As usual, savvy marketer and blogger Seth Godin turns an old saw — people look like their dogs — into an important insight. His point in this case: people buy what they buy (including from whom) because it validates them.

When you buy a Powerbook, a Harley, a Field & Stream, a RED teeshirt from the Gap, a MINI, organic produce, a Doberman, Bob Dylan's latest album, Jimmy Choo shoes, a Starbucks Iced Caffe Mocha you are saying something to yourself and about yourself, consciously or unconsciously. “This [brand] is me. It affirms who I am. I connect with it intellectually and emotionally. We belong together.”

What does this mean in terms of marketing nonprofit organizations and their causes?

Your marketing should aim to evoke this same reaction from a prospect: “I belong here, supporting this organization, this cause.”

And then, even more importantly, your subsequent marketing needs to evoke reaffirmation — validation — of that initial impression: “Yes, I made the right decision, I do belong here.”

An individual moved one way or the other to support, say, an environmental organization, has scores of prominent national organizations and hundreds of local options with whom they could associate. If you're one of those groups Or one of many working on AIDS or heart research or child welfare), why should they pick you? And why should they stick around?

So think about these questions:

    • How well does my marketing present my organization as having some differentiating quality that a prospect will find personally validating? How does your organization answer the question: “Here is where you belong if …”?
    • How immediately and purposefully does your organization then communicate with your new member or donor to help them reaffirm their first impression? Or, perhaps more crassly, how well do you re-sell yourself? “Hey, this is exactly why I joined these folks.”
    • Finally, as you further cultivate the relationship, how dedicated are you to reinforcing perceptions of the brand qualities that attracted your member or donor in the first place? “Wow, they're doing just what they said they would, in the style I expected.”

Does this seem like a big “Duh”? As Godin and other experienced marketers see time after time, it's not as easy as it sounds.

It's too easy to follow the pack, to discount the need to differentiate, to lose sight of message consistency, to overlook the human needs for emotional attachment and self-affirmation, to focus too much on the problem statement versus a solution strategy that engages your would-be supporter, to persist in trying to sell what you are to folks who want something else … who aren't your prospects.

Show me a nonprofit that articulates and executes an explicit “validation” strategy and I'll show you a group with retention rates to envy.

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