Rural Colorado nonprofits are suffering. Always challenged by the need to raise funds, the economy is forcing donors and volunteers to make tough choices about where to spend their money or time. Resources are down and the competition is stiff.

I recently met with a group of nonprofit directors in Steamboat Springs, nestled in the beautiful Yampa Valley in Routt County. You would think with all the million dollar vacation homes and seasonal money flowing into Steamboat during ski season that nonprofits there would be golden. Not so fast.

Most of these directors are one-person or small shops, running an organization while also responsible for fundraising and marketing. Each of them is concerned about competition for donations from larger, better branded nonprofits that attract the well-healed seasonal crowd. They worry about being well-kept secrets. The idea of begging their friends for help keeps them up at night. They are not sure how to connect with potential volunteers.

We discussed a lot of ideas, starting with understanding what their brand promise is and how to communicate it in the right way to the right audience. Our discussion was focused on basic PR strategy. What do you want to say? Who do you want to say it to? What is the best way to reach them?

Based on that very energizing conversation, here are five steps small nonprofits can take to raise brand awareness:

Crystallize your brand. Take some time and go through a branding exercise with your board. If you don’t know how to do that, enlist a PR pro to conduct a branding session. Get at the heart of who you are and what you do. Create a brand foundation, or elevator statement. Try on a few ideas for a tagline or positioning statement to help people understand why they should connect with you.

Develop a plan. Start with some goals and objectives. Then outline a few strategies and tactics to help you achieve them. Take a look at where you are now and where you want to be a year from now, and then use your plan to take you there.

Paint a picture of your audience. What do they look like? Where do they live? How do they like to get their information? What motivates them to contribute to their community? What is important to them?  If you don’t know the answers, ask them. Find a few people who represent your audience, take them out for coffee and get some feedback. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn.

If they won’t come to you, go to them. If your events are not well attended, try meeting your audience where they hang out. Get them information at their church, community center, library, school or workplace. Deliver information to their desktop electronically. Use social media to build your network and spread the news by word of mouth. 

Find an intern. Lose the burden of shouldering the load all by yourself all the time. Enlist an intern to help you develop a social media program, distribute flyers, send press releases, coordinate events, respond to emails and come up with great ideas you never even thought of. Take advantage of their energy and talent. In return, teach and mentor them.

As the gospel song says, “you don’t have to move the mountain, just show me the way around it.” The challenge is formidable but you have the ability to meet it. You are the answer to your prayers.

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