by Steve Adubato, PhD

This week, I spoke at the Third Annual Not-for-Profit Conference sponsored by Investors Bank entitled, “The Art of Thriving”. Over 300 not-for-profit leaders attended a variety of seminars and workshops focusing on a range of leadership, communication and management skills needed to succeed in these highly challenging days, post-Hurricane Sandy.

When I asked these leaders in a highly interactive discussion about some of the keys to effectively branding and communicating their message to key stakeholders, I received some great responses. Here is a snapshot:

  • Make sure that whatever you promise you are going to do with the dollars you receive from your contributors, you deliver on that and more. These non-profit leaders understood that in these tight economic times, your word is your bond and if your grant proposal says you will deliver specific outcomes by a particular date, that is exactly what you must do, or, you risk losing the confidence of your supporters.


  • Be proactive when communicating about your success instead of waiting to be asked. These leaders instinctively knew that regular progress updates, as well as the challenges and obstacles their organizations faced, were essential to communicating the message to key stakeholders that keeping them in the know was important instead of waiting to be asked and then going on the defensive.


  • While Facebook is great, face time is just as important. Virtually all non-profit leaders in the audience were on Facebook communicating about their activities and that of their organization. However, they also understood that while social media is a powerful branding and communication tool, it will never substitute for face-to-face communication. Many said that they seek speaking opportunities in front of community groups, potential donors, and other non-profit organizations in an effort to partner and collaborate on future projects. Again, the need to make a human, personal connection was not lost, even for those who love to “Tweet”.


  • The little things communicate BIG messages. Many leaders told me that any written or public communication going out on official letterhead with the smallest mistake in grammar, in the spelling of someone’s name, or the amount in a grant proposal, sent the message that the organization was sloppy and dysfunctional. These folks clearly knew that perception equals reality in the world of branding and public reputation management.


  • Respond to a crisis quickly and candidly. These non-profit leaders spoke about the troubles of the Susan G. Komen Foundation in connection with the Planned Parenthood controversy and the negative impact this had on Komen’s public brand. These leaders knew that while the organization does great work to promote breast cancer research and to help women fight breast cancer, its poor handling of this PR crisis had a devastating effect on Komen’s ability to raise money and attract volunteers. Subsequently, many non-profit leaders learned a powerful lesson that in a crisis, when your reputation is on the line, you must react quickly with a clear and concise message and address and fix any problems your organization is responsible for. No excuses, no finger-pointing or blaming—just responsible, accountable leadership.


  • Finally, virtually everyone at “The Art of Thriving” conference seemed to know that effective branding of one’s organization and of oneself is not simply an activity or a function you check off your to-do list, but rather it is a mindset built in to an organization’s DNA. Brand-building and reputation management is something all organizations must live every day at every employee level—from the CEO to the receptionist who greets people at the front desk.