Our Three Takeaways from the UMA Development Conference – Varsity Branding

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the third of four regional conferences being held this year by the United Methodist Association of Health and Welfare Ministries. Held in Boulder, Colorado, the event centered on development and engagement. For those who were unable to attend, you missed a great event with some excellent speakers. As I reflect on the session, I found that I came away with three key points from which I think that every person working in the aging services field can benefit.

Development must be part of the branding process.

When we undertake a branding process at Varsity, we look at the organization holistically. From the frontline staff all the way up to the C-suite, it’s important that everyone in the organization can articulate the brand and feel empowered by it. During the conference, many development professionals shared that they sometimes feel overlooked in the branding process. At Varsity, we work to include all departments in our Brand Odyssey, especially development, as we understand how important they are to any nonprofit organization.

Arguably, development is one of the most public faces of your brand. They are the ones going out into the community and working to articulate your mission and values to potential donors. If they don’t feel like the brand matches their goals, or they are forced to adapt a brand to their needs, it becomes harder for them to do their jobs. Marketers ― especially in faith-based, mission-focused senior living organizations ― desire brands that speak to vitality, energy and continued life. Meanwhile, studies have proven that donors are more likely to make contributions to organizations that they feel are helping those experiencing hardship. These two messages can easily be at odds! During our branding process, we strive to keep this in mind and balance the needs of both sides of the organization.

Digital marketing isn’t just limited to filling apartments; it’s great for donors, too!

We all know that it takes money to make money. The same is true for development. You have to invest time and resources into reaching the right potential donors ― at the right time, with the right message. Digital marketing, both through search engines and social media, provide this exact capability. But, because of the time and effort it takes to execute such tactics and then analyze the results, many development professionals shy away from them. Why wouldn’t they? In-person discussion sessions are far more likely to end up with a gift than a single digital ad. But, as Millennials begin to further explore charities, meeting them in the areas in which they congregate ― namely, on the web ― is going to be an important part of any development tool kit.

Think of it this way: If you could run targeted ads about your current capital campaign directly to people in a specific age range within your community, with additional data that says they are more likely to donate than the average person, would you do it? What if you could reach 5,000 of those people for less than $50? One or two donations would likely cover the cost of the campaign, so the rest is pure gifts for your organization!

Are you engaging, not only with current residents, but also with their friends and extended family as donors?

One statement that we seemed to hear over and over again was that the largest and best gifts usually come from those who directly benefit from the services offered by the organization. Sure, most development professionals know the value of establishing relationships with the current service users. However, expanding that reach to the children and family is a great way to work the same angle (those who have benefitted from the service) but also expand your potential donor base into adjacent areas.

I tip my hat to the United Methodist Association team for their hard work in putting together an excellent conference. At Varsity, we love seeing their member organizations succeed and grow, and we look forward to many more events together in the future!

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