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.)
The 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
There 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 www.thefundraisingresource.com.