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May 1, 2017

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Written By: Lora

By Lora Dow

Often at the end of a feasibility study, a non-profit is advised to conduct a “positioning campaign” while they prepare for an eventual capital campaign.

A positioning campaign helps to change perceptions about a nonprofit’s impact in the community among stakeholders – be they donors, community leaders or residents in general. It captures the imagination and good will of the potential supporters in advance of asking for a gift.

I find that while everyone agrees a positioning campaign is a good idea, when it comes down to actually doing it, people aren’t sure where to begin.

A “president’s letter” is a great way to start the process, especially if time and resources are scarce. This strategy involves sending a simple letter from the leadership of your church, school or nonprofit to community leaders, influencers and friends. The letter is meant to inform and inspire, rather than ask for specific support.

It’s a short read – just one page (printed) or no more than a short scroll (online). It could have pictures or easy-to-read graphics, or just short paragraphs of a sentence or two. The letter could come out monthly or quarterly, but should be on a schedule you can commit to.

Each letter should include the following elements:

  • An impact statement. (i.e. a number or stat that will surprise or impress the reader about the significance of your mission.) Pick just one, especially one that might be seasonally relevant.
    Ex: As school lets out for the summer, many children lose an important source of nutrition. Our summer lunch program ensures that more than 200 area kids get a healthy, tasty meal each weekday when school’s out.
  • A leadership update. Recognize new board members or members retiring off the board. Lift up a new staff person. Help supporters understand how you are strengthening your internal team ahead of a major effort.
  • A story. This can be as simple as a picture with a caption or a link to an external news story, but make sure to put a face to your case, lifting up your broader mission by sharing the story of one particular person or family.
  • An invitation. Whether it’s a save-the-date for a gala or golf outing, or an invitation to an open house, always make sure to include an invitation to learn more or get involved.
  • A recap. Tell the readers how your fundraising, advocacy and/or outreach efforts are going. People like to get involved with a cause that has momentum.
  • A return service requested postmark and/or email bounceback tracker. This type of regular communication helps you keep your lists updated between major direct mail efforts.

What’s NOT in this type of communication – or anywhere in a positioning campaign really – is a strong ask for support. While all communications should have a link to your website and your website has a prominent link to donate (and if it doesn’t, stop reading this and go take care of that ASAP), this communication is about sharing information more than a strong call to action. It paves the way for a future ask by making the reader feel informed and connected to your mission.

This strategy, executed well, will draw the people of influence and affluence closer to your organization in advance of a major campaign. It will invite healthy dialogue and questions, helping you avoid the dreaded “we haven’t heard from you since the last time you were here asking for money” conversation. It will bolster your case for support, helping you to paint a picture of community needs and how you make a difference.

Most importantly, the exercise of creating this letter regularly gets your leadership (both staff and volunteer) in the habit of telling your better story, which will prepare YOU for your campaign as much as the letter will prepare potential donors.

Have you ever tried a strategy like this? If so, share how it worked in the comments below.

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