Written by Janet Ervin

I feel lucky to have the chance to work directly with every member of the Next Stage team. One of my favorite partners is Helen because we’re usually working to match community voice to an organization’s messaging efforts. In the course of this work, we talk to a LOT of stakeholders and community members (ask Helen how many Zoom interviews she does in a month – the number is impressive, y’all).

The conversations frequently center on the social good work happening in our region and the organizations carrying out that work. We hear everything from insight into people’s perceptions of organizations and who is doing great work to learning which companies love to partner up and how people feel about programs and messages. We’re honored to be part of these conversations and have the ability to translate this feedback into meaningful plans and messaging that resonates.

But there’s one comment – always expressed as a compliment – that sounds like a record scratch.

“That organization is so great! They are a best-kept secret.” 

This comment is always said with positive intent, by someone who respects the work of the organization. It means that they want to share their ‘insider knowledge’ so that other people love and have access to this great work too. It suggests that the organization is exemplary, well-loved…and that the organization could make an even greater impact if only more people knew about their work.

Here’s the pep talk part of this post.

Your organization’s mission is worth making noise about. The issues our communities are facing are significant. Whether your work supports food security, housing, women’s rights, educational equity or animal advocacy – your voice is worth hearing. Each of these causes (and more!) deserve space in the broader conversation and no one is better equipped to contribute to that conversation than the social good leaders who are most proximate to those issues.

Now here’s the challenge.

If your organization is a ‘best-kept secret,’ then you need a new marketing plan. Some organizations embrace this label because they feel humbled by the intensity of this work and want to keep their purpose laser-focused on the community. They rightly value the stories of their constituents and feel uncomfortable with marketing their services and stories. Others simply don’t have time amid the busyness of everyday programming. And still others feel lost in the changes of a post-pandemic world and the shifting demands of marketing in the last few years. Let’s be clear – the most important thing a nonprofit will do in a day is partner with the people they serve to deliver high-quality programs that contribute to meaningful outcomes. But if people don’t know about the work you’re doing, it means something needs to be done to elevate your value proposition and the stories of your community – because your community and your work deserve that spotlight.

Emerging trend lines point to this becoming even more of a challenge. Over the last year, our team has been hearing about diminishing referral pipelines. Some formerly full programs are now working harder to fill those spots – and it certainly isn’t due to reduced need. The reasons for this are too many to cover in this post, but suffice it to say, getting the word out about your programs is more important than ever.

If you’ve ever heard the words ‘best kept secret’ uttered about your own organization (or want to make sure that you don’t!), here are several considerations:

  • Know your value – The causes you champion are powerful. Clearly defining your organization’s mission, vision and value proposition will help people understand who you are. In turn, your staff and board can more clearly communicate this value to the wider community. This doesn’t take away an organization’s humility or community-centric values – it means that you think your cause is worth advocating for.
  • Know your audiences – Knowing who you’re talking to is the best way to keep your marketing authentic. Understanding the needs and challenges of your clients, donors and volunteers will help center the stories and messages that resonate. When in doubt, try testing out your messages with these personas – you’ll quickly learn the language that motivates and engages.
  • Lead with stories – If you’ve ever been in a brand workshop with our team, you’ve likely heard the words, “Your brand is not the hero” – because it’s not! Centering the stories and outcomes of your constituents in authentic, respectful ways will quickly help people relate to your cause and motivate them to act. This is also what makes impact-centered marketing feel grounded and authentic. Centering the stories of your community will prevent that inauthentic feeling and ensure that people can see themselves in your organization’s broader story.
  • Embrace your role as a thought leader – Proximity to our community’s most pressing issues make many nonprofits well-positioned experts on these topics. Consider elevating your organization’s voice and profile to speak to higher-level, systemic issues, offering valuable community perspective. Nonprofits have traditionally been seen as service providers. And while that is true, community leaders are now looking for social investment partners to help create innovative solutions and authentic relationships within communities.

More than anything, confidence is key. Remember – ‘best-kept secret’ means that you already have an engaged community that is cheering you on. Take that energy and focus on spreading your message far and wide. And if you need help, call us!