Roy Disney and quote, "It's not hard to make decisions once you know what your core values are."The Nonprofit Time’s has just released their report on the Best Nonprofits To Work For 2014. Taylor Carrado, Head of Nonprofit and Education Marketing at Hubspot noted 11 common traits the non-profits that make this list share. Not surprisingly, six of them were related to internal marketing:

  • The leadership lives by and understands its culture.
  • Employees know their role and how they contribute to the mission.
  • The organization’s leaders solicit feedback and suggestions from their staff regularly.
  • Onboarding and training is a key part of the culture and is always improving via staff feedback.
  • Part-time staff is kept in the loop on all content from staff meetings.
  • The majority of employees participate in fundraising and awareness efforts for the cause.

What is Internal Marketing?
Perhaps I should back up a minute and provide a definition of internal marketing because I think all too often, what internal marketing is and how to engage in it is misunderstood. A common misconception is that internal marketing is the marketing department’s job and it’s about keeping others within the organization abreast of external marketing activities. In reality, it is a lot more than that and it is the job of everyone in a leadership role in the organization and it must come from the top, down. Internal marketing is the process of promoting the organization’s mission, core values and brand to the employees.

Done well, internal marketing:

  • helps align, motivate and coordinate staff,
  • creates a more informed staff that is more engaged and invested in outcomes, and
  • helps ensure consistent brand messaging externally.

While non-profits often do an excellent job of communicating and promoting their mission, many non-profit organizations do not have well-defined core values or a crystal-clear understanding of their brand. (Not surprisingly, the two are inextricably related to one another.)

Words "core values" and an apple coreThe Role of Core Values
A core value is a principle that guides an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with the external world. Core values communicate to employees what is expected of them. These values help employees in their decision-making processes, define common ground, and create rallying points. If an organization’s core values are well-defined and leadership communicates those core values in everything they say and do, the organization will have happier, more productive employees. Core values should be about actions, not words; they need be an integral ingredient to the organization’s success, both in day-to-day operations and longer-term strategy. Importantly, they must be lived and breathed from the very top down; core values can’t be delegated.

Core Values also help organizations make better hiring decisions. Along with experience and skills, a good “cultural fit” is essential. But how do you effectively define “cultural fit?” Core values. Zappos!, the online shoe retailer, came to this realization when they were going through a high-growth and hiring phase. They now incorporate their core values into their hiring process and interview questions. (Read “How Zappos! Infuses Culture Using Core Values” published via the Harvard Business Review and written by Zappos! CEO Tony Hsieh).

How this Relates to Branding
Illustration of brain with brands in itThere are lots of definitions of a brand floating around out there but I think Seth Grodin’s is as good as any, “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” Brands are developed over time through:

  • consistent verbal and visual messaging,
  • interactions with an organization and its representatives,
  • recommendations, and
  • real life experiences using a service or product.

That makes everyone in your organization from the janitor to the receptionist to the executive director a brand ambassador. Non-profit organizations that understand the role and importance of everyone in the organization having a deep understanding, and daily experience of, the core values and mission of the organization are the ones that are most successful in their branding. They also have brands people like and feel more of an emotional connection to.

Internal Marketing in Practice
According to Steven Nardizzi, executive director of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Wounded Warrior Project (ranked #3 overall this year after 3 years in the #1 spot, which it still retains among large non-profits), successful organizations boil down to focus on the culture and alignment with mission and attracting, retaining, and engaging the supporting incredible people. WWP has 17 offices and opens an average of 5 new offices each year. The NPT reports, WWP “surveys team leaders to keep up on how offices are doing, to ensure tools and resources are available to staff, and keeping a healthy office environment that’s ‘aligned with core values and constantly committed to mission.”

AHC, ranked #2 overall and #1 among medium-sized non-profits, “immerses employees in a ‘culture of customer service’ from the start.” Their new-hire orientation program spells out its “commitment to teamwork and communications; dedication to the environment, and a pledge to offer opportunity, respectability and accountability to all employees.” Their orientation process centers around their core values.

Good internal communications are essential to successful organizations where talented people want to work. I had the privilege of working in management at The Container Store earlier in my career, a for-profit company that has been on Fortune’s list of “The 100 Best Companies to Work For” for 15 years running. They are experts at internal marketing and place so much importance on their core values that they call them their “Foundation Principles” (and have gone to the time and expense of trademarking the term). They directly attribute their repeated appearance on the list to “our collective focus on upholding the Foundation Principles in everything we do.” Not surprisingly, one of their Foundation Principles is “Communication IS Leadership.”

How about your non-profit organization, does it have well-defined core values? Does leadership communicate these core values in everything they say and do?

If you work for a non-profit and are interested in more on this subject, visit our website and request a copy of our FREE webinar recording, Essential Elements for Strategic and Effective Marketing Communications. For more about The Fundraising Resource Group and how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success through high-impact, high-return fundraising activities, visit our website at

Chart showing elements of brand architecture.I’d love to say that what I am about to write is so basic as to be self-evident and should “go without saying” but the reality is, these are mistakes I see being made every day. I work with non-profit organizations primarily in helping them with capital campaigns branding, messaging, and materials and find the following to be common stumbling blocks.

1. Not making sure their messaging is strategically on target. Any marketing person worth their salt wouldn’t dream of starting a project without developing a Creative Strategy Statement or Brief. This is an exercise we take all of our capital campaign clients through prior to beginning to develop the case for support. Recently I had a client balk at the idea, confident that they had their messaging down. I asked them to humor me. What ensued was a stimulating and thought-provoking discussion that – lo and behold – yielded a very different perspective on their differentiators, primary benefit and brand promise.

2. Not consistently making the connection between organizational impact and donors. It is not enough to thank donors when they give to your annual campaigns, capital campaigns, or attend your fundraising events or to say “thank you” once a year in a letter that appears in your annual report. “Thank you” is about consistently making the connection between your organization’s impact and the fact that none of it would be possible if not for the donors and volunteers who support your organization in all your messaging. Sometimes I feel that organizations get so worried about making sure they communicate their impact and tell their stories well that they “forget” to make this ultimate connection back to the donors. It’s not that they never make the connection, it’s that it’s not made often enough (i.e. at every opportunity).

3. Not remembering that communication with donors is an end in itself. Which is a nice way of saying that soliciting money in every communication with donors is a HUGE no-no. No one wants to be the parent whose kid only calls or writes when they want something. Look for ways to make your major donors know that you thought about them specifically.  If they are important enough to qualify as a major donor, you should know them well enough to know a good deal about their passions and interests beyond your organization. And what about those donors who have the potential to become major donors? Reach out with important news before it’s generally known, remember birthdays and holidays, recognize major life events (theirs), treat them as the cherished friends they are or that you want them to be.

For more information on The Fundraising Resource Group and how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success through high-impact, high-return fundraising activities, visit our website at

Stop signThe Internet is awash with articles and blog posts about what fundraising consultants can do for your non-profit organization. Today I want to talk about what they can’t do, both from an ethical standpoint and a practical one.

1. They shouldn’t guarantee their work. Recently, I found myself going round and round with a prospective client on this issue. This person wanted assurances that in hiring our firm we could reach their capital campaign goal (never mind the fact that our firm did not handle their feasibility study). There are simply no absolutes in fundraising, just as there is no effective one-size-fits-all approach to success. There are “best practices,” proven methodologies and a large body of fundraising knowledge (and even more variables). If you find a consultant who is comfortable guaranteeing a fundraising goal, run away! (BTW, that prospect is now a client and we have confidence in our goals, but no guarantees.)

2. They shouldn’t evade accountability. Recently, I came across a scathing rant against non-profit consultants. Sadly, any good and reputable consultant that has been in the business a long time has likely found themselves helping an organization that has had a bad experience with an ineffective consultant. This is why it is so important that nonprofits do their homework and due diligence when choosing a consultant. Every business has its bad apples. Good consultants have proven methodologies, provide actionable advice and have a verifiable track record of success. They make sure there are well-defined goals and objectives. They share their experience, skills and knowledge to reach these objectives and goals and in our case, education and training for the ongoing, sustainable benefit of the organization.

3. They shouldn’t suggest or imply they can use their personal contacts to raise money. This is a topic I have covered before. Reputable, effective consultants do not go from job to job with their own list of prospects. They do not reveal the identity of donors to other organizations they have worked with. If the idea of having a consultant who can “open doors” for you to major donors you don’t know is appealing, stop and ask yourself, where did those donors come from and where will they go when your work is done with this consultant? And read my blog post, Who’s Relationship is it, Anyway?

4. They shouldn’t solicit money for you, unless they go as part of a team or there is a clear relationship benefit for the organization. Nor should you want them to. Good fundraising consultants educate and train you and your staff, your board, and volunteers how to effectively solicit funds so that the relationship-building is yours, not theirs.

5. They shouldn’t work on a commission basis. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is thorough and clear on the potential pitfalls and abuses such a system can foster in their position paper on this subject.

For more information on The Fundraising Resource Group and how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success through high-impact, high-return fundraising activities, visit our website at

John LennonI usually like to write or talk about things that I have some measure of expertise in, experience with, or at least an informed opinion of. But as 2013 comes to a close and it is time to plan for the coming year for our fundraising consulting business and to make personal resolutions, I hit some roadblocks. There are just some things I have no clue about and therefore simply can’t plan for. Here is why:

1.January 1 has No Relation to December 31
Each year seems to bring some unexpected event or events that form an outcome never anticipated despite the “best laid plans.” After the ball dropped in 2009, I had no idea that I would meet the one who would become the most important person to me for the rest of my life and also turn out to be a darn good marketing guru. Conversely, I had no idea that such a promising 2010 would end with someone I considered a friend and whom I trusted (as it turns out too much) would betray me in an unimaginable way. Just as surprisingly, once we put away the noisemakers in 2011 and 2012, and put that betrayal behind us, we would understand that it was one of the best things that ever happened for us. This January 1, 2013 when we woke up in Dallas, Texas we never anticipated that we would find ourselves living in Florida to be closer to my aging in-laws by December 31st.

Robert Frost said “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” I guess that makes me the morning. The one thing I do know is that there is no telling where the crooked trail of 2014 will lead, but I welcome it. I do hope it will be a little less eventful on the personal side with even more excitement with the nonprofit organizations we serve.

2.You Never Know Who You Will Meet
There was a time in my professional career several years back when I considered tuning in my fundraising consultant frequent flyer card and hitching my wagon to a non-profit organization with a single cause I could care deeply about. Had I done that I would never have met the folks at Breakthrough Urban Ministries or Olive Crest. I wouldn’t know the unselfish educators of Cleveland Central Catholic High School; or just this year, the passion of the people at the Center for Great Apes, and vision of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, or loving care of those at Lourdes Senior Center. In my work as a fundraising consultant across the country, I meet the best of the best every year, and I never know who it will be next.

I get to rub shoulders with the most dedicated, passionate, and capable people who have, in many cases, eschewed other more lucrative opportunities to serve in the not-for-profit world, and volunteers who generously part with their time and cash for causes for which they care. 2013 also brought new friends and colleagues with the addition of some very talented and experienced additions to our team whom I didn’t even know existed when the year began, but now I consider friends. I wonder who I will meet this year.

3.What Difference Does it Make?
My name, or The Fundraising Resource Group, are rarely mentioned at the dedication of a new facility after a successful capital campaign. Most often we do not meet the people whose lives are changed because a non-profit we helped raised a little (or a lot) more than they did the year before in their annual fundraising appeal or major gift fundraising plan. Sometimes we don’t even meet those whose lives are transformed because of their own philanthropy and giving. Then there are the thousands that attend our free fundraising webinars that we may never get to know on a personal level but who are striving to hone their craft to do even more. We really don’t have a clue how many lives are being changed because of the work of the non-profit organizations we encounter, but what we do know is that because of these organizations and those that support them, we get to be a little part of the difference they make.

A Word from John Lennon
John Lennon said “Life is what happens while you are busy making plans.” I am a big believer in planning, but I am also grateful for the things I have no clue about, and embrace the challenges and opportunities those uncertainties bring. See you next year. That’s my plan. Happy New Year!

As you look back on 2013 what was your most insightful experience?

For more information about The Fundraising Resource Group’s relational fundraising and marketing services, visit our website at

Screen shot from The Puzzle of Motivation "there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does"I have yet to watch a TED talk that I didn’t find insightful, if not inspirational. After listening to Dan Pink talk on The Puzzle of Motivation, which is the basis of his book, Drive, it occurred to me that what he has to say should be good news for non-profit organizations. According to Pink, research has proven – over and over again – that for all but the most narrowly focused tasks in business, money is not the big motivator. This should be a small bit of good news to the many non-profit organizations that have limited resources to compensate their employees.

Pink identifies three factors that are critical to motivation and not surprising; having a sense of purpose is one of them. In fact, Pink says that connecting to a cause greater than yourself drives the deepest motivation. Elizabeth Moss Kanter, author and Professor at Harvard Business School, writes on this same topic in her blog post The Happiest People Pursue the Most Difficult Problems, asserting that meaning helps people to go the extra mile and stay engaged, “People can be inspired to stretch goals and tackle impossible challenges if they care about the outcome.” Having a passion for an organization’s mission is usually what drives people to work for a non-profit organization.

But what about the other two factors Pink sites as motivators: autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives – and mastery – the desire to get better at something that matters? This is where I think most non-profit organizations are challenged.

Dan Pink giving TED talkBoundaries
Having spent most of my career working with for-profit companies, part of this can be attributed to a lack of well-defined boundaries. In the companies I have worked for everyone had a written job description, there was a set chain-of-command and the board of directors was removed enough from the day-to-day operations of the company that employees very rarely felt their opinions and influence. Since I have begun working with non-profits I have seen accounting staff invited to attend and weigh-in in marketing meetings, presidents allow board members to make all kinds of decisions for them – from staffing and job responsibilities to logo designs – and a slew of other head-scratching behaviors that inhibit smart decision-making and productivity. I attribute this to the “touchy-feely” factor upon which non-profits are based; that compassion and empathy for others that can lead to erroneously believing everyone’s opinion counts. In business, everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion but not every opinion matters – nor should it.

Autonomy can also be noticeably absent in non-profits that are founder-driven. The founder who has put his or her heart and soul into growing the non-profit and does so successfully until they reach a point where they just can’t do it all, and yet they can’t let go and let others do it for them. Others aren’t empowered to make decisions and everything bottlenecks. And there is no more certain recipe for failure than holding an employee accountable for outcomes without giving them the ability to direct those outcomes. It happens in the for-profit sector as well. At that point, the organization either stagnates (and will likely cease to exist when the founder is gone), dies, or outside forces move to replace that individual. I had the unfortunate experience of working for such a company once. I have never seen so many smart, talented and yet unproductive and unhappy people. The board eventually ousted the founder; it was a matter of survival. But in the meantime, the company suffered an incredible drain of talent; highly motivated people move on to opportunities that allow them to pursue mastery.

I can say unequivocally, if you want the best, the brightest and the most highly motivated workers – and you want them to stay with you – you have to give them the autonomy to make decisions and to learn and grow from their own mistakes. Yes, mistakes. Everyone makes them and I would argue those are the lessons that we learn best. John Wooden, the famous UCLA coach who won an unprecedented ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period – seven in a row – said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I am positive a doer makes mistakes.”

Try truly empowering your people and watch them, and your organization’s impact in the world, grow.

For more information about The Fundraising Resource Group’s relational fundraising and marketing services, visit our website at

Lee NeelWritten by Lee Neel, Vice President of Marketing, The Fundraising Resource Group.  Lee holds her master’s degree in advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and has over 30 years of experience in marketing, working for both for-profit and non-profit organizations.