Branding Jewish NPO’s: No Purim Shpiel

Purim Shpiel by Boris Shapiro; courtesy Simcha Art Gallery.

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

With the thoughts about the Purim holiday, we are reminded of the many “masks” that nonprofit organizations wear and some of the institutional games that we play, and at least one of the messages that we get from reading the Megila. The mandate: rather than hiding one’s identity, be forthcoming about who you are and work diligently to identify your goals and vision.

One contemporary lesson from Purim: the more a nonprofit is aware of and framing its image, the more successful it will be in maintaining and attracting financial and passionate support, along with successful brand recognition.

Nonprofits of all sizes need to regularly redefine – and reaffirm – their positions within the Jewish marketplace. We acknowledge that the nonprofit arena is undergoing many changes and some of our iconic institutions are either vanishing or diminishing. Recall which Jewish agencies of our alphabet soup no longer exist (think American Jewish Congress [AJC] or some of the synagogues and JCC’s where we spent our youth.) At the same time, other organizations are experiencing unprecedented expansion and support.

The choice is to embrace the need for marketing savvy or face the threat of perceived irrelevance. We point, for example, to synagogues across North America. With the average life span of a synagogue building today at 50 years, congregations are growing or ebbing because of population changes, where people are moving between certain urban and suburban areas and then back again. Congregations must face the need to adjust their facilities as much as they adjust programs and services.

But some would say, “We’re already investing significant dollars in advertising and self promotion.” But are those resources focused on the right priorities? How are priorities determined? Know that while you are questioning your competitors are introducing new approaches and beautiful facilities, getting more and more aggressive and making use of every tool available to stand above and apart.

Snoozing means losing today and this requires more aggressive outreach, as well as in-reach. And this circumstance calls for constrained budgets to include more dollars for marketing, branding, and progressive communications efforts … unprecedented but critical.

Rebranding is especially critical if your organization is preparing to undertake a fundraising campaign, increase efforts at attracting a previously illusive segment of the population (synagogues: have you considered this issue in attracting young, single people?); or if the organization has undergone significant change (congregations merging, service agencies serving adding revenue-generating, fee-for-service modules).

With the panoply of communication approaches, and the need to stay current, it is no Purim shpiel that marketing programs need to be reviewed and updated annually. Even organizational logos and other materials require updating every 10 years. We acknowledge, too, that what attracts our attention ranges from traditional (like direct mail and telephone) to technologically current or advanced (Facebook, Twitter, or other social media venues). With the flood of information, many people are almost shutting down and refusing to read or even listen to an unrelenting assault of promotion! Therefore, using these tools to create increased opportunities for personal contacts probably are becoming an even more important and successful mode of sharing information. Return to the future?

Warning: the successful rebranding process will likely be provocative and soul-searching. Evaluating the messaging and image of your organization will require you to identify the sometimes subtle and elusive pathways to people’s emotions, values, and self-definition. The personal/emotional connection is crucial, especially as a growing number of brands (did you know your organization is/has a brand?) compete for the same charitable dollars. Capturing the spirit and inspiration of your audiences is key to building long-term relationships with donors and other key stakeholders.

The branding process should include multiple sessions with staff and some representatives of your intended audience – especially top volunteer leaders. Exercises should include individual, team and group formats to allow for different types of reflection and brainstorming. The result of this process should be group consensus around the impacts that your organization makes, the images and words that best capture them, and the audiences to whom this information must be conveyed.

The mantra we all hear and repeat to others is about too much information coupled with not enough time in the day. Keep this in mind as you get into the heads of your intended audiences – they need a simple message with a clear and agile directive that stays at the tip of their minds and hearts. What is the one word that is synonymous with your organization? What is the relationship that the audience can have with your brand?

The answers to these questions will help form the foundation for your communications and fundraising efforts and should be reflected on your website, in your collaterals, and advertising.

Branding will continue to be an important issue for Jewish nonprofits for the foreseeable future. As Jewish institutions grapple with how “Jewish” to be and as the connection between younger generations of potential Jewish donors and constituents becomes more tenuous, nonprofits will have to make intentional and well-strategized decisions about their image in the marketplace.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook; TWITTER: @EHLConsultGrp