How Nonprofits Can Meaningfully Engage With Consumers And Inspire Action

How Nonprofits Can Meaningfully Engage with and Compel People to Take Action

By Scott Watts, Chief Operating Officer, at Tank Design

For nearly 30 years, we have worked with brands helping them imagine and re-imagine their unique positioning. From brand strategy and naming to building complex digital experiences, we help bring the essence of a brand to life.

When we think about developing a brand, we often break it down into three stages: creating the strategic and visual positioning, translating the new brand into all of the necessary tools to support customer journeys, and – once the tools are in place – brand activation, which is the process of generating awareness of the brand among consumers and supporting ongoing engagement.

Our job is to help brands dig deep to understand their core. Things that sound basic but are the essence of the brand. We ask: Who are you as a brand? What do you stand for? What do you believe in? As a design firm, we work to bring that to life through words, pictures, colors, typography, patterns, etc. Although the approach is the same with nonprofit organizations, there are specific things to keep in mind.

During Advertising Week, we sat down with two amazing women who are helping to lead important nonprofits: our client at Re:wild, the Director of Brand and Marketing, Carrie Hutchinson, and our new friend, Amber Hamilton, Executive Director of Memphis Music Initiative, to talk about branding specifically for nonprofits.

Here are some of the highlights of that conversation.

Make Sure It’s a Two-Way Partnership

It’s important for nonprofits to be protected when working with corporate brands, which, by virtue of having the money and the assets, often appear to have more power. The front-end of the partnership between Memphis Music Initiative were wrappers on KitKat and Hershey’s cookies ‘n’ creme bars featuring the organization’s logo and work from three Black women artists as well as a QR code leading consumers to a microsite for more information about the nonprofit. While this was great, Amber wanted to ensure that the young people themselves got something out of the partnership: “After 2020, a lot of corporations were hoping to partner with groups that support Black and Brown communities, but some of it felt exploitative. For me, it was like, you’re not going to use our rhythm but not understand our moves. You are not going to put some Brown faces on your site or in your ads but not understand their full humanity.” Luckily, Hershey was very supportive and worked closely with the young people. Amber’s advice to brands looking to work with nonprofits is to “really listen to who they are, what their needs are, and think about how you can merge those things without taking advantage and exploiting them.” Her advice to nonprofits is even simpler, “Sometimes you have to say no; you can’t let folks in who don’t align with who you really are or want to use you in ways that don’t feel authentic.”

Play to Everyone’s Strength

A good partnership starts with values that align and roles that are clearly understood. Carrie discussed a number of the partnerships Re:wild has taken on and explained the importance of everybody knowing what they were going to do. “We did an original content series with Snapchat, which was a lot of fun, and it was a great example of everybody bringing their best talents to the table. They’re great at reaching 13-to-25-year-olds and creating programming for mobile, we’re connected to fungi experts and people who know why biodiversity is important. It was a perfect combo; we were executive producers on the show and helped source content and guide the messaging, while they made sure young people saw it.”

Be Clear on Your Objectives

Like any other marketing campaign, a partnership between a nonprofit and a brand needs to define who its audience is and what the goal is for each partner. Amber put it this way: “We knew that people weren’t going to rip open their KitKats and turn it over and give us a bunch of money. But what we found was that it allowed us to level up in terms of exposure and that gave us a bigger platform to talk about the actual work and commitment to the young people.” For brands, these partnerships show purpose and a commitment to an issue, while nonprofits can use these opportunities to talk more to people about what matters.

Connect With Your End Audience

In any partnership, both the brand and the nonprofit are trying to find messages that resonate with their end audience. In the case of nonprofits, they need to inspire people to take action, whether that’s by signing a petition or giving money. The best way to do this is to ask a lot of questions and look for a lot of opinions. Carrie explained, “I’m lucky that I live with a 14-year-old who is a focus group of one for a lot of things, but also, I read the emails that come into our general inbox and comments on social media. When our initiative to stop drilling in Okavango was the subject of an op-ed by Prince Harry and a local Namibian activist, I read all the comments. You can get so much insight from what other people are saying. The best messaging, the good golden nuggets that could be the story arc, often comes from other people.”

Nonprofits are a brand like any other. As such, it is important to have an authentic vision and voice and equally important partners that genuinely believe in what you’re doing. This will build true resonance and earn both the nonprofit and the brand partner a place in consumers’ hearts and minds.