The importance of marketing is a topic I’ve written on in the past for The Biscuit, so I won’t rehash the central premise – institutions advancing social impact (particularly nonprofits) tend to spend entirely too little on marketing and communication. This is due in part to a wrongheaded philosophy of some stakeholders who believe overhead should be kept low in favor of investment in direct services.
Uh oh. Paging Dan Pallotta! Check out his game-changing TED Talk “The way we think about charity is dead wrong” if you’ve never watched it – essential viewing in this, its 10th anniversary year.
As Pallotta notes, solid marketing is basically the only way any social good effort can ever grow – building the case for marketing’s role in increasing resources from donors and customers. But as many service providers in Charlotte are finding out in the post-pandemic era, strong messaging is also needed to drive demand for services. There is a lot of well-meaning programming deployed in our region that is not connecting with the constituencies it intends to serve – and that needs to change.
In an increasingly connected world, effectively communicating your value proposition is essential. Unpaid social media and email newsletters can only get you so far. (Which reminds me – sign up for our newsletter if you aren’t on the list. And maybe tell a friend!)
Taking Our Own Medicine
I’ll admit that Next Stage has made the same mistake in the past as the organizations we serve, but no more. “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t going to fly going forward. We have invested so much of our team’s time in thought leadership – weekly blog posts, video content, trend reports – but have not been as intentional in other aspects of our marketing efforts.
That is starting to change. One big way is in moving into a new office, prominently located on Central Avenue in the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte. Through ArtPop’s Inspiration Projects program, we have commissioned artist Darion Fleming to transform the entryway to our new office into a mural depicting his take on our theory of change. It is a mural you will be able to see illuminated from the street, creating a permanent billboard for the community to enjoy. I am so excited to watch this unfold!
We also recently updated our website copy to align more closely to the work we are actually doing in the world these days. A shout out to Susan Arrington on our team who spearheaded this project. The language describing our service lines is fresh, contemporary and on-point.
And we aren’t done yet. This is version 1.5 of a full website update we have planned for later this year.
Collaboration & Social Impact for Business
One of the major themes you will find on our new website is that of collaboration.
As I shared with you back in October, our team has grown significantly over the last few years to meet the needs of the communities we are driven to serve. We are centering collaboration in everything we do at Next Stage because we believe collaboration fuels social impact. We’ve seen this first-hand through the nearly 200 partnerships we have made with nonprofits, private sector companies, government agencies, faith institutions, philanthropies and resident-led community-based institutions.
My team is driven to explore the intersection of the six sectors listed above in our Collaboration Management service line because we believe its the way forward through today’s toughest challenges.
Next Stage is also pioneering new approaches to collaboration between nonprofits and the private sector to create Impact for Business. If you haven’t checked out the Executive Summary to our forthcoming publication Profit & Purpose: The ESG Addendum, we encourage you to download it now.
Collaboration shows up in other ways through two additional service lines: Brand & Marketing and Community Voice. Both are center stage for us in really big ways. If Collaboration Management and Impact for Business are our future-looking company’s social innovations, our work in communication and community engagement are services very much in the spotlight.
At its heart, brand and content marketing is not about metrics or going viral, but all about building a relationship between an institution and a constituent. Earning trust and stewarding the value proposition between those two partners should be the aim of any communication strategy. To do so well requires a thoughtful approach, and luckily, our team is comprised of more marketing talent than anything else these days!
Janet Ervin leads our company as Chief Marketing Officer and also heads up our brand marketing services. Chief Experience Officer Christine Eubanks brings 25 years of experience with marketing firms in Chicago, Raleigh and Charlotte where she led client relationships. You are likely most-familiar with our Marketing Manager Candice Rawls, who leads our digital communication efforts, as the host of our Backstage with Next Stage video series. Our most recent addition, Digital Content & Community Manager Susan Arrington, does double-duty supporting both our Cultivate collaboration management platform and annual marketing planning for clients.
This talented team can tackle a wide range of brand and marketing-related projects:
- Brand Development – We love helping institutions build effective brand strategy that centers alignment with key constituencies. We use ‘the hero’s journey’ that places the constituent as the protagonist in your story, developing an effective, human-centered brand platform to strengthen that relationship. We help institutions define audience personas, develop core messages for social media and print and bring brands to life with new visuals, including logo creation and website design.
- Annual Marketing Services – Your marketing strategy should always evolve as your needs change. Our team of strategists can conduct a marketing assessment to explore how your goals match with your strategy and infrastructure, and then design an effective, metric-driven plan to guide your future communication efforts.
- Impact & Sustainability Reporting – To successfully share your impact you need hard metrics and stories that strike a chord. Translating the combination of qualitative and quantitative data is the goal of our reporting work, which works with companies, nonprofits and institutions of all types to communicate a compelling, easy-to-follow narrative that results in increased positive perception.
- Campaign Development – When your organization aspires to accomplish something specific with its communication efforts, a targeted campaign may be the best way to get it done. We get excited by the process of building an effective campaign strategies and content that move the needle towards your goals.
We believe direct engagement with your core constituents – relational marketing – is among the most important marketing you can do. Next Stage’s Community Voice service line is led by Helen Hope Kimbrough, whose background in community engagement has served countless client engagements since she joined our team in 2021.
Next time on the blog, we’ll unpack how we have built a community voice service line to support two-way directional communication, helping inform institutions and constituents alike. You won’t be surprised to learn that leveraging the asset of trust is a key ingredient, and that transparent communication is critical in that process.
For now, we hope you will let us know if we can help with your institution’s needs “at the intersection of social good.” We would welcome the opportunity to learn more about how we might help.
Written by Josh Jacobson