A major challenge for any business is finding the best and most effective ways to market itself. When your business is mission-driven, whether that be through a social business, non-profit status or otherwise, there is the added complexity of not only educating potential customers on services and products, but also the purpose and the drive behind the organization.
With these unique challenges, I wanted to uncover the best way for mission-driven businesses and nonprofits to market with a major impact. So I turned to Stephen Lee, the founder of ChariPick, a unique app-driven charity platform that allows people to give $1 a day to high quality non-profits and charitable organizations.
Prior to founding ChariPick, Lee worked at Fortune 500 companies, private-equity firms and hedge funds. As an active investor, he has reviewed more than 1,000 business plans.
Now, with ChariPick, his firm has looked over 2,000 small- to medium-sized nonprofits as part of its curation and selection process to ensure they meet certain standards, including 501c3 status and are financially sound and operationally transparent. With this extensive experience, he’s seen commonalities on how the most successful mission-driven businesses market themselves.
1. Have a clear and focused product or service offering.
Entrepreneurs, especially mission-based ones, want to “do it all” right out of the gate. However, as Lee notes, “You have limited people and finances, so you will be able to explain your mission better and help more people by limiting your scope. You need to have one product or service that is well thought out. Then, perfect the product and processes around it. Later, you can create related products and services, as you build awareness and a user base."
He continues, "For example, while a non-profit helping treat all diseases for all ages of people in Africa is important, it’s a better deployment of resources and an easier message to communicate if you are focusing on underfed and uneducated children in one particular country in Africa.”
2. Create a strong brand.
A simple, but often misunderstood, facet of successful marketing is having a mission, social concept and brand that your audience can understand clearly. Lee advises that you “challenge yourself to explain the purpose of your organization in one brief sentence.
"From your marketing collateral to social media, keep your brand identity consistent across all mediums," he says. "With ChariPick, everything from the name of the company to the brand identity established by the logo screams charity, which helps simplify our messaging.”
3. Make the right impression.
Perception is reality for all businesses, but especially so for mission-driven businesses. Often, marketing and branding exercises are done on a low budget, and frankly look that way.
“The first thing people look at is your website. Do not be cheap and build your own website," Lee says. "A professionally designed and built website creates a sense of authority and trust that is a must for supporters.
"Incorporate professionally taken and edited photographs, real stories and a professionally-made short video to help tell your unique message. Do not use stock photography if you can avoid it," Lee says. "We see over and over again where amazing nonprofits try to save money by making their own websites and the result is that it appears they have no credibility.”
4. Pick marketing-savvy board members.
Board members are a great conduit for business success, especially in a mission-driven business. Lee advocates that you “create an executive board that helps elevate the credibility of the organization along with providing overall direction for the organization.
"Pick members that can help you to access corporate sponsorships or funding, as well as those who have broad social reach," he says. "Target people who are not only passionate about the cause, but also have vast social networks to bring awareness to your cause and bring people to your fundraising events. A quick check on Facebook and Instagram for the number of friends and followers should help guide you on this.”
5. Build a social following.
Building a strong foundation of supporters on social media, instead of just sending people to the website, increases the ways that customers are exposed to your brand and is a simple way to get repeat engagement.
For example, Lee says that with ChariPick, “Even before we launched the product, we started social-media campaigns on Instagram (@ChariPick) to highlight cool charities and gained more than 10,000 followers by the time we launched.
"This also is where your associates’ board can be a big help. Provide each board member with access to your Facebook page and require each to invite their entire friend lists to like the page," he says. "From there, you can also use targeted paid ads to further increase the number of people learning about your organization.”
6. Understand the costs of services.
Understand early on the cost to create the impact that you wish to achieve. Lee explains that “so many startup nonprofits don’t use an accountant to understand how to properly analyze costs, so I often see them not take into account administrative employees’ time into the cost equation. Summarize all the possible costs and then show how the money translates into a result.
"We did a full financial analysis with one non-profit I worked with and realized what they thought was their most successful program was costing $350 per person helped, yet their ‘less successful program’ cost $10 per person," he says. "After taking a look at performance metrics, the $350-per-person program had marginally better impact on the individuals. By getting rid of the costly program, they can help 35 more people for each one they would’ve helped with the more costly and slightly more impactful program.”
This type of knowledge also assists with marketing. Sponsors want to touch as many people as possible, so by understanding your numbers, you can better communicate the impact that every dollar makes.