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501c3 Staff Engagement – Platforming in Stages – Jayne Agency

501c3 Staff Engagement

In The Unexpected “Generation Gap” in 501c3 Staff Engagement Part 1 Establishing the Challenge, we discussed 5 Observations that we learned when we examined multiple 501c3s. One of the most prevalent of those observations was that each function – Staff, C-Suite, board, etc. – had assumptions on how the other functions were associated with the mission. In one engagement, the disconnect was so intense that we had to separate the functions during the brand strategy exercise, so we could prove out the assumptions and alignment (or disprove the lack of alignment). The outcome was so powerful that we began recommending this technique as a constant.

This article focuses on that technique, which we affectionately branded “Platforming in Stages.” When you lead each team – staff, leadership and board – through a Brand Platform exercise separately, you can demonstrate and then link areas of “alignment” to gain momentum and also identify the remaining “disconnects” to resolve. The demonstration of alignment in a mission-based organization can be hard to create unless you technically allow each area of performance to be heard, as well as to hear how the others responded, in a safe, trusting, and goal-oriented fashion.

The results: A staff that feels secure in their understanding of the brand and the mission, a board confident in the staff, a leadership team empowered to negotiate the outliers and lead the brand unapologetically.

So, what is a Brand Platform?

A solid brand platform empowers 501c3s to invest confidently across TIME, MONEY, and PEOPLE in ways that will garner dependable, repeatable, scalable revenue–all essential to keeping a 501c3 serving its beneficiaries. It creates a stable platform by which all sales, development, and marketing efforts are aligned, which helps operations, culture, and protects the organization financially.

A brand platform consists of 10 very specific brand assets that, when created in sequence, provide 501c3s with tools to manage across all functions with direction and alignment, specifically across development, and marketing.

The 10 assets are:

1. Background – How did your 501c3 get started? What brought you to where you are today? How did your mission evolve? Out of what need? We ask each function or role to talk about it. See if there are any common threads in history, of the organization and individuals. Use the discussion as a way to learn new things and each others’ “why,” which tends to lead to learning about each other as individuals and across each function. For the staff, which tends to be within a younger generation, social justice is prevalent, urgent, and fresh. For the C-Suite, current shifts, changes, and impacts of legislation, economic shifts and current news are driving urgency from original mission to day to day operations, and for the board, we often see a commitment steeped in “when this was started.” However, we never once saw a lack of alignment around the history of the mission.

2. Goals/Objectives: That’s right, put it down in writing. State it. Openly. Start creating transparency if you aren’t already doing so. It’s healthy for the brand, the team, and the culture. Go for it. How much revenue do you want/need out of a year’s worth of a marketing campaign investment to serve? What about how much is needed to operate? You need to know that in order to build a platform to deliver on your goals. Go for the brass ring, but set your actual course on what’s achievable. Objectives must be measurable! Objectives are how you confirm progress against goals. Common objectives include increasing donation and grants, unrestricted and restricted sponsorships, driving awareness or educating.

3. Barriers: Dig deep. Be vulnerable. Usually not hard for the staff. C-Suite tends to be more succinct. In our experience, it was the alignment of the board that tended to surprise the staff in most situations. Asking hard questions like: What’s in your way of achieving this organization’s goals? What could compromise your objectives? Getting the team to write them down separately and then shout them out to create an aligned list that unified everyone within the team function. Typically, each yields separate lists across Marketing, Development, HR, and Operations to create a vital understanding of the impact of each. Cross-comparing each function’s barriers is eye opening, as it starts to rebuild respect and creates an unexpected sense of empathy. As we separate out marketing from operational and HR barriers, tensions shift, as each role and responsibility within the teams takes action items away. By placing Operations and HR barriers outside of the brand platform exercise, everyone’s ability to focus on the task at hand elevates meaningfully.

4. Strategy: Strategies are commitments we make to invest in our marketing for a given period of time and against a budget so that we can deliver on objectives and ensure our goals. Guiding each team to look at stated barriers creates a powerful starting point and turns each marketing and development barrier into a strength and perhaps even an opportunity. It allows us to ask plainly, what initiatives are needed to invest in to overcome barriers, close gaps, and secure opportunities?

5. Audience: List out who you believe you “sell” to. Get them all down on paper. Then, cross off anyone who does not pay YOU. If they aren’t in your receivables list in the last two years, they are not your most strategically valuable audience. Who is left? What’s consistent across them? That’s your primary audience. Next is your secondary audience: Those who aren’t directly paying you but are involved perhaps as a “dotted line.” Lastly are your stakeholders that are non-paying but still critical. These tend to sound like “employees, supporters, partners, vendors, stakeholders.” Particularly in 501c3s, there is a lot of crossover between stakeholders and employees who also function as donors. Be careful not to cross the intentions and roles of each. An employee is focused on performance and delivery. A donor who happens to be an employee is looking at the organization from the mission standpoint, with as much scrutiny as a major corporate donor, if not more. Treating our audiences with sensitivity starts to shape a new level of connection and consideration in how we talk to them, respect them, and relate to them.

6. Insight: Taking our primary audience as the focus, it’s time to look at our operation from the outside — inward. Put ourselves in THEIR shoes. What’s going on in the world around them? What’s happening across the category of the world they live in? What is setting the tone for their everyday life? What is a common behavior you’ll see your primary audience exhibit or something you know they’ll always do? What needs remain unmet? What is no one else delivering on for them, or why are they looking for a solution? How does your brand offer them that solution?

7. Position: Position is an exercise of figuring out where your brand sits versus your competitors within your category or industry. A position does NOT need to be proprietary. You just need to clearly know what position you hold. Are you the safe offer? The cheap offer? The innovative offer? Once you know where your brand sits, you can determine how to defend your “position.” For example, Volvo is the car of safety in the automotive industry, while BMW is the performance machine in the automotive industry. Someone looking for a safe family car is not going to be looking at the newest two-seater convertible BMW. (Well, they might be… 🙂 You, and your competitors all have positions. Knowing yours means you can defend it.

8. Promise: Your promise is what you can operationally deliver every single day. Day in and day out. It’s not trendy. It isn’t catchy. It’s real, and it can be proven in a court of law that THIS IS WHAT YOU PROMISE TO DELIVER when you sign a contract or create a transaction of any kind with anyone who is “buying” from you or in the case of a 501c3, buying INTO you (ideally, your primary audience!). When you sell on promise to the right audience and with the right positioning, you can sell on value vs. commodity. Oftentimes within a 501c3, the power of the mission gets lost by showcasing or selling the commodities of the promise. People confuse individual support elements (the next asset we’ll talk about) through programs vs. the brand promise. This removes the organization’s ability to perform at a promise level and caps the results of the investments made. When you create a shift so that investments perform at the highest promise level possible, you can inevitably secure more investments!

9. Support: When you make a promise, it’s important to be able to support it. Your support is how you demonstrate that you are capable of delivering what you promise to deliver. It’s your years of experience, credentials, certifications, patents, client list, case studies, testimonials, processes, and methodologies. (For example, this “workshop” is part of our promise of “smartly strategic, wickedly creative, response driven.” This content you are reading is housed in our “smartly strategic” aspect of our support.) Support is all the amazing things we want to sell and intrigue people about but when we do that, we commoditize our brand, instead of selling on promise. See, it’s a tricky one!

10. Tone/Personality: Tone is the way your brand speaks, the things your brand says, and the words your brand uses. Personality is the way you behave, the things you believe, and the acts you demonstrate. The other 9 assets are “technical.” You can prove them. Whereas this asset is “emotional.” It’s subjective, and it’s what makes your brand uniquely yours. It is what creates the emotional connection with your promise. And when done correctly, it nails the emotional formula of the audience you are looking to secure.

Now let’s talk about the 3 stages required to create the alignments seamlessly.

Stage 1: Creating the Brand Platform (3x)

When you work through the 10 assets listed above, you have the basis of a brand strategy, codified as a brand platform. There might be holes or things you need to figure out. And there might be a to-do list coming out of that. Stage 1 requires isolating the process for the staff and then doing the exact same process with the C-Suite, and the Board separately. This allows for 3 key things:

A. Transparency and comfort in sharing information in non-intimidating or inflammatory ways. It allows everyone to settle into their skin, get real, share, and have a “voice”
B. We find the nuances, the disconnects, and the alignments. It’s best to then IDENTIFY clearly across all three what those were.
C. We can isolate issues that are behavioral in ways that are fair, reasonable, and relative so that proper responsible roles can address those in small group or individual settings. Because mission based work is also very emotional, and many roles and relationships are interdependent, it’s important to allow this part of the process to be identified, and isolated.

Stage 2: Introducing Truths About the Brand to Each Other

The next stage was to bring the results back – again, in isolation – so that each group has time to address counter points, alignments, alternatives, and insights. Sharing the results back to the teams separately creates a fragile but real alignment, the beginning of “huh, didn’t expect them to think THAT.” It’s a new way of looking at each other, of hearing and trusting. But it’s just a start, so we have to respect it. You can openly observe humans becoming open, making adjustments, changing perspective, and un-building walls. It is phenomenal to watch as pride of ownership spreads across each team – with unity. Buy-in and recognition start to be visible and open for discussion.

Stage 3: Solidifying the Brand Platform

Once each team hears what the others contributed, it’s important to reconcile discrepancies, opportunities, and actions. The final phase of building the brand platform for any organization is securing the details within it. In this stage, we confirm how each team responded to the information and have mediated any discrepancies in the best interest of the brand. Stewards rise up – as opposed to “owners,” who previously stood in the way. Each steward from each group naturally starts to influence the brand platform into culture. The impact is profound, the process is organic. And, at this point, the BRAND takes itself back into the hands of the organization, not any one function or level.

If you’d like to attend a workshop for a Brand Strategy Session, Jayne Agency is providing as much access as possible through many organizations, including NANOE. If you’d like to secure time to talk about your 501c3 mission and brand, contact [email protected], and we’ll help you find a workshop so you can explore the 10 assets shared here alongside others seeking the same brand clarity. Or we can talk about your own dedicated brand workshop.

Look for our next article, Part 3: The Custom Survey – developing a survey that helps confirm and align the brand platform. Like Part 2, we give away the secret sauce, guidelines, and boundaries for what you can, should and should not do within your brand, your culture, and your survey. Don’t miss it!

501c3 Staff Engagement – Platforming in Stages – Jayne Agency was first posted at INSIDE CHARITY

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