By Jocelyne Daw.
Companies today have so much going on and it can be difficult for community investment programs to get the attention and engagement they deserve. It’s a common concern we hear from our clients, especially if a CI program is viewed as peripheral to the core business. I am a passionate advocate for the need for nonprofits to strategically build and manage their brands. Branding is critical to the success of any community initiative. What people in the sector often forget is that community investment professionals must also embrace a brand mindset when it comes to their programs. They need to communicate and demonstrate that they are delivering value – for both the company and the community.
Embracing a brand mindset
A focused compelling brand defines who you are and what you stand for. It compels attention. It demonstrates your unique value and expresses it in a relevant and differentiated way. Done well, it tells a story that drives engagement and impact. It maximizes the trust and loyalty required to secure the continuing flow of resources necessary to fulfill your company’s social purpose.
What is YOUR CI brand?
The fact is, your community investment program has brand – whether you manage it or not. A brand is more than a logo or communication tool. It’s what people say about your program when you’re not in the room. It’s your reputation, identity and goodwill with internal stakeholders and in the community, formed by every action, communication and interaction.Ask yourself - what are the perceptions of the community investment program?
Can people clearly describe what you stand for or is it unclear?
Is it known for creating value and impact or just giving out money?
Is it seen as a central aspect of the company’s work and strategy or as an “add-on” to the “real work” of the company?
Is it an integral part of your company’s brand, strategy and culture or is siloed and unapproachable?
Your answers will determine if your community investment has a brand that makes it an easy target for tough economy cutbacks or one that communicates the unique value of CI and is seen as a strategic competitive advantage.
From traditional to a CI brand that breaks through
A breakthrough CI brand has a discernible difference in the way it walks and talks, a palpable shift away from traditional community investment positioning to a focused, strategic approach:1. From giving out money to standing for somethingIn traditional CI, money is handed out to many organizations based on a company’s pillars. In many cases the pillars are not clearly defined with a specific focus and clear outcomes. As such almost any application can fit, leading to an array of disjointed program support. Leading CI programs have clearly defined who they are and what they stand for based on their company’s strengths. They focus each pillar around a cause and the outcomes they seek. They select organizations that bring their shared commitments to life. Stand out CI programs have a clear sense of purpose and clarity around what they want be known for.2. From supporting nonprofits to driving impactA traditional CI brand focuses it support on nonprofits. A standout brand focuses on making a credible impact. It puts its efforts on critical community issues where the company can make the maximum impact. It finds the right organizations, acts as a partner to leverage internal resources and brings like organizations together to advance even higher impact and increase credibility and capacity.3. From communicating activities to selling benefitsThere is an old saying that activities tell and benefits sell. Rather than just reporting on activities and programs being supported, a breakthrough CI brand focuses its communications on the benefits and outcomes that deliver value for the company and the community.4. From organizational silo to integrationIn traditional approaches, the CI team is singularly responsible for the program. While they are critical in shaping it, all-out efforts are made to ensure the program aligns with the company’s brand and business strategy. The best outcomes are delivered by aligning with a company’s core competencies and business strengths. This ensures cohesion and operational effectiveness. Leading CI brands make a concerted effort to break down internal silos and bring the organization together around shared needs, values and commitments.5. From being well-known to well-ownedBeing better known does not equate to being better understood or valued. Awareness is helpful, but does not necessarily lead to support and even less surely commitment. A stand out CI brand spends as much time engaging internal communities around what they stand for. They believe in the power of many and involve their internal community in a way that creates pride and a sense of ownership. Meaningful two-way engagement accomplishes far more than any controlled messages ever could. How-to adviceBuilding a focused, compelling CI brand starts from the inside and moves out. It takes deep introspection and careful research to understand and define what your CI program stands for. It takes courage and commitment to focus efforts, align resources and drive true impact.But it’s worth the effort. A stand out CI brand wins mindshare, loyalty and resources by authentically conveying relevance, by demonstrating value and identifying ways to drive engagement. It thrives by appealing to the head, heart and hand.