Lessons from Young Charities, Part 2

Part 2: What Today’s Innovative New Charities Can Teach the Rest of Us

Yesterday we started a discussion about the five principles that characterize today’s most exciting young non-profits. These are organizations like Charity: Water, Invisible Children, and others that have rocketed to national prominence and have raised millions of dollars for their cause. We’re also looking at how more mature organizations can apply these principles to their own organizations.

Today we’ll wrap up the discussion by looking at principles three, four, and five:

Principle #3: Be a storyteller.
Over and over, the leaders of successful young non-profits tell you that they are storytellers. Why? Because facts and statistics alone are not enough to motivate passion to change the world. It must come from the stories of people caught in circumstances we would find intolerable – and that creates energy that motivates us to act.

Not surprisingly, younger charities have found film and video to be the most powerful way to tell their stories. Invisible Children, Charity: Water, Falling Whistle, and others have video at the heart of their communications strategy. Video is immersive, shareable, and faster than almost anything else at moving someone to action.

Storytelling should be an easy principle for older organizations to emulate. Every organization that’s been in existence for a while should have a wealth of stories about their impact. Yes, it takes time and investment to find your stories and tell them well. But it’s worth it.


Principle # 4: Invest in the brand experience. The most successful young non-profits today put a great amount of thought and effort into how their supporters experience their brand. They craft their websites, social media interactions, events, and branded merchandise with one goal – to create a compelling user experience.

Is it expensive? Hard to do well? Yes and yes. But it’s critical for building the energy and momentum a movement needs to spread rapidly. Ben Keesey, CEO of Invisible Children, states that they want their branded merchandise to be better than what for-profit companies produce because their cause is more important.

Of course, what’s an appropriate brand experience for a new organization like Invisible Children may not be appropriate for your organization. Younger organizations tend to be supported by younger donors who have different expectations. They key is to create a consistent brand experience that will resonate with your audience. As Jeff Brooks (who blogs at Future Fundraising Now) so eloquently points out, the little things – like timely thank you letters – often matter as much as big things like your website.


Principle #5: Prove your impact. In today’s cynical world – saturated with marketing promises – the impact of the first four principles fizzles quickly if you can’t demonstrate that what your organization does is working. To use an old metaphor, proof of impact is like railroad ties. Once they’re in place, you can lay even more track that will send your momentum train further than you ever imagined it could go.

Charity: Water is a master at this, using video, photos, and Google maps to show the impact of completed water projects. It creates a virtuous cycle, as satisfied donors then share the Charity: Water story with more and more people.

The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect. Recently Charity: Water had to retract a claim about duration of impact. They posted a thorough explanation on their blog about why they could no longer confidently state that an individual would receive clean water for 20 years through their projects.

According to Rod Arnold, their chief operating officer, supporter reaction was very positive. Charity: Water had demonstrated they valued their constituents as equal partners who deserved the truth – not as faceless donors who were only as good as their last gift.

Again, this principle should be a no-brainer for charities of all ages and sizes. You’re doing good work, so invest the time and effort needed to prove it.

There you have them – five principles that characterize today’s hottest young non-profits. (Read yesterday’s blog for the first two principles.) Will following them make your organization a recognized name across America? Maybe, maybe not. But they will help you build a stronger, more loyal base of supporters for your work.

By: Grizzard Communications

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