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Creating a Well-Packaged Nonprofit

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Got Milk. Evian Live Young. The Quicksilver dynamite surfing video. The rapid growth of boutique hotels.

One reason for the growth of boutique hotels, said Henry H. Harteveldt, travel analyst for Forrester Research, is a reaction by travelers against large hotels that are much the same. "Everybody pays attention to design," Mr. Harteveldt continued. "People like things a little bit different, offbeat. And they make someone who may have a rather mundane life feel hip."

Everybody pays attention to design. Not just travelers looking for a new hotel... everybody. We all have aesthetic responses. These responses vary from person to person but with some commonalities. We all have emotional responses to color: think of food. A grilled cheese sandwich is more appealing because it's orange and not gray. A redder tomato, a bluer blueberry. These colors trigger positive reactions in us. As does a good song or the symmetry of a child's face.

The for-profit corporate sector figured this out long ago and advertising agencies evolved to manipulate aesthetics in ways that motivated us to do things -- mostly buy things we did or did not need. Visual branding created legions of logos that grew to form a language of their own, one that crosses borders and isn't held back by accents or grammar.

But for the most part, the non-profit sector has neglected the value of aesthetics in reaching their consumers -- their clients, volunteers and donors.

I can't speak for my nonprofit colleagues as to why this is so, but I can articulate why it's a mistake.

Says Mr. Harteveldt, "One reason for [the growth of boutique hotels] is a reaction by travelers against large hotels that are much the same, no matter the location." Donors react the same way.

Like laundry detergent, nonprofits sit on a crowded store shelf, shoulder to shoulder with other brands. And like laundry detergent, most nonprofits do an excellent job of removing dirt. So how does a donor chose which nonprofit to support with over a million in this country to pick from?

While product innovators captured a share of consumers who will always remain faithful because of dedication and loyalty -- using Tide is as passed down as supporting the Opera -- as the playing field became more crowded, for-profit companies knew that in order to reach more consumers they had to create catchy aesthetic platforms that used color, dynamic logos and up-beat songs.

Advertisers know that our aesthetic responses are woven into our emotional DNA and that we make decisions based on those impulses. We buy goods, we shop certain stores, we even chose mates, based on our aesthetic reactions.

What about the nonprofit market? By not incorporating aesthetics into the infrastructure of a nonprofit agency, leadership is 100 percent underutilizing a tool that will create strong, emotional, and valuable relationships to their agency's mission.

What does this look like?

• Logos that convey hope and positivity, are memorable and speak to your intended audiences.
• Marketing campaigns that use infographics, video or animation to sell your message, programs or mission.
• Music in campaigns.
• Websites with fresh content, strong visuals and above-the-fold messaging.
• Graphics that illustrate giving levels.

All nonprofits do good work. So why do some nonprofits thrive while others wallow? I write often that its people management -- tapping peoples' emotional reserves and creating relationships. Aesthetics are integral to doing this successfully.

When I founded Hollywood Arts, I chose to first develop a strong aesthetic foundation. This meant I moved money from programming to create a dynamic brand personality which was represented in the logo, the website, the newsletter and all development collateral. This strategy paid off. Within six months Hollywood Arts had raised over $100,000 even though we had only run one three-month program at a local shelter. People were responding to the brand. Effective brand communications helped us open our own facility in less than a year and raise enough money to reach hundreds of kids in a very short time.

Like the $68 vodka bottle that sells the exact same alcohol as its lesser-priced competitor, companies know the sell is found in the shape of the bottle and the font in which the name is written. A well packaged nonprofit just might find itself capturing a little more of the market share than its competitors.