By Leslie Beckbridge

Transparency is the word of the day in the nonprofit sector as stakeholders want more and more information and accountability. Individual donors, corporate funders, job applicants, prospective members and volunteers all look for indicators that will assure them that nonprofits are delivering on their missions.  A good reputation online and in general can help to attract media attention, top talent, and can lead to awards and accolades while a bad reputation could cost you funding, risk investigations and fines and scare away applicants. You must be proactive about your brand to ensure that it is not working against you.

To make my point about the importance of establishing a reputable brand, I defer to CareerBuilder’s global vice president of human resources, Rosemary Haefner, who said “nearly 3 in 4 (68 percent) candidates say they will accept less than their lowest target salary for a company with a favorable brand.” Could your reputation (or lack thereof) be costing you money? Even your current employees are likely to be passively job searching, especially for opportunities with brands they know and respect.

So, what can you do to boost your employment brand? Luckily, there are many things you can do, and you can pick and choose from those options that seem most relevant to you. Making careful, intentional choices about the strategies you use is crucial; you need only dedicate resources to methods that will yield useful results. Before you identify a tactic, determine the goals and objectives that you want to achieve. From there, make a plan that will be manageable and maximally effective. Here are some recommendations for approaches that you might employ:

  1. Get social. Social media is a favorite among nonprofits for communications, marketing, and recruiting because it is “free.” I put that in quotes because, while there isn’t a cost to joining most social media platforms, you must allocate some resources to have your presence mean something and have impact. Simply creating a page or profile is not sufficient, a person or group of people must interact through the platforms for them to be effective. However, once you have established platforms and who will be responsible for participation, this is a relatively simple way to build your brand. NPR is a great example of employment branding using social media. Social media has become the norm and ignoring it will not prevent others from talking about you and creating your organization’s reputation without your input. Establish who you are as an organization and convey your organizational personality and values through these channels.
  2. Ask for feedback. There are many ways to get reviews on just about anything you would like. If you don’t know how your “brand” is regarded, it is a good idea to find out so that you know where to start. Yelp can show you how your services are being received, but it relies on users participating. If you would like to hear feedback from people you serve, make sure they know that they can review your organization through this platform. Similarly, Glassdoor allows your employees and candidates to anonymously report on their experiences. This is extremely valuable information that you can use to improve your systems. Many candidates are exploring Glassdoor before applying to or accepting jobs to find out how organizations are regarded internally. You can also run your own “public opinion” surveys on platforms like SurveyMonkey to find out how your nonprofit is regarded and make improvements. These can be distributed publicly through your website and/or social media or can be distributed to clients/members/service recipients through email or hard-copy when those people visit.
  3. Hold an open house. Especially if your organization is launching a new initiative or program, new to the area or have recently moved to a new space.  Inviting people in can establish recognition and familiarity within the community. Even if you have been in the same space for years, it is likely that things have changed internally. Inviting people in to meet your team and see what you do can go a long way toward building trust and a presence in the community. You can tap into attendees’ networks without having to do much legwork of your own because those who know your organization will be more likely to recommend you when they are familiar with your work. If possible get local media to cover the event; this will help get your brand in front of a broader audience.
  4. Use brand ambassadors. Your employees, members, volunteers, board members, and anyone else who works closely with the organization can be a brand ambassador. Encourage these people to tap into their networks to boost your brand. By interacting with the organization’s social media or pushing content to their own channels, they can help establish and reinforce the reputation that you want to convey publicly. If necessary, have conversations with these groups to establish expectations and boundaries of brand ambassador behavior.
  5. Establish strategic partnerships. Connecting with influencers in your community, service area or field can help to strengthen your reputation by expanding your network. Personal referrals are great endorsements, and when someone with some name recognition gives out your name, that reference is much more likely to be taken seriously. Developing or leveraging relationships with people in the media is also a useful way to get exposure.
  6. Be honest. Building a strong brand that does not align with your internal practices will likely do more harm than good. Remember, the point is transparency. Earning a reputation for dishonesty is incredibly damaging for nonprofits and can be impossible to recover from. Start from inside the organization and leverage your best features to establish a trustworthy brand.