Researchers Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant dug into a dozen high-impact charities to learn what makes them so successful, and have just released their surprising findings in Forces for Good:
What we discovered after closely examining these 12 high-impact nonprofits came as a bit of a surprise. We had assumed that there was something inherent in these organizations that helped them have great impact – and that their success was directly tied to their growth or management approach. Instead, we learned that becoming a high-impact nonprofit is not just about building a great organization and then expanding it to reach more people. Rather, high-impact nonprofits work with and through organizations and individuals outside themselves to create more impact than they ever could have achieved alone.
So, going back to one of my perpetual rants, perspective is everything.
Crutchfield and Grant have shaped the book to serve as a practical guide rather than an abstract treatise, identifying the 11 characteristics common to successful nonprofits. And what’s particularly interesting to me is that four of the 11 criteria are squarely marketing focused, which suggests that nonprofits that pay lip service to marketing (or execute traditional us-to-them marketing strategies only) lose out big time.
The four marketing musts are:
- Convert individuals into evangelists for your organization and for the cause
- They’re the most powerful marketing strategy you’ll ever see, and when the cause advances, your organization does too.
- But, to make this strategy work, you have to engage your supporters emotionally, not just intellectually or politically. Are you doing so?
- Nurture networks of nonprofits; see related orgs as allies, not competitors
- Forgetting to communicate with existing and prospective partners is one of the most common nonprofit marketing mistakes
- Building relationships with other orgs in your issue arena is key to raising awareness and moving your issue agenda forward –you get the power, knowledge and complementary perspective of like orgs
- Ongoing communications — that’s the nurturing — is a must to building a powerful networks. Don’t hit and run.
- Harness market forces and see business as a powerful partner
- Marketing and capitalism aren’t bad words; don’t be afraid
- Building earned income streams and corporate partnerships are the first steps to impact on a greater scale.
- Focus on impact, and measure progress against results or larger systemic change
- Too many organizations measure success by their process or outputs, not impact, particularly with marketing activities — that’s all about your org, not about the difference you make in the world.
- Design a process that makes impact, not just outputs
Read Forces for Good for a clear-eyed look at what will make your organization successful, and detailed case studies on twelve organizations putting these strategies into practice today.
Caveat: The 12 orgs profiled here all have budgets of $13 million or more. Crutchfield and Grant claim that these same principles apply to grassroots organizations, but I’m skeptical. There’s just so much less leeway (and fewer resources) for those orgs. What do you think?
Tip of the hat to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
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