If one thing is clear in today’s climate of social and political upheaval, it’s that the expectations of brands and companies are changing. More than ever, people want companies to address some of the most challenging issues of our day. From space travel to ocean plastics, from free speech to public safety, companies are increasingly taking on responsibilities that were formerly the domain of government, NGOs and even 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
As a result, corporations are becoming more purpose-driven, which in turn is causing them to seek new ways of engaging with customers, employees and shareholders. It’s new territory for marketers and their brands, and one way that can help is to look more closely at the nonprofits they are beginning to emulate.
As mission-driven organizations, nonprofits have a fundamentally different orientation from commercial enterprises on what defines success. But in a more purpose-driven world, they have a lot they can teach marketers.
What gets measured gets done, so metrics are key. Nonprofits have been under mounting pressure by grantmakers and donors to prove the value of their work, so they prioritize the numbers that support accomplishing their mission. Emerging standards, including many social impact metrics, are leading the way. These new methods for setting goals and measuring progress are transferable to the private sector and deserve a place on the dashboard.
Do more with less
Famously thin on budgets, nonprofits create ways to get more done with less. As more marketers and agencies toil under ever-tighter constraints, there are behaviors they can adopt. Perhaps the most impactful is literally doing less and getting more: When a person is part of a team that is clear about its mission, both priorities and distractions get easier to see. Tackle the former and ignore the latter, knowing you will have the support of your manager. A second win comes from planning ahead so our creative assets do double-duty—or even more—having a second life across social media, in presentations, etc. Finally, take to heart that “perfect enough” is a great strategy for most applications in our high-volume, short-life world of social and digital media.
Define your purpose
Quick, recite your company’s mission. Its values? Chances are you can’t. Even greater are the chances that in addition to mission and values, marketers and agencies are regularly asked to embrace a brand promise, brand attributes and now, the latest trend, a purpose. In the face of many competing and indistinct mantras, most employees (and customers) can be forgiven for having a sense of whatever when it comes to what your company stands for. Nonprofits, on the contrary, never lose sight of their mission. It is front and center in everything they do. They recite it regularly at gatherings and events; it’s included in most communications about the organization and is often plastered on office walls. Companies will benefit exactly as nonprofits do by the focus and intention of a single clear-minded purpose.
Serve on a board
Learning from nonprofits isn’t limited to mimicking what they do well. Great leadership can be developed by serving on a nonprofit board, with the learnings fully transferable to the workplace. Service on a nonprofit board provides exposure to other leaders and leadership styles. While the boards of smaller nonprofits are often highly involved in the nonprofit’s operations, larger institutions more commonly have boards that set policy and have structured governance and fiduciary oversight. Both offer valuable experience for professional development outside the office.
Look to the art institutions
Nonprofit arts institutions are accelerating faster than most commercial enterprises when it comes to integrating equity and inclusion across their organization and driving it into their products and services. This is particularly visible in long-standing arts groups that were frequently founded by and for a community’s elite citizens. Today, driven in part by grant and donor requirements, arts leaders are breaking their programs and services out of fancy orchestra halls and the like. Businesses will do well to follow suit and embrace the wants and needs of new communities and begin building truly relevant solutions that attract them.
Companies wanting to win in a more purpose-driven marketplace will understand that what matters to nonprofits can help the rest of us be more holistic in our own work. It’s likely that the two distinct entities—one commercial and the other nonprofit—will continue to discover areas of overlap where they are mirroring the other to both do well and do good.