What Nonprofits Can Learn from Stradivarius

By Josh Gold

I was listening to an NPR podcast the other day about an experiment conducted with Stradivarius violins.

This name is absolute legend in classical music circles and in pop culture in general. A Stradivarius is the the ultimate standard in quality. It’s the go-to example of excellence.

But how much of the hype is real?

The podcast described a blind test where musicians tried out several different violins to see if they could actually pick the Stradivarius out from some less acclaimed modern competition.

As it turns out? Not so much. In fact, the Strads were some of the least popular options in the group.

For hundreds of years, we’ve all just known that a Stradivarius was the best violin you could get. It was common sense. Even hearing about the experiment, and even reading about other researchers who replicated it and got the same result, it’s hard for me to let go of the belief that a Stradivarius is special somehow. I don’t even play the violin! I don’t play any instrument. The associations of the Stradivarius brand are just that strong.

Whoever was in charge of Antonio Stradivaris PR was way ahead of the curve.

Of course, that’s what I would take away from this story. I work with clients all the time to help them identify and articulate their brands because I believe in the importance of standing for something unique. Creating a name for yourself, a place in the public consciousness, is one of the most important things you can do to further the cause of your organization.

This can be a difficult argument to make to a board or budget committee.

When your funding comes from donations, it’s crucial to ensure that it’s being spent on real accomplishments and not just cosmetic touches. Hyping up your own name is hard to justify as an expense. There’s a misconception that the only good spending is that which goes directly to serving the public – and that everything else is frivolous.

To me, though, the real question is: Could you be doing more? What opportunities are passing you by?

With enough brand recognition, you wouldn’t have to worry about recruitment – all the best and brightest would be clamoring for your attention. You wouldn’t have to worry about getting meetings with big donors; they’d take your calls gladly, happy to catch up, then go out and tell their friends about the great work you’re doing. You’d be invited to partner with other nonprofits to achieve larger-scale projects, or to give talks and share your insights.

When your name itself commands respect, you have the time and resources to move your cause forward instead of being weighed down by daytoday concerns. Doors open before you even have time to knock.

Think about Stradivarius, and ask yourself:

  • Is your organization growing the way you want it to?
  • What are your budget priorities?
  • How do you think branding could help you achieve them?

Josh Gold, owner of Serio Films, has helped nonprofits raise millions of dollars through video-based marketing. You can follow Josh and his team over at seriofilms.com and facebook.com/seriofilms.