It’s a strange feeling when someone says sorry, even when the apology comes from an act that was unintentional. For many of us, we simply say “that’s ok” and we move forward without much more thought. But an apology can be something not only received but reflected upon, and it this reflection that can bring about real change and growth.
So when I read the Thankyou annual letter, expressing a heart-felt and well outlined apology (that we have summarised in Part 1 here), I could only think that there was an opportunity for the recipients to reflect and see how they can change to support a better future.
For charities that partner with organisations (like Thankyou) or private donors, this article could likely result in celebration with confetti and balloons falling from the office ceiling. Finally, a significant partner is asking for less ‘activity reporting’ that costs time and money and hinders the flexibility needed to progress in field impact. And on top of that they are proposing to provide more funding through long-term grants, enhancing trust and a dependance upon us!
But before we say ‘thank you’ and move on, lets ask ourselves, what can nonprofits reflect upon and possibly change?
At the heart of Thankyou’s annual letter is the courage to say that true impact and social change cannot lie upon the whims of good marketing. The courage to say that global change is too complex to simplify in a nice, neat package.
“Choosing to make decisions for the projects we fund based on impact, not marketing. We have to be comfortable with funding un-sexy, but important work.”
So if Thankyou have the courage to shift, the next question is whether nonprofits do too.
Most of us recognise marketing when we see it. It’s everywhere. We think of the cereal box, the perfume commercial, the fitness social ads, and the list goes on. Sometimes we feel it’s genuine and value-adding while other times we have a hunch that someone is using a far bit of creative license to make something appear better than what it really is. And we play this game, not thinking much of it because our focus really is when the product is in our hands.
But what if you can’t see or touch the product? What if it’s intangible?
This is why marketing ‘impact’ for a nonprofits is challenging. To a large extent, the product is intangible and it’s this that can make marketing for nonprofits a slippery fish. There are so many complexities when it comes to the field work of a nonprofit, that if they were not to simplify it down to a simple package then they fear you’d never buy it.
This is where Thankyou’s letter is confronting. They write:
“Don’t get us wrong; accountability, transparency and connection to the work a donor is part of are not wrong. But are we holding our partners accountable to outputs or impact? Are we requiring tangibility rather than transparency? Are we wanting to fund projects that make sense and connect us to the field, rather than taking time to listen, learn and be impacted by the solutions of communities and partners we are trying to serve?”
Believing that the product they sell must make sense to the consumer and that it needs to bridge the gap between donor and the field is a core belief for most nonprofits. The donors ‘need’ for tangibility is the driver for so many marketing decisions, at times leading to authentic stories that connect while other times to products that are far removed from the reality of what’s actually going on.
But do donors really need tangibility to give? What would happen if this fundamental marketing assumption was wrong or even hindered the impact they could have?
I know, it sounds like a stupid question. But that’s the exact question that Thankyou’s letter presents and it’s a question every nonprofit should ask itself. We know that tangibility relates more to activity than it does impact. Test this with the programs team when they receive a donation that can only be used to build wells, when what they really need is a research grant, or more time invested in developing community relationships. Funding impact is funding un-sexy work.
The challenge is that we have got ourselves into this mess with poor marketing, constantly treating impact as though you can make it the latest iPhone one can touch and interact with. And on top of that, it’s this poor marketing that takes a fair chunk of the impact budget.
A recent example is the #chosen campaign by World Vision. World Vision is one of the best global aid organisations in the world and has been driving sustainable impact programs in some of the most difficult places on the globe. Though their recent campaign #chosen had me pondering Thankyou’s reflection on activity vs impact. In this campaign, the child now chooses their sponsor from a gallery of willing faces, which on first glance feels like a healthy power-shift. The ‘chosen’ sponsors then receive a video of this ‘chosen moment’ heightening this new connection made. But the cynic in me says this is just marketing. All sponsorship funds go towards community programs, not the child. The field staff are now needing to setup and record videos so the sponsor can have their chosen moment. The child most likely is quite overwhelmed by a choice like this, especially when many of them have little understanding on how the funding works for their community program. But it’s designed this way due to a core belief and assumption that unless it’s tangible, then people won’t buy into it.
I want to celebrate Thankyou for asking the hard question to those who donate – Does my generosity really need to be attached to tangible activity, or is that actually what is hampering impact? Can generosity instead be motivated through transparency and a trust in others and the work they do? Generosity is such an interesting action as there is a no-return or exchange policy attached. You may not be able to track its outcomes nor control them in any way. And it’s best packaging to date is trust and transparency.
I believe this could have huge implications for nonprofits brand and marketing. What would it look like for them to simply have one product – generosity based on trust? How would your brand alter if it was more concerned with transparency and didn’t shy away from the complexities?
Here are some possible implications…
- Greater investment in storytelling from field workers
- Drive to build loyal communities around your work, rather than individual shoppers
- Willingness to win based on your work and values rather than slick marketing
- New revenue opportunities based on partnership development
Here are some questions to start conversation…
- What are your assumptions about generosity?
- How can you position your non-for-profit in a saturated market with integrity to your real product?
- Are you ok with a small but passionate donor base?
- How much do you spend on communicating your brand internally compared to externally?
- Who is the best person to present your ‘impact’ to donors?
- How are you presenting the people in your organisation whose time and talents are what the donor is funding?
Thankyou are changing, and for the better. It’s these moves that excite our efforts in developing brands and marketing initiatives that make greater impact today. If you are interested in seeing how transparency can trump poor marketing that won’t hinder your growth but excel it, we’d love to talk with you. If you want to discover what the true tangible offering is that you can present donors, then we can help.
Get in touch via our contact form below!