In my more than 3 decades of working with churches, ministries, and non-profits, I’ve seen a lot of financially challenging times. During the energy crisis, the falling dollar, the S&L crisis, right up to the last housing collapse, I’ve helped guide our non-profit and religious clients through some pretty rough financial tests. I’ve discovered that most of them take the wrong strategy when things get tough. They cut back, ask for lower donation or sponsorship levels, talk more about “emergency giving,” start talking “crisis,” and more. But they often forget what I consider to be the single most important asset during tough times:
The strength of the brand.
In my book “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media” I discuss the controversial subject of branding and how it can be used with non-profits, churches, and ministries.
The power of a brand story can be compelling because it shapes your perception in the eyes of your congregation, donors, and supporters.
During difficult financial times, the strength of your brand is your greatest asset. A great brand is familiar, it speaks of integrity, character, quality, effectiveness, and reliability. Even during difficult times, people still want to do good, but they can become far more selective in their giving. That’s when a strong brand story can elevate your organization above the many other choices donors have today. It creates a powerful sense of trust.
Marketing’s “Four P’s” – product, price, place, and promotion are always important. Having the right product or organization in place, creating the right donation levels for your potential supporters, positioning your organization in the right media and the right places, and promoting your cause to convey a sense of urgency are all necessary in your strategy. But now more than ever, it’s time to re-think the strength of your brand. In my book “The Last TV Evangelist,” I go even deeper into how to get your message heard.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions:
1) Brand Unity: Make sure all your marketing and media tell the same story. Does your website have the same look and feel as your magazine, TV or radio program, advertising, direct mail, or other media? Unify the story you tell to the public, and the result will be far more powerful.
2) Brand Quality: This isn’t the time to have your well-meaning but untalented nephew Earl re-design your logo. It’s not the time to save money on your brand, logo, or designs. Go to professionals. Make sure the visual expression of your brand is contemporary, clean, and conveys the essence of your story.
3) Brand Connection: Even when times are tough, this isn’t necessarily the time to cut back on your media, advertising, or promotions. Years ago during a difficult financial period, a major TV ministry dropped 1/3 of their TV stations. They thought they would be saving money, but in reality, they closed the door on 1/3 of their support base. That was years ago, and they still haven’t recovered from the financial nosedive. The lifeline to your donors and supporters is critical, so be very careful about cutting that important pathway.
4) Brand Conversation: Do you know how your supporters prefer to communicate? This is the digital age of the two-way conversation, when audiences, donors, and supporters want to have a voice. Give them that opportunity and do it on their terms. Know your donor file. Know your congregation. Learn how they prefer to communicate and make sure you provide them with a way to respond.
5) Brand Innovation: Now is the time to re-think your strategy. For instance, when it comes to worship services – hip graphics, cool music, lighting effects, wearing your shirttail out, or dumping the choir robes isn’t a strategy. That’s just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. What you really need is a fundamental re-think of what story your church or ministry is trying to tell, what that means to your target audience, how to connect with that audience, and why it’s absolutely urgent they respond right now. Figure it out, because of the future of your church or non-profit may be hanging on it.
When times get tough – the smartest investment you can make is in the integrity, authenticity, and effectiveness of your brand.