103: Unsiloed: How Marketing & Fundraising Go Hand-in-Hand to Engage and Retain Your Donors with Simon Mainwaring

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“The power of narrative and storytelling is, I believe, one of the untapped secrets in terms of capturing attention and engagement from donors.”

– Simon Mainwaring
Episode #103


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

When we look at the fundraising cycle, we tend to silo cultivation, gifts and stewardship. But Simon Mainwaring, my guest on this episode of What the Fundraising, is explaining why in fact they are all of a piece. He is breaking down for us the ways in which each element of the donor process is a link in the chain that defines a nonprofit’s overall brand. When we get the marketing right, our donors connect and invest for the long haul. As CEO at the strategic consulting firm We First Branding, Simon is all about locking in the messages that articulate purpose and motivate action. Working with nonprofits and for-profits alike, his focus is on heart-centered principles and storytelling that resonate universally. 

You’ll come away with actionable ways to define your organization’s narrative, audit the efficacy of its marketing messages and make change through co-creative processes. If you’re looking for fresh ways to forge meaningful and ongoing connection with donors in 2023, then you’ll want to join us in taking a look at the importance of perspective and tone. Are your fundraising communications too internally focused or self-serving? Do your contributors know exactly the impact their support is making? “If you tell the story in the right way it can really deeply resonate with people and inspire them to be a part of something larger than themselves,” says Simon. “And the way you do that is by building a brand.” It’s an iterative process and we’re here to get you moving in the right direction!

If you’d like the step-by-step for branding that drives positive energy and results, click here to check out Simon Maiwaring’s best-selling books.


Simon Mainwaring


  • More about the concept of Design Principles.
  • Simon is reachable at simon@wefirstbranding.com
  • Our friends at Feathr help nonprofits like yours level up their digital campaigns every day through their nonprofit marketing platform. Don’t rely on magic this year. Check out Feathr to streamline your digital marketing campaigns and exceed your goals. Learn more and get started today at Feathr.co. And don’t forget to tell them that I sent you!
  • If you haven’t already, please visit our new What the Fundraising community forum. Check it out and join the conversation at this link.
  • If you’re looking to raise more from the right funders, then you’ll want to check out my Power Partners Formula, a step-by-step approach to identifying the optimal partners for your organization. This free masterclass offers a great starting point
  • Check out my Fundraising Superpower Quiz!

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Get to know Simon:

A brand futurist, global keynote speaker, columnist, podcaster and bestselling author, Simon is the founder and CEO of We First, a strategic brand consultancy specializing in accelerating growth & impact of future-facing, purpose-driven brands. His latest book, “Lead with We: The Business Revolution That Will Save Our Future,” is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. It was voted a McKinsey Top Business Bestseller on Workplace & Culture; #2 Best Business Book of the Year by Forbes; an AXIOM Gold Medalist in the Leadership category; & Official Nominee for The Next Big Idea.


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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.


episode transcript

01:51 Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am so excited to be here today with Simon Mainwaring. Simon, welcome to What the fundraising. 

01:59 Simon Mainwaring: Thank you for having me, Mallory. 

02:01 Mallory Erickson: I am so excited to have this conversation with you today. There’s so much about your work and your background that applies to fundraisers. Will you start by just giving everyone a little introduction to you and your journey and what you do today?

02:14 Simon Mainwaring:  Sure. Simon Mainwaring, I’m the CEO and founder of a company called We First. And we’re a strategic consultancy that really specializes in helping organizations, large and small, for profit or nonprofit, define, integrate and activate their purposeful, their culture, their ESG or their impact initiatives. And we’ve been doing this for 13 years, working with large and small nonprofits, large and small, B2B and B2C companies. We do this because I believe that the power of narrative and storytelling is one of the sort of untapped secrets in terms of capturing sort of attention and engagement from donors, and really recognizing that we’re much more powerful when we work together than when we work alone. And so, that’s what we really specialize in. 

02:58 Mallory Erickson: And I know a lot of your work focuses on the intersection of brand and storytelling. Is that right? 

03:05 Simon Mainwaring:  It’s true, yes. So, my company, it’s the antithesis of a me first approach to business, to an organization of any type. And it’s really about when you get the collective working together to benefit the greatest number of people. And to do that you’ve got to realize that there’s huge power in narrative or story. And I say this because I was in the ad world for 18 years in Australia, London, and all over the US. And I was a writer on Nike and I was worldwide creative director on Motorola and launched the razor phone. And when you do these sorts of things, you have a direct experience in how, if you tell the story the right way, it can really deeply resonate with people and inspire them to actually want to be part of something larger than themselves, part of something larger even in a nonprofit, there’s that higher order commitment that you’re trying to achieve that is much more achievable when everyone kind of grabs an [inaudible03:57] and everyone rose together to that end. Now, the way to do that is to build a brand. The brand is the story you tell when you are reaching out to donors, when you’re trying to get in community engagement, when you’re trying to scale your impact. And I think it’s such a struggle for people’s attention these days outright, but even more so in the nonprofit foundation, NGO world because you’re competing not only with all the other people in the space, but also all the for-profit companies out there that are increasingly purposeful or sustainability driven themselves. So, you need to be arguably as effective as a marketer as those companies are if you’re going to compete effectively, you know.

04:34 Mallory Erickson: I really appreciate you saying that. And I think there might be some people who hear the word brand, and I might say that I was guilty of this many years ago too. When I heard the word brand, I was like, okay, logo and colors, and the way perhaps that we used to think more about brand. And brand has changed so much over the last 10 years in particular. I’m curious, when you say brand, what are all the layers of that for an organization? 

05:01 Simon Mainwaring:  It can be quite a wormhole, but I’ll put it in hopefully some clear terms. I agree with you that general perception of brand has evolved over the last sort of decade. For a long time on the strength of media, which basically told you what to think, do or buy, a brand was the image that you wanted to put out there on behalf of a for-profit or non-profit organization. And that was what you wanted to think about that. And as time passed, people got more and more clear that a lot of that was deceptive and in fact harmful to people. And so there was a lot of distrust of brand. It was almost like; this is what we want you to think about us when the reality is very different. But that sort of exposed over the last decade and in fact, it’s almost inverted. The brand now is really what is true and authentic and defensible and transparent and accountable about a company or an organization. And the reason that’s the case is, both in the for-profit and nonprofit world, there’s been increased regulation that has really kind of policed bad actors or bad practitioners that have caused harm or done irresponsible things with money and so on. 

While there’s still a broad-based distrust of marketing in inverted commerce broadly, and people now look to their friends and peers as their most trusted resources and so on. The idea of a brand has been forced to become more accountable because of scrutiny, the cynicism or the distrust of all stakeholders, and also regulation. And so, I think the idea of a brand is in much better place today. That said, there’s a lot of companies that could be doing it better. And in the nonprofit world, there’s a lot of learning you can take from the for-profit world to the nonprofit world that I don’t think has been captured yet.

06:37 Mallory Erickson: Talk to me a little bit about that. What are some of the biggest gaps you see there? 

06:41 Simon Mainwaring: Yeah, well, I’ll share a few things, and this is in the spirit of collaboration and love and respect, but we’ve been in the wheelhouse of working with lots of foundations and nonprofits over the last 10 or 12 years that we first, and also playing the pitch doctor role when an organization might need to either re-engineer their brand outright or re-engineer their pitch decks to donors, to fundraisers, to corporate partners. So, it’s based on a practitioner’s lens. It’s not throwing things out from a thought leadership point of view. This is from the doing of the real world. One of the first things I’d say is that a lot of nonprofits mistake their cause as their brand. And what I mean by that is, for example, what do you do at Nonprofit X? Well, we support breast cancer research. Now, that is the category, the impact category that you’re in. That is the cause you’re trying to address. It’s not what your brand is. And the reason that’s problematic is because it doesn’t differentiate you for any number of other great organizations that are doing a similar work. You don’t equip the potential donor or supporter to choose you over somebody else in terms of mindshare or donor or dollars or whatever it might be. The second thing I would say is that a lot of nonprofits understandably look at their impact and say, the reason that you should actually work with us or contribute to us is self-evident because we’re doing good in the world. 

Whether it’s reforestation, regenerative agriculture, access to education, women’s empowerment, whatever it might be. That is not the case anymore. There are so many opportunities for an individual, wherever they sit in the world to make a difference out there. Whether through their own direct donation to something they care about, whether it’s through volunteering at work, whether it’s through thousands of things now you can do, whether it’s through an app, or whether it’s through showing up to an experience. 

08:24 Simon Mainwaring: You need to be more intentional about it. You need to not only have an impact lens and an organization and a grassroots movement on, but you need to have a brand. You need to really carve out that mindshare I mentioned so that donors can actually consciously choose to support you. The third thing I’d say is, once you’ve actually identified that your cause is not your brand, and that you need to have a brand. The way you need to communicate it is you need to really position yourself as the celebrant of your stakeholder community, not the celebrity. And what I mean is that too many nonprofits talk about what they’re doing in self-directed way, nonprofit X, we raised this amount of money, which is provided after school programs for X, Y, and Z, which has allowed certain number of kids to do certain things. The problem with that is that even though what you’re doing is so important and so transformative in those young lives, it’s still talking about you. But what I would say is this instead each night, X amount of kids go to bed hungry. At organization X, we believe that this has to stop because that hunger affects their self-esteem, their ability to go to school and so on and so on, and so on and so on. That’s why we’re doing this, this, this, this, and this. And these are the ways you can participate and so on. So, you are really getting off yourself and onto the issue and framing a reason for somebody listening to either donate or participate and be involved. And that’s what I mean about being the celebrant where you celebrate the other stakeholders and their participation rather than the celebrity, so people don’t switch off and tune out because it’s so hard to do this because everything else you do inside your nonprofit every day is all about what promotions are we getting out there and how’s our fundraising going, and how are our initiatives are going, and how many people have we reached? And then when it come to your marketing, you’ve got to turn that around and get off yourself and onto your community, and that can be very difficult to do. 

10:12 Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I really appreciate you sharing that. For me, using design thinking principles as a fundraiser was one of the things that helped me tap into some of that. And you’re hitting on a really important point, which is that to give yourself the brain space even or capacity to recognize that you need to put on a different set of lenses, that you can’t go from doing one thing that is super organizational centric, to expecting yourself to write or communicate in a totally different way without that sort of consciousness or transition.

10:46 Simon Mainwaring: Exactly. It’s very, very important. And obviously my company’s name is We first and my new book is Lead with We, and so there’s a We theme coming through, one would hope. And one of the things that we walk past every single day in the impact space, whether it’s for profit or nonprofit, is just how much further we can get when we tap into the synergies between us that can compound the impact that we have because one plus one isn’t two, one plus one is three or five or seven or nine or 10. And so when you do all these things and you articulate a higher order purpose to your organization and you get off yourself and onto others in the messaging, you can start to engage all of the stakeholders in your community, in your donor base, and so on and so on. And suddenly everyone becomes an extension of your marketing department, often in a non-profit, marketing or branding is not one of the strengths that they have, or it’s something that they’re deeply resourced for. In that case, the way you need to think about it is, how does your marketing equip every single person that touches your brand to become an extension of the marketing department? How does that donor become an amplifier of what you are doing in terms of awareness and engagement and ultimately, donor dollars? 

11:56 Mallory Erickson: I really like that. And it brings me back to what you brought up at the very beginning, which is the storytelling component. Can you talk to me a little bit about when you’re helping an organization think through their core stories? I have a feeling that when some nonprofits hear that, they’re like, okay, you know, stories from beneficiaries or a story from a staff person, but they’re thinking about very specific individual experiences perhaps, and not necessarily a storytelling arc and the role that plays in marketing and branding. So, can you frame up storytelling for us and then talk about what’s that core thread and what are some of the stories you want every nonprofit to be telling? 

12:39 Simon Mainwaring: Yeah, I mean, irrespective of digital and social media and AI and blockchain and God knows what, which is transforming our lives every day. Everyone doing their portraits on Facebook and everywhere else right now, we are still human beings sitting around a campfire, telling stories. And what we pay attention to, how we treat each other in the world, how we feel about our future, where we put our dollars is still a function of the stories we tell. And so, it’s really important for a nonprofit to define its story and the starting point is your purpose. Now, I’ve already drawn the distinction between confusing your cause with what your organization is all about, you need to define your purpose within the context of that cause. And by purpose, it’s why you exist? What is your role in the world? What are you uniquely equipped to do that no other nonprofit in your space can do? And that really comes down to your point of view on a given topic, women’s empowerment or child mortality or access to clean water, or a combination of those issues. And the starting point for that is to ask yourself some pretty key questions, which include amongst others. And I lay all this out in Lead with we, my book. You know, this is just touching on it. Every single question that we’ve used in our work with very well-known nonprofits, from International Youth Foundation, to lots of corporate foundations, through to purpose leaders, it’s all in there. So, the whole point of putting a book together is so you can give that all away, so just know that. Few of the questions are, what you and your team at this moment in time, in the market you’re in and the cause you’re trying to address. What are you the only org? Secondly, when you’re at your best, what are you doing when you’ve absolutely crushed it? You’ve had a fundraising initiative, you’ve done X, Y, and Z, and it’s beyond incredibly well. What happened, and what was it about what you did that is so special? And another question is, what is your enemy in the sense of what do you exist to solve for? So, for example, we worked with Livestrong years ago after Lance Armstrong was no longer involved. 

14:26 Simon Mainwaring: And one of the things that was very clear was that, that they’re all about cancer survivorship and looking after the cancer sufferer, but also all of those, the caretakers around them as well. That’s much, much more, more specific. They really were looking at the quality of life during and after the treatment. That’s much more specific than saying, we’re just addressing cancer. We want to find a cure for cancer. So those sorts of questions. When you’re at your best, what are you doing? What are you the only of? And what is your enemy? It starts to reveal what you take for granted inside your head. Where it bounces around all day long. You think everyone inside your team knows what’s going on every day. It’s clear, right? But you’ve all got something different going on inside your own mind. So, this forces you to sort of put it out on paper, see it, clarify any conflicts or confusion, and then distill it down. So, the story starts with your purpose. Then often you may articulate that, take that one step further, because often the purpose is internal, but more so nowadays it’s shared externally as well. To having a tag around your organization. An example, international Youth Foundation- transforming lives together. You want some simple distillation of your role in the world that can be very memorable because it’s short and it encapsulates what you’re about. This all comes back to the idea of being folks sitting around a campfire, telling a story. You’ve got to be able to, with people’s attention span these days, say who you are and what you do very, very quickly, and then it should resonate with them emotionally and provoke them to ask more, and then they can tell others about it and support your impact.

15:57 Mallory Erickson: So, in the nonprofit sector, we hear a lot, and maybe you’ve heard it too, I don’t want to exclude anyone, like we don’t want to take too hard of a position or say anything that would exclude certain people from feeling like they could be a part of our organization. And I have all my own reasons for why I don’t agree with that. But I’d like to hear from you. Like, is that something you’ve heard before and what would you say to that pushback? 

16:26 Simon Mainwaring: I think the motivation for that is the root of the problem. I think they just don’t want to exclude any donor dollars. And for all the obvious reasons and with respect, but it’s not the most effective strategy because trying to reach everybody all at once or pleasing everyone all at once is never as effective as being very, very specific and clear about what you’re trying to solve for and who you’re trying to reach to that end. In fact, the inverse is true. And think about it this way, when people in the for-profit world trying to market something, they typically go to an influencer. It might be an Instagram influencer these days, or back in my Nike days, it might be a famous athlete. But what they’re saying is they point to that person and that person then becomes a driver of everyone around them wanting to kind of pay attention to that same product or participate in whatever’s being offered. In a similar way, if you’re very specific about your audience in terms of your cause and its impact, and you’re really clear and articulate about the problem, the solution you’re providing, who you’re trying to reach, how they can participate, what difference they will make, and then the metrics to show that progress, then you will really capture those people and then they in turn will bring in others around them. It’s kind of like a, you can either have a laser or you can have a torch. A torch can have a very sort of weak light going out to a lot of people. Or you can have a laser that’s very, very focused on who you are trying to reach, and then you let them have their own gravitational force and attract people to come in.

17:53 Mallory Erickson: Okay. I love that. Can we talk about storytelling and perfectionism? You said earlier that brand today is about authenticity and transparency, and there’s some stigma around nonprofits sometimes, around their effectiveness or efficiency. And you work closely with nonprofits, I work closely with nonprofits. I see the challenges in the sector, and I also see unbelievably smart, brilliant people who are doing so much with so little. But they’re up against sometimes this a little bit like paternalistic attitude of like, the donors know the best or we’re going to look at how much you spend on marketing before we decide whether or not you’re a worthy investment and they’re graded on those things.

All these things that lead to a lot of limiting beliefs. And they lead a lot of nonprofits to think that the way they tell stories about their organization, about their work, about their position needs to represent perfection. That they don’t want to share too many challenges, that they don’t want to be too transparent about a program that they tried that didn’t work, perhaps, but they learned all of these things and they want to pivot. And I think there’s this real like rub in our sector right now around donor’s desire for more transparency, more authenticity, to feel like they’re in real relationship with the organization and the organization grappling with a lot of perfectionism and sort of performative nature of representing their brand. What do you think about that? 

19:33 Simon Mainwaring: I think it’s a very real problem and I’m glad you point to it because it’s crazy in that, nonprofits exist to solve for issues that are so real and visceral and acute in people’s lives, whether they have food on the table, whether that child can go to school, whether that prospective mother will receive the maternal care that she needs and so on.

Yet, there’s a legacy mindset of practice inside many nonprofits that the result is, they’re their own worst obstacle. They’re trapped in their own past. There’s that performative aspect, as you mentioned, which is the antithesis of how acute and real the problems are they’re trying to solve. And the point is well taken that you made about what donors expect today. If you look at folks like Charity Water, and we’ve known those folks for some time, and Scott Harrison and the storytelling they’ve done. If I was to characterize it one way, it’s to make it as immediate and human and real as possible to the point of having VR films and AR films where you can actually be there in the middle with the villagers when a well releases its first water and you’re literally standing in the crowd sharing the joy with them and so on, to geo tagging where their wells are, around the world, so you can actually see where your impact and influence is being had. Part of the reason I think that’s the case is that a lot of nonprofits understandably fundraise to fundraise. I mean, they take their lead from the donor base and they are resource poor and they are doing the most amazing work with brilliant people who are heart led. But at the same time, these practices of the past have almost sort of, they’ve imprisoned themselves in terms of their behaviors. And if you are to compete in today’s marketplace, you do need to counsel yourself that you need to evolve and you need to innovate, and you need to self-disrupt like any organization does for profit or nonprofit.

21:21 Simon Mainwaring: And also you need to respond very clear-eyed to the reality of the world around you. Which to your point is, people want to see the difference you’re making. They want to hear the transformation in somebody’s lives in very personal and human terms. So, the days when you can stand back and say, this is who we are, and here’s this perfect image of the lives that we’ve transformed or touched, and please donate the same as you did last year, if not more, are long gone. In fact, I think the heat, the energy, the earned media, the attention you need is at the edges of conversation where you talk about, why things aren’t working, what the challenges are today, who’s doing it well and who’s not, what we need from you and why? What are we going to do differently that we didn’t do before? And so on and so on. Because then people know that you are engaged. And the nice thing about this is, it takes such a content burden off you because if you’re trying to be perfect all the time, you’re just sort of saying the same thing over and over again. And as one of the sort of heroic marketers inside nonprofits might say, they’re like, oh my gosh, what are we going to talk about now because we’ve got a photo library, we’ve said a lot of the same things and it’s a real struggle. But if you engage with the edges of the issue and really sort of share people in on the struggle of it and invite them to have a dialogue and participate, you’ll get much better results these days. 

22:46 Mallory Erickson: I want to double click on everything that you just said. I mean, I think it was so interesting. I had a coaching client the other day. I met with their team and we were talking about storytelling and it was clear that they felt like the only stories they could tell were the great ones. And the moment I talked about, no, like that challenge in that classroom, the really hard day that you then resolved and demonstrated how the program shows up in a really hard moment that’s very human, that everyone has had those days or had those moments. You can tell that whole story as a part of, you know, X, Y, and Z and just the relief they felt around being able to share things that felt true and alive. And it was unbelievable. And it makes me think, you know, there are a lot of practitioners in our space who are a little bit obsessed and maybe rightly so, you might tell me I’m wrong with what I’m about to ask, but with length, copy length. And some pushback that I’ve gotten sometimes when I want to include more nuance in how stories are told or what’s being said in an email. The pushback that I’ve gotten, and this isn’t direct to specific types of copy, but just to that concept, the feedback that I’ve gotten is, nuance makes it too long. You can’t make it more complicated; you have to use more of those clickbait hooks and lines. That for the nonprofit often feels like disingenuous because it’s only part of the story. Can you talk to me about that? 

24:29 Simon Mainwaring: Well, when you approach storytelling, whether it’s through a blog post or anything else, an email, that way you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope. You’re looking through your lens, you’re looking at the speaker, you’re saying, here’s everything I want to tell you about what’s going on, and here’s all the nuance and detail arguably, to kind of really bolster the emotion and these things that are powerful. But what you’re forgetting is, the person on the other side of the table. Like all you need to do is ask yourself, how do you feel every day when you open up your email? And you see all these emails and then you open up someone’s email blast and it just is like a tome of copy. You know, there’s just a huge page. People don’t have the time to sort of just pause and take that in. Instead, they’re grabbing bite size headlines and images. And if you’ve caught their attention with the right sort of short headline, then they may click on a video and so on. But you need to speak with the listener in mind rather than yourself. And you see this over the years, how much more editorial email blasts and blogs have become with larger images and shorter copy and clicks and links through to different things that people might be interested in. It’s interesting, a couple of the comments or questions that you’ve shared

are wholly appropriate. And they’re also symptomatic of the fact that we all get caught up in our own bubble. Whether you’re a for-profit or non-profit company, you get caught up in your industry bubble, your company bubble, your cause bubble, your impact bubble. And there are certain ways of doing things and the more other people do them, the more they reinforce you doing them. And everyone keeps spinning their wheels. But inside those most sort of dynamic organizations, for-profit or nonprofit, they’re constantly challenging themselves and say, how can we show up more effectively? How can we kind of cut through? How can we reach new potential donors? How can we share this story in a faster but more emotional way?

26:19 Simon Mainwaring: And I’m projecting here, and again, it’s all set with respect and love for all the work that we do together is, sometimes it’s easier for us not to self-disrupt. Sometimes it’s more comfortable for us to just do what we’ve been doing in the past. Sometimes it’s cheaper not to think about doing things differently, and then we complain why nothing changes and why, you know, inflation is 7, 8, 9%. Our donor donations haven’t kept pace or whatever it might be. You know, it’s a very unforgiving world and for so many reasons. All the compounding and concurrent crises that we have and so on. But even from a competitive point of view in the nonprofit space, it’s unforgiving in as much as you need to be progressive. You need to advance the way you think and communicate to compete for mindshare and donor share. And when you do that, it keeps your employees much more engaged. I think, they want to show up differently and they want to be challenging, and there’s nothing but upside, you know? 

27:16 Mallory Erickson: And what I think I hear you saying is that in your recommendation before around being on the cusp of an issue and sharing things more transparently, that there are ways to do that in ways that are still quick and connected and participate appropriately in the attention economy as it is that it doesn’t have to be either or.

27:40 Simon Mainwaring: No, it doesn’t have to be either or. There are so many different ways that you can engage people that doesn’t have to be sensationalist. Or if you took the time to effectively over the holiday break to go, how do I do an audit of best practices in the nonprofit world? Now you can put in best nonprofit websites, best nonprofit emails, you can put in best nonprofit digital campaign. Those folks out there who aggregate these things, who pull these things together. And you can look at them and go, wow, we do not do that. We do not, you know, our website is much more dense with copy. The copy itself is much more self-directed. We don’t have a call to action everywhere it should be. We’re applying our funds in very traditional ways, but they’ve got much more surprising in dynamic ways. We’re not collaborating with surprising partners in ways that others are. So, it’s not about self-criticism, it’s about relevance to the marketplace and being competitive so that you can have the impact you want. And a very, very simple way to do that is just to look up and just say the best of any issue that you are questioning with regards to your marketing or branding or communications. Just put in the best of, I mean, The PR, like best nonprofit PR, and you’ll see all of these different things and you can put in all the award shows, like award-winning nonprofit campaign 2022. And you will see them out there of all different types. And when you do that, you don’t walk away going, oh, I feel bad. We’re not doing as well as we should. You go, wow, how exciting. Look at all the things we could do, you know? And you get inspired. 

29:14 Mallory Erickson: I really like that advice. And I’m curious for nonprofits who are going to walk away from this in January, so it’s the beginning of their year. What are three things you might recommend they first audit or look at to think about how they show up differently in the year ahead? 

29:36 Simon Mainwaring: I think in terms of a self-audit, just three very, very big stumbling blocks. One is, take all your communications over the last year or even in the last quarter, and just print them out or combine them on a page and see how it looks. Do they look like they come from a singular brand? Do they look like they came from the same source, or does it look like a patchwork quilt of different communication in terms of photography style and fonts and focus and messaging and language? More often than not, most companies that are resource constrained, which is most companies these days, have tried different things at different times and, what you end up is this with this patchwork quilt of communication. And people end up being very confused. They don’t know who the brand is because the brand doesn’t know who it is itself. So that’s one thing, all the different types of communication. The second thing I’d look at is the language in the communication itself. Just look at how much of the time you talk about yourself and how much of the time you talk about others involved in your work, whether it’s employees, whether it’s partners, whether it’s donors, anyone else. So, this is about being the celebrant rather than the celebrity. You’d be surprised how much you end up unconsciously talking about yourself and only to run the risks that people aren’t really paying attention. And the third thing I do is, I would do an audit and compare yourself to the nonprofit organization out there that you admire most through whatever the lens may be. It might be video content, it might be their Instagram account, it might be their email blast that go out. And you’re like, I always like their emails. I wish ours were like that. And really just compare apples for apples. What they’re doing differently in terms of the conscious choices they’ve made, in terms of the style of communication, the content, and so on. Also, the calls to action, the ways you can participate and contribute. And if you do that, if you look at how consistent your brand is, how self-directed the messaging is, and then how it compares to somebody out there that you really admire, then you go, okay, great. We’ve got some room to stretch here. And that’s something you can drive your marketing in 2023.

31:41 Mallory Erickson: Those are great suggestions. And you work with a lot of big organizations that I’m sure have a lot of stakeholders or board members or staff who are involved in these big projects or initiatives with you. And I’m thinking about, you said at the very beginning when you were asking or giving those initial brand questions, who are we in sort of our unique position and identifying if there is some inconsistency there. And I’m thinking about a role that I had as an executive director once where there was a lot of inconsistency there and building consensus around our brand brought me to my knees. It was unbelievably challenging. What are some strategies you have about that for leaders who are listening to this who know they have a diverse board that values different elements of the organization? How do they sort of walk through the change management process and consensus building process that’s involved in this? 

32:39 Simon Mainwaring: Change is difficult, but incredibly necessary. And we work with nonprofits of all sizes, small, all the way up to large ones. So, what I’m going to share is applicable to all. The first thing I’d say is, you have to make the business case for doing so, because to your point earlier on, in many cases, people don’t want to change. It’s worked well for 100 years, 111 years, why should we change it now, or 30 years or 16 years? Who knows? And so, you want to generate authentic buy-in in the first place. And so, I’d do three things. I would share the research around the need to build your brand more effectively in terms of reputation and donor contributions and relevance to younger demographics and all these sorts of things, the research. The second thing I would do, a landscape order, a competitive landscape order where you’d look at other nonprofits that are relevant either directly in your cause area or adjacent to it. And say, okay, here’s what they’re doing. And so, you can see, oh wow, there’s a lot who are doing similar things to us, which is not good because we’re just lost in the noise. And then there are others who are doing things very differently and getting ahead, which is not good either because we should be doing that. But then the third thing I’d do is, I would do a cost benefit analysis on two fronts. I would say, here’s what we’d like to do and here’s the cost of doing it and the benefit of doing it. 

33:56 Simon Mainwaring: Let’s look at not doing it. What is the cost of not doing it and what’s the benefit of not doing it? In my experience, when you really lay out the opportunity cost of doing something against the opportunity cost of not doing something in the context of the latest research and a competitive audit, even the most reluctant or traditional, shall we say, board, you know, can nod their head and go, you know what, this is a new day. And I know that directly because we’ve been in that situation ourselves. And that first piece is the buy-in piece. And you need to be very respectful of that process because you don’t want people to sort of say yes and then they’re not really supporting you behind the scenes. And then once you’ve done that, the most powerful way to lead a transformation process is to make sure that it’s a co-creative experience. And so, having generated that authentic buy-in, then you look at things like the purpose and voice and values and tagline of an organization. And you have a core group that is steering that work because you can’t involve everyone. But then at every step of the way, you share what you’ve developed and the thinking behind it. And then you get to create opportunities for people to then think, okay, great, how do we activate that. And so, you generate buy-in through the process. And so, the whole point of this is firstly, to make sure that no one just says yes, but they don’t really want to support you. And then secondly, you don’t just hand them something, a cake that’s already been baked and they go, well, what about this, I’m sorry and we weren’t included. But rather you treat it as a co-creative process. So, when you do those two things, it’s surprising how quickly things can move. And just as much as there’s resistance, there’s also huge relief for those who, for a long time we’ve been going, oh my gosh, we need to do things differently, I’m so frustrated in my job, we’re not thinking about it in a fresh way. And then when you give them an opportunity, it’s like fresh air and it just infuses the entire organization with new energy and optimism. 

35:51 Mallory Erickson: Yeah, I love that walkthrough. One of the final things I want to ask you about is, I had mentioned before we clicked record that fundraising and marketing often get siloed, and oftentimes in times of economic recession, marketing can be one of the first things that gets cut. And the more I’ve learned about marketing, the more I have felt like marketing and good marketing and branding, all these things, they are fundraising. They are a part of the fundraising engine. They’re not the moment of transaction necessarily. But can you talk to me about the intersection that you see between the two and perhaps where you think they are different?

36:36 Simon Mainwaring: Yeah, I mean, the great news about all of this is that the human spirit is innately good. And what I mean by that is, if you look at all the data around COVID and so many other challenges, Roe versus Wade, and other things in the last couple of years, donor support has been there and even strengthened in many cases, even when people were feeling the pinch themselves. And it’s just so astonishingly meaningful to all of us that often the greatest contribution or the majority contributions come from those who are less affluent because they know what it’s like to be without themselves, and so they feel compelled to donate the little they have. So, it’s sort of doubling down on how good the human spirit is. So, I don’t want to suggest that when times get tough people won’t donate, and therefore we shouldn’t market. It’s simply not true. I would rather lean into the goodness of the human spirit and say, these are especially difficult times for everyone, and even more so because of X, Y, and Z. And that’s why we are reaching out to talk about ways that we could collaborate to help address whatever those issues are and so on. And so, I think as long as you move away from the transactional approach and you really treat it as a co-creative collaborative, We commitment to serve everyone through our collective efforts, then the issue is not, you know, are people going to give less because it’s tough economic times or gas prices are $8, or this global supply chain issues, or whatever it might be. But rather, you’ve just got to reach out to them in a way that you’re talking to them rather than talking about yourself. And you’ve got to give them short and effective ways of communicating where they see that those dollars, those precious dollars are going to be used responsibly. You also asked about the difference between fundraising and marketing. 

38:20 Simon Mainwaring: Not to oversimplify, but a lot of people donate to the organizations they donated to for a long time because they’re familiar and they trust them. That’s one commodity that is so powerful and persuasive in the marketplace. Which is the brand equity you’ve built, the ability for people to trust who you are. And so, it’s important for any brand to show up in difficult times like COVID, because they see that you’re showing up when you’re needed most. And the marketing component is where you really build that trust. The fundraising is distinct in as much as that’s where the dollars are given and so on. It can be done in such a tonally a positive way. If you look at sort of giving platforms like pledge.io, which allows people to spin up their own fundraising platform and give to any one of over 2 million nonprofits that are on their platform, the way that they communicate is very much about celebrating you, but still giving you that seamless, frictionless experience so that it makes it very, very easy for you to make a contribution that will be really meaningful to other people’s lives and also to your own. It’s transactional and as much as dollars are given and so on, but it doesn’t mean you drop the ball and suddenly get all cash register on people and just say how much, and thank you and see you, and goodbye. You know, there should be, you should reach out in the right tone. You should make it very easy and provide the context for why their donation is meaningful and very warm and engaging in celebratory language. And then at the same time, you should follow up and say, thank you so much. And then the last thing I’d say on this is, what a lot of nonprofits fail to do is they fail to close the loop on the story they’re telling. And that because of limited resources, they do all the heavy lifting, they do the fundraising, the impact it’s had. But they then don’t report back to the donors what difference was made. And then they wonder why they have trouble getting another donation from that person. And they have to start all over again and sort of like rebuild the sandcastle from scratch. Instead, if you actually close that loop and do that last mile of the story journey. Which is, okay, this is the difference we’ve made, and we want you to see where your dollars went and thank you so much, and this is what we are focused on next year, and this is how you can participate. Then you can carry them forward with you, and I think that’s another big opportunity, and that’s a combination of marketing to build trust and awareness, fundraising to actually create the impact, but then marketing again, to show them that the impact was actually created that then can drive the fundraising again. It’s that cycle. And that’s what builds trust over time. 

40:43 Mallory Erickson: Well, you know what’s interesting is, under the fundraising umbrella we talk about this moves management system, where there’s this cultivation phase and then there’s a gift, and then there’s stewardship. And to me, what you just did was explain that, and I believe this to be true, that cultivation and stewardship are marketing.

41:07 Simon Mainwaring:  Yeah. 

41:07 Mallory Erickson: And that actually does fit under the fundraising umbrella. And I understand when they have to market a service or a program or a membership or a center, or they have a marketing department because they also run marketing towards programs, then I understand the need for that segmentation and differentiation. But I think what’s dangerous about looking at some of those more association like models is that now as a sector, we have siloed marketing, even in the organizations where marketing is really cultivation and stewardship, and in those cases it belongs under fundraising. 

41:45 Simon Mainwaring: Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. And there’s one further that says, we need to really stop thinking in terms of marketing. I know we’ve been talking about marketing. We need to think in terms of movement making. My book Lead with we, for 12 years we’ve been doing this with for profits and nonprofits. How do you actually turn your organization into a high growth movement. Which is just a lofty way of saying, how do you get everyone that touches your brand, your organization, your non-profit, all pointed in the same direction to achieve your higher order purpose. And it lays out step by step of how to do that all the way through from everyone in your supply chain and who might be helping you on that side, or NGOs and folks overseas. All the way through to donors and so on, and impact on the ground. And you know, if you shift your mindset from marketing to movement making, then the way you talk to people, the way you approach the dynamics of engagement, the type of content you put out there, the messaging you use, it all changes. The reason it changes is because you’ve got a different mindset, the way you behave, the way you communicate changes. But if you’ve got the same old mindset and set new goals, it’s much harder to achieve them because your behavior is shaped by your mindset. So, I’d really, really encourage everyone to take away this thought, that shift from marketing to movement making and all the dynamics are laid out and lead with We. But once you do that, it’s a gift that keeps on giving because everyone is serving something higher than themselves and there’s nothing transactional about it. And it’s the dynamics that are at work whenever you see a nonprofit thriving. It becomes a movement that takes on a life of its own. And we wanted to unpack that and codify it and show how people can do that so you can accelerate and scale your impact.

43:27 Mallory Erickson: Okay. That is the perfect way to end this. I will make sure that there are links to the book and you and your organization below so folks can get in touch. Are there any final words you want to leave folks with? 

43:39 Simon Mainwaring: Yeah, if there’s any pressing questions we haven’t answered, I mean, my email is Simon@wefirstbranding.com. We all do this work because we care and we’re heart led. So happy to answer any questions. The book is on Amazon Lead with We, and you can find out about the Leadwithwecourse.com that’s coming up. But just deeply, deeply know that as challenging as the future is, there is no problem we can’t solve when we do it together. And I think the greatest obstacle for all of us, and including the nonprofit world, has been how separated and siloed we’ve been. But if our mindset, and therefore our behavior really returns to a collaborative approach and a co-creative approach where all of us work together to serve everyone more effectively. It’s going to be astonishing what we can achieve. And we’re seeing strong movements to that end of necessity today. And they’re going to accelerate because these issues we’re solving for are really critical now. But be encouraged by it and kind of lean in because more people are joining the ranks every day and showing up differently. So, we should all look at 2023 positively because there’s some really powerful, positive changes underway.

44:46 Mallory Erickson: Thank you so much. Thank you for this conversation and for joining me on the show. 

44:51 Simon Mainwaring: Thanks, Mallory. And here’s to a great 2023 for everyone.

45:00 Mallory Erickson: Okay, there is so much inside this episode that I want to highlight, but my very top takeaways include;

Number one, there is no underestimating the power of narrative and storytelling when it comes to engaging donors and inspiring action. 

Number two, being clear about your value proposition is more critical than ever because the pool of potential recipient organizations and ways of making direct donations have grown exponentially.

Number three, when you look at your organization, regard every single team member, including donors as a conduit for the extension of your brand. 

Number four, have you very deliberately defined your nonprofit’s core story? Stories are how humans connect and are motivated to move forward together. 

Number five, when you talk about why things aren’t working, you are reaching donors in a very personal and visceral way. Connect through what’s real, including challenges.

And lastly, think about whether or not you’ve closed the loop. If you’re not getting follow-up donations, is it because your nonprofit never let donors know how they’ve supported specific outcomes and impacts in the past? 

Okay. For additional takeaways and tips inside this episode, head on over to malloryerickson.com/podcast to grab the full show notes and resources now.

You’ll also find more information there about Simon and our amazing sponsors Feathr. Thank you for spending this time with us today. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you would give it a rating and review and share it with a friend. I’m so grateful for all of my listeners and the good, hard work you’re doing to make our world a better place.

And if you miss me between episodes, stop by and say hello on Instagram under whatthefundraising_ Have a great day and I’ll see you in the next episode of this incredible mini-series provided by Feathr.

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