by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News
As the communications coordinator for Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS), Ashley Ross faces similar challenges as many nonprofit marketers.
For one, the Indianapolis-based organization has a niche targeted population — families of children who are blind or visually impaired. “Often people don’t know who we are until they need us,” Ross said.
Other hurdles include raising brand awareness without the resources of many larger for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and encouraging the larger public to support a nonprofit that may not resonate with their personal interests.
VIPS has been able to make inroads in addressing all of those challenges by developing one-on-one connections throughout the community.
“The best strategy we have is creating a culture and a community within our organization that believes in our mission so wholeheartedly that it seeps into our daily lives,” she said. “Social media and marketing campaigns are extremely effective, but an important aspect is the passion surrounding the mission. If you can get a group of people to fully believe in what you do, you’d be shocked at what can happen.”
VIPS intentionally seeks opportunities to encourage a person to develop personal connections to the organization’s mission, Ross said.
“Often people feel connected because they are a family member, teacher, or a friend of the families we serve,” she said. “Other times, we connect with them through volunteer groups from other organizations/companies. We foster these connections by always putting our mission first. We share impact stories, not only from the families we serve, but our staff, volunteers, and board members.
VIPS also prioritizes educating individuals about why it is important to support the organization — whether or not they have a connection to a child with vision challenges, Ross said.
“One of our main objectives in raising awareness for our organization is informing the community of not only who we are and what we do, but how the success of our mission impacts the greater community … how it directly impacts the individual reading or viewing our communications,” Ross said. “Just because they may never know someone that needs our services, does not mean what we do cannot not impact them.”
VIPS has a mission of providing early intervention to young children who are blind or visually impaired, including giving parents the tools and resources they need to be more effective in raising a blind child and teaching children skills that will help them compensate for their vision loss at a young age.
“Overall, our objective in raising awareness is to create a space and community for children who are blind or visually impaired to reach their highest potential, despite their loss of vision and often other disabilities,” she said.
Making a big impact with the resources you have
When working with limited resources as a nonprofit organization, Ross said, it is important for the team to recognize their limitations.
“We are a small but mighty team, and I believe this is mostly due to the fact that we know our limits and focus on what makes sense for our organization,” Ross said. “There are so many social media platforms out there right now that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. We have the most success when we focus on just a few platforms, and as our team grows, we can expand that reach.”
Ross also said a post-scheduling platform and Canva, a design platform, can be essential for a small communications team. “Putting out consistent content will raise your awareness,” she said. “Trends will come and go but staying consistent is key. It is also something I am still working on.”
“Canva is free to nonprofits and has become one of the most used programs in my daily work life,” Ross said. “I use it to make documents, forms, flyers, videos, social media posts, and more. Plus, you can order physical copies of your creations for a reasonable price and great quality. It does have its limits, but if you are a small team, it’s a game changer.”
Overall, Ross said, it is important to stay focused on your nonprofit’s mission.
“Marketing and social media is an ever-changing world,” Ross said. “There are so many trends, algorithms, brands, and people that look like they are doing a much better job than you. I get a lot of imposter syndrome thinking, ‘I could never make something like that,’ or ‘Why didn’t I think of that first?
“On top of it, being in the nonprofit sector, you can feel the expectation of ‘I need to do so much with so little,’ and ‘So many people are counting on me.’ This pressure is extremely high during online giving days,” Ross added. “But through all these thoughts and pressures, the thing I push for the most when it comes to our branding and messaging is keeping it genuine.”
Keep it personalized
Ross also stresses the importance of remaining true to the audience of the nonprofit.
“There is an actual person behind these words, graphics, and videos. If you start marketing the same way everyone else is, or branding the same way, no one feels very connected to your organization,” she said. “This is definitely not something I have perfected, but it’s something I keep in mind as I implement the organization’s campaigns and marketing efforts.”