your bull's eye.
 
Brand development guides insiders.
 
A case for support hopes to persuade outsiders.
 
Brand development clarifies for management and board: "This is who we are. This is our target audience. This is why that audience will care."
 
A searing investigation of this type is crucial for any nonprofit trying to find its way toward a bright future. And, yet, it's an investigation few undertake, I suspect. So: Bravo, CanTeen!
 
(Interested in going deeper, readers? Here's a brief and competent online overview of brand development.)
 
Viva la difference!
 
As I noted above, a fundraising case for support is for outsiders ... and a very specific group of outsiders at that.
 
Your organization's case answers THREE core questions ... for a kind (yet demanding) ~ generous (yet impatient) ~ compassionate (yet over-solicited) ~ hopeful (yet skeptical) audience:
 
(core question #1) why are you a worthy organization to support in this particular fight (i.e., what has your impact been so far);
 
(core question #2) why is this particular campaign so urgent;
 
(core question #3) why might I, your prospective contributor, care enough to make a gift.
 
You're probably thinking, "Those are almost the same set of questions as brand development asked!" Indeed, they are: hence the aforementioned overlap.
 
In conclusion, Malcolm: Is it possible for a fundraiser to create a wonderfully effective case for support without yet having the brand figured out?
 
Absolutely. Be the chicken. Be the egg. Doesn't matter: fundraising and branding will end up crossing the same road.
 
PS: What an incredible deli can teach us all about brands and branding
 
Let's define "brand" first.
 
 
I cling to the definition offered by one of America's foremost brand-builders, Marty Neumeier, in his essential book, The Brand Gap
 
A brand, he points out, is not a logo, nor a corporate identity system, nor a product.
 
"A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company," he writes. In other words, yourbrand resides in my head. Your customers own your brand, not you.
 
And how do you build a "gut feeling" in someone? Through extraordinary customer service: the way you behave toward your customers. Every customer interaction has an impact and either shines ~ or undermines ~ your brand.
 
You might by now be wondering, "Customer? What customer? I'm a fundraiser, not a deli owner." Allow me to make a crucial point: YES! your fundraising program has a customer. That customer is your donor, at all levels of participation: S, M, L, XL, XXL.
 
Satisfy that customer, exceed the expectations of that customer ... and you'll never be short of committed supporters. Dissatisfy that customer, neglect her expectations ... and you'll always be fighting poor retention and shrunken gifts.
 
So, yes, you own a deli. And you could (should?) learn a lot about great customer service from Zingerman's, a renown delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan (both Forbes magazine and President Obama are fans). Zingerman's even has books about its ways and means.

"Most customers don't complain about bad service," as a Zingerman's worker/owner has noted. "They just take their business elsewhere and then tell everyone they know about their bad experience."

Sounds like disgruntled donors to me.
 
Zingerman's Mission Statement
We share the Zingerman's Experience
Selling food that makes you happy
Giving service that makes you smile
In passionate pursuit of our mission
Showing love and care in all our actions
To enrich as many lives as we possibly can.


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