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Guest Post: Thinking Like a Business

We’re eager to kick off our three-part workshop series on Marketing & Communications this Thursday. This series is made possible by Integrity Management Consulting, Inc., a friend of the Catalogue and to several of our charities. Before kicking off the series, we asked Integrity’s Communications Manager, Tracey Wright, to share a few ideas and examples of how nonprofits can communicate to a corporate audience.

Could Thinking Like a Business Help Non-Profits Connect With Business?

By Tracey Wright, Integrity Management Consulting

Non-profits are in the business of helping people. That means that for many, especially small non-profits, their primary focus is on service delivery, with little time or resources to spare. Just like any business that wants to grow its market share though, non-profits that need to fund their missions or that want to expand their services, need to secure more support. Could thinking like a business help them connect with potential corporate givers? Here are five ideas, gleaned from my experience working at the small but growing business and Catalogue for Philanthropy sponsor – Integrity Management Consulting – where I help manage the company’s non-profit partnerships.

1. Think about your audience: Integrity is sponsoring a three-part Catalogue training series beginning this Thursday on how to better tell non-profit stories. In the first session, Catalogue President and Editor Barbara Harman will discuss the need to consider your audience when designing your outreach. It’s one of the first things communications professionals are taught: don’t focus only on the message you want to convey, but also what your audience wants to know. For example, Integrity’s staff-led Community Impact Group reviews small non-profits when approving employee applications to support their favorite charities in our 5x$500 program. Often, a website review doesn’t give us all the information we’re looking for — such as the Form 990, a list of board members, short- and long-term goals and the strategies for achieving them. When we don’t find this information, it requires us to call the non-profit — another step for us and a potential roadblock to the organization securing business donations. Think about the audience and give potential supporters a one-stop information experience to speed decisions in your favor.

2. Make it easy: Of course you have a website, but how user-friendly and attractive is it? Analytics on our own website show that visitors can spend from mere seconds to just a few brief minutes on our site. The information people want to see should be easy to get to, with your story highlighted on your homepage to hook people and keep them there. It’s incumbent on all of us to ask whether we’re making it easy for our visitors to digest information and take an action, such as watching a video, downloading a report, clicking on an email address, or making a donation.

3. Use metrics to demonstrate impact: In her four-part blog series on ‘the evaluation problem,’ Barbara Harman pointed out that while it’s difficult to measure some kinds of impact, there’s a growing requirement by government and donors for metrics that measure results. Many of us respond from the heart, but just as businesses need to show potential customers how they fix problems, improve lives, or save money, non-profits can strike a chord by showing that they are results-driven organizations. For example, longtime Integrity partner Homestretch provides housing and other services to homeless families with children, many of them fleeing from domestic abuse. The simple fact of homelessness and abuse should be enough to convince the public to support the cause. Beyond the emotion though, what demonstrates good stewardship at Homestretch are the numbers it recently added to its new website, highlighted in large, bold type: 92% of last year’s graduates employed a year after graduation, $681,352 of debts repaid in the last six years, $1,157,921 in client savings deposits over the past six years. The numbers validate the Homestretch claim of transformational change in the lives of desperate families.

4. Use creativity and speed to cement a relationship with business: Meeting, or even better, exceeding customer expectations is a goal of most businesses, including Integrity. So when a non-profit exceeds expectations, business leaders notice. In 2013, Integrity used the Catalogue to find a new charity to support with a back-to-school drive. We chose Child and Family Network Centers (CFNC) based on the Catalogue’s review. Before our team returned to the office after delivering the new books and shoes we collected, CFNC had already posted a short, simple video clip to its Facebook page, which Integrity then shared on its own page. Days later, CFNC followed up with an unexpected “Stewardship Report” which recapped the project, the need for shoes among its pre-school population, photos of our team and the children, a child’s quote, screen captures of Facebook and Twitter traffic between us, and of local press coverage that CFNC’s media outreach had generated. We were blown away that they would make such an effort to demonstrate the value of Integrity’s contribution. CFNC’s enthusiastic response led directly to Integrity’s Community Impact Group choosing to adopt 11 adults and 14 children during CFNC’s subsequent year-end holiday gift drive. From a business perspective, it was clear that CFNC really “gets” the interconnection between corporate goals, employee engagement, traditional and shareable new media.

5. Market your strengths: Every business is looking for its differentiators. Whether it’s a unique product or service, a new award or a customer testimonial, a good marketer will use these assets to describe the business in a way that will stand out and make potential customers feel like they’re choosing a winner. The Catalogue stamp of approval achieves this and the logo is likely proudly displayed on your website and materials. Are there additional superlatives you can use? At a Catalogue reviewer function in 2013, one executive director casually mentioned that his non-profit had been chosen for the print and web versions of the Catalogue three times. I said he must have “three-times named ‘one of the best’ by the Catalogue for Philanthropy” in bold on the website. It hadn’t occurred to him. My advice – think like a marketer!

A final suggestion is to repurpose all the hard work you put into your Catalogue application. You have analyzed and clearly stated the need, measured your impact, and described your goals. That’s all good information to help you reach more individuals and more business donors.

There’s still time to register for this Thursday’s workshop, on Telling Your Story in Words, with Barbara Harman (4/3 @ 10am). Registration is full for the second workshop, Communicating via Imagery, but registration will open this week for the third workshop, Telling Your Story by Building Your Brand.

Integrity Management Consulting, Inc. is a rapidly growing small business that delivers acquisition, financial, and program management support services to Federal customers. Based in McLean, VA, Integrity has grown from two to about 100 employees and now supports a range of Federal agencies. An award-winning company for innovation, and job growth, in 2013 it also received the Outstanding Corporate Citizenship – Small Business award from the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. Integrity has been a corporate sponsor of the Catalogue since 2009. It’s employee-led Community Impact Group and company matching program use the Catalogue to find new non-profits and are guided by its standards when approving donations.

Tracey Wright is the Communications Manager at Integrity Management Consulting, Inc., where she is in charge of all internal and external communications. She also leads the employee Community Impact Group and manages company partnerships with non-profits. A former television journalist and an ongoing advocate for children with special needs, Tracey was also a Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication. She connected with the Catalogue in late 2009, when she and a team from Georgetown helped rebrand and plan the Catalogue’s Inspiration to Action event. On behalf of Integrity, Tracey was a reviewer for the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Catalogue.

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