Moving Philanthropy from Legacy to Leadership: Q&A With BBMG’s Mirm Kriegel

-1Last week we shared a sneak peak at BBMG’s latest white paper: “From Legacy to Leadership: Is Philanthropy Ready for the New Consumer?” which explores how branding, innovation and consumer engagement can drive social impact and help move legacy nonprofits into leadership brands. (Click for a copy of the free, downloadable white paper.)

Now we sit down with Mirm Kriegel, head of BBMG’s Philanthropy and Social Enterprise practice, to explore further what today’s legacy institutions can do to become tomorrow’s passion brands.

Moving Philanthropy from Legacy to Leadership: Q&A With BBMG’s Mirm Kriegel

Q: The premise of this white paper on philanthropy is based on insights into the conscious consumer – people making purchasing decisions based on their values. How do you make the connection between purchasers and donors/volunteers?

A: Ultimately, we’re talking about people here, not sectors. So the premise is that people’s values as consumers don’t change when they engage in philanthropy. They’re the same people demanding transparency, accountability and authenticity across all areas, whether they’re doing it as consumers or donors. At the end of the day, what we’re really talking about is engagement – how brands across all sectors create value and build lasting relationships with their audiences.

Q: One of the key trends in philanthropy that you describe is this shift in communications – from top-down to bottom-up. What’s involved in this sort of change, and what are the implications for today’s communications and marketing officers?

A: Thanks to social media, there’s been a clear transfer of power in terms of who owns the brand message. And that means some pretty profound consequences for CMOs and communications directors – not just in terms of becoming conversant in the language of social media, which many legacy institutions are already doing. More than that, it requires a fairly radical shift in culture. For an organization’s supporters to really champion the brand, there has to be a culture change from the inside, a willingness to let go of controlling the message and encourage your most passionate supporters (your Passionate 10%) to become your ambassadors. Because the most powerful brands thrive when they’re co-owned by consumers.

Politics aside, Obama’s campaign is the perfect example. He clearly owned ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ but his supporters each appropriated the brand in their own way. You’ll notice there’s no official Barack Obama site. It’s The groundswell of support comes from individuals, from the bottom up – not from the top-down.

I’d say that’s one of the toughest and most important lessons: Let go. Because the truth is, if you’re relevant at all, you’re not in control of your message anyway.

Q: On a related note, you talk quite a bit about democratizing fundraising in this new paradigm, the voices of the many superseding the power of the few. For legacy brands in particular, what does this mean for major gifts fundraising, which in many ways exemplifies the power of the few?

A: While we’re not fundraising consultants, there’s no indication that major gifts fundraising is going away any time soon. The difference from a brand perspective is that for an organization to be seen as truly relevant to today’s consumers, it can’t afford to limit itself only to what’s worked in the past. In short, it can’t only (or even mostly) be about major gifts anymore. The organization, and ultimately the brand, has to be more inclusive than that. Especially with the demands of the new consumer – they want to be involved and engaged. They want reasons to believe and belong. They want to join and even shape the conversation. So nonprofits today have to be innovative in meeting that need, creating new pathways for participation. Which goes back to this idea of culture change – moving away from exclusivity and toward a broader community of shared values. This is the only way organizations will be able to build entire movements around their brand.

Q: You talk about larger nonprofit brands losing market share to smaller organizations like the charity:waters of the world. At the end of the day, does size matter? And is it actually a detriment in this new economy?

A: I think it’s less about size and more about an ability to be nimble and proactive, to anticipate the needs of today’s consumer. Sure, smaller organizations have some advantages there, but there are plenty of large nonprofits doing some very innovative things, from leveraging social media tools to cultivate loyal tribes (March of Dimes, Smithsonian, Planned Parenthood) to integrating new revenue streams into their business model. And some of them have been doing it for a very long time (Heifer International). Even big organizations can act small. It’s less about size and more about delivering value and impact.

Q: Some would argue that one of the silver linings of the economic fallout is that it forces many nonprofits that are duplicating services to streamline operations by either collapsing or merging. At the end of this chapter, how do those organizations left standing capture mindshare and market share?

A: This is where defining your triple value proposition becomes so important. It helps organizations maintain or enhance their relevance. Consumers are looking for three types of value: practical value (personal relevance), social value (positive impact on the world) and tribal value (community of shared values). If an organization can’t legitimately define its personal relevance, demonstrate its social impact and identify reasons for belonging, it will lose out in the competition for mindshare and resources. Bottom line, brands that demonstrate their practical, social and tribal value will survive. Those that don’t, won’t.

Q: If you had to identify one thing that this past year has taught us, what would it be?

A: Transparency would certainly be up there, but in addition, I’d say it has taught us the importance of being nimble and breaking free from old ways of doing things. We’ve seen this year that even the most tried-and-true methods – of soliciting, of investing, of doing business in general – aren’t in fact always true. And so the most successful organizations, from both an operational and brand perspective, will be those that can stay relevant by creating innovative solutions that might defy institutional memory and break the rules a bit.

Q: Congrats on your baby boy! We hear he just passed a big milestone – the three-month hump. Is he sleeping through the night yet?

A: Well, if 4:30 AM is officially the next morning, then, sure, I guess you could say he’s sleeping through the night…

Mirm Kriegel is Director of Philanthropy and Social Enterprise at BBMG, a nationally recognized branding and integrated marketing firm dedicated to creating innovative brands that engage and inspire today’s increasingly conscious consumers.

Reprinted with permission from BBMG.