Brand with Community Pride: Learning from the Success of Higher Education
This article is adapted from a 2019 AHP Webinar Series event presented by Josh Johns, Executive Vice President of Strategy, August Jackson, and Robyn Kress, Executive Vice President of Campaign Readiness, August Jackson, led by Alice Ayres, President and CEO, Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.
Health care and higher education share a mutual goal in their respective communities — bettering an individual’s future. In attempting to achieve this goal, philanthropy stands as an integral part of development in both fields.
Affinity for organizations in higher education is more inherent than the affinities created in health care. In higher education, the local communities and nostalgic alumni provide dependable support for the organization’s ambitions. In health care, these affinities are presented much more personally — often connected to a specific doctor or staff member rather than a group identity.
Despite these differences, the stories of philanthropic success in higher education provide health care philanthropy with implementable strategies to strengthen your brand, increase support from your C-suite and attain more donor prospects.
There are three lenses from which you can view the internal structure of your organization: operational, strategic and organizational. The operational lens requires you to look at the allocation of your communications staff. Having a team — or even just one person — focused on development communications promotes a better understanding of donors among the entire communications staff and builds more seamless transitions between brand messaging and marketing. The strategic lens keeps in mind that the best and most successful efforts toward a capital campaign are well-coordinated and work across different channels. Putting together all the pieces of your philanthropic puzzle into one framework sets clearer goals for your communications and development teams. The organizational lens attempts to locate and fill in any gaps in the foundation’s internal structure. It looks for discrepancies between the public affairs, communications and development teams’ messages. In both higher education and health care philanthropy, prospective donors look for consistency in the organizations they want to support. Investing time into message continuity will reinforce the legitimacy of your cause in the eyes of potential donors.
While you are fine-tuning the intricacies of your team, talk with your leadership about someone who can be identified as a “story-catcher.” The person who works as the story-catcher is charged with keeping their attention on the community and discovering the stories of patients whose lives were positively impacted by your organization. This position keeps the vision of philanthropy clear and close to the heart of the community. The story-catcher would also keep the work of your foundation in perspective, reminding staff why they do what they do.
In higher education, university presidents and high-ranking administrators often accept the position knowing there will be a fundraising component. In health care, this affinity for philanthropy is not as innate. Once you have worked with your C-suite and board to understand what philanthropy is and the ways it can benefit your organization, you can invite them to proactively participate in fundraising efforts — even by launching campaigns of their own.
With one successful campaign, the reputations of both the organization and the person who spearheads the project can rise significantly. When your leadership understands where they fit into the philanthropic picture, they promote a publicized unity and alignment of the campaign with the community. Encouraging your leadership to use their vision of the organization’s future can be a primary catalyst for getting the community involved. Private support is critical to the longevity of an organization, and having a public-facing figure to support the work of philanthropy can be a tipping point in meeting your long-term fundraising goals.
If you are looking for the help of leadership who may not be as inclined to participate in a philanthropic campaign, try sending benchmark updates on the progress of the campaign. Data is the motivating factor for participation among many C-suites, so providing clear examples of the positive effect philanthropy has had on your mission’s success can help to get them on board.
Building Brand Bridges
In higher education and health care, multiple brand messages can exist under the same organization. In marketing, messages are tailored to the person you are trying to connect with as well as the specific goal that is trying to be achieved. However, the people these messages are trying to reach do not fall under one specific identity. One day someone can be a donor prospect, the next an athlete and the next a patient. While our brands and brand messages may change from goal to goal, people remain the same. Working to build bridges between the brands that exist under your organization will also help build bridges between your organization and your community.
Fundraising may also have the tendency to be seen as a process with the goal of benefitting the organization more than the community. Keeping the heart of your brand at the forefront of every communication can help to promote honesty and trust between you and the populations you serve. Work with an image of your brand the community is already familiar with, and rework it as needed to target unaffiliated members who may benefit from your organization. Do not fight your brand — leverage it. In higher education, the University of Maryland used their communitywide “Fear the Turtle” slogan as a platform for marketing beyond athletics. Using this slogan and the coordinating brand, UMD promoted their “Fearless Ideas” campaign. This made a clear connection for their alumni and affiliates but was also broad enough to reach nonaffiliates who wanted to get more involved with the campaign. Shaping your communications around the history and core of your organization is the most successful and often easiest way to build timeless connections with your community.
Once you’ve established the major points of your brand recognition, build a long-term plan for your place in the community. In rural areas, hospitals find that the members of the community are inclined to dig in their heels and work together when in need — they want to celebrate what they have accomplished as a group and boost the pride of their community. Across socioeconomic lines, these sentiments can be brought to your organization’s region with small, simple efforts. Present your organization as a group of individuals that is in and of the community by partnering with local businesses for events. Prospective donors do not want to read about your foundation’s ideal identity. Share your history as well as the stories of doctors, grateful patients and staff as honestly as possible. Communicate with sincerity, and the community will see you care.
Health care and philanthropy are constantly evolving fields. Do not feel the need to force your brand identity to change along with them. Much like the brands of higher education, your donor base does not need to be constantly stimulated by flashy marketing ideas. Staying true to your roots, remaining local and utilizing all the existing appreciation for your story and origin is what will keep you competitive and connected to your community for years to come.