FEDERATION LEADERS OF TOP NONPROFITS SHARE INSIGHTS & CHALLENGES – PART 1
Recently, we hosted our first ever Federation Leaders’ Knowledge Exchange, an invitation-only evening at North 44 in Toronto.
The dinner was designed to create an informal space for the leaders of some of the country’s top charities and causes to share their experiences and expertise in navigating the unique waters of a federated organization (these are non-profits with national, provincial and/or local offices, each operating as separate legal entities but most commonly under one brand/banner).
And exchange knowledge they did!
Leading up to the event, we asked each of the participants to share their top three challenges in marketing or philanthropy within a federation. Before we knew it we had compiled nine key themes. In this first part of a two-blog series, we examine five of these themes. If you work in this environment, you may recognize some of the challenges we’ve captured. As someone put it as we were wrapping up the evening, “it’s nice to know we’re not alone.”
Here at Ramp, we frequently work on public awareness or brand campaigns led by national or provincial federations. So the challenges we uncovered were certainly not a surprise. We’ve found that building TRUST among stakeholders, CONSULTATION, and FLEXIBLE campaigns that communicate both the core message of the cause and reflect local needs are the keys to success in helping organizations tell their story both internally and to the outside world.
Federations can be a powerful force – a nationwide group of supporters and ambassadors to spread your message. But with all the challenges outlined below, navigating for success can seem daunting. The good news is that with patience and the right formula, success is possible. We’ve seen it! Check out the recent campaign we launched for the Alzheimer Society of Canada federation in January 2018.
Five of the top challenges facing federated organizations and how can you overcome them:
Without question, strong channels of 2-way communication are what federations require for long-term success. It takes time, but the work required to establish the mechanisms that enable effective communication is worth the effort. What are some considerations when embarking on improved dialogue across your federation? To begin, it’s important to build systems into your day-to-day operations so that you can act quickly for short-term decision making while providing a way to capture ideas and information that will improve your organization over time. This might include educational webinars, internal newsletters (where all stakeholders are invited to have a voice and share their insights), and regularly scheduled meetings with key agenda points for discussion (and actions to take as a result of those discussions). The benefits of enhanced communication are that champions for your message will emerge because they feel empowered and connected to your larger story. As well, it is your local offices who have their ear to the ground. They are the ones on the front line, and who gain insights that have value if they can be shared across your federation.
Trust / Leadership
Strong leadership built on trust is truly a cornerstone of success. We heard, again and again, relationships are everything. Leaders at all levels that take a collaborative mindset will generally build support more readily than those with a competitive mindset. Organizations that approach fundraising from a place of scarcity, will constantly be at odds with others within the federation, holding onto information and not willing to work together to have an even greater impact. Trust is not something that happens overnight, especially when past history may be at the root of a different narrative. However, leaders that come from a place of openness and abundance can ultimately prevail!
Resources / capacity
Most non-profits and charities struggle with having the necessary resources or capacity to fully deliver on their mission or scale as they would like. And federations are no different. In particular, within federations, resource challenges can vary widely by region. Those local offices serving in less populated areas don’t always have the same capacity for marketing efforts as offices in large urban centres, making consistency a challenge. Finding common ground to facilitate revenue sharing and funding models that work for everyone will strengthen the entire organization. Use funds more efficiently by leveraging the collective buying power of the larger group, and explore ways to work in unison to eliminate waste and duplication.
Each of your local affiliates can have unique needs based on their size, where they are operating and the communities they are serving. This means “one size fits all” communications campaigns are likely going to fall short and as a national or provincial lead, being cast in the role of the mediator is no fun either. It is important to acknowledge deeply rooted regional differences and develop flexible campaigns that clearly communicate your core mission but provide opportunities to highlight local needs priorities. Early on in the inception of a new campaign, get everybody on the same page with respect to the overall goal. Rallying people around a common purpose can help to build enthusiasm and support.
Patience and time are essential, particularly if one of your goals is to establish strong awareness of your brand with the general public (this should always be one of your goals as the greater the knowledge of your purpose and what you stand for, the more likely you will engage with donors during fundraising time). As with every aspect of federation leadership, communication is key. What does the brand stand for? What does it look, feel, and sound like? What do you have in place that local offices can use to tell your story once they understand it? How can you make it flexible enough for them to use in their own unique communities? These are all considerations when establishing your brand. As well, you will always have early adopters if you refresh your brand or if you are formally developing it for the first time. These early adopters will be champions at the outset, but may also tire of the brand sooner than those who are slower to join in. Be on the lookout for brand fatigue, and remember, you live and breathe your brand every day, but for the outside world (your audience) it takes much longer for them to become aware of you.
As thought leaders on this topic, we are committed to creating even more opportunities for this type of valuable information exchange among leaders in marketing and philanthropy. If you are an executive in this field and are interested in learning more or joining our Federation Leaders’ Knowledge Exchange group, contact us, or subscribe to our newsletter. Come to think of it, you should probably do both!
In the second part of this series, we will explore the themes of COMPLEXITY, COORDINATED FUNDRAISING, AUTONOMY, and PACE OF CHANGE. So check back next week or subscribe to our blog.
If you want to have a conversation on any of these topics sooner than that, give Shelley a call!