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Reputation marketing has become a buzz phrase in the small business world, as 95% of people now check ratings for small businesses online before choosing a restaurant, dentist, hotel, or other service-based product – more than 50% with regularity. (More on local search and reviews on BrightLocal.com)

The result is that businesses are scrambling to form, market, and manage fabulous reputations for themselves online.  Since your nonprofit is trying to elicit investment via donations, reputation is one of, if not the most important asset you have, and you should be focusing on building, branding, and managing it.

1.  First step in reputation marketing: Know your rating

The first step is to know where you stand – what are your image, reputation, and/or rating on the Internet and within the community?

  • A good free tool to get started is Social Mention. You can see how many times you are pinged in popular social media, in which ones, and in what capacity. For example, when I plug my Alma Mater, McDaniel College, in Social Mention, it pulls up that it has been mentioned 23 times in the past 12 hours, 15 being positive and 8 neutral, mostly on Facebook but also on WordPress, Ask, and Twitter.
  • You also will want to look at charity ratings from Guidestar, Charity Navigator and Give Well..  These sites analyze your efficacy in using donations and your impact, and they are very trusted by donors.
  • Google or Bing search yourself to see what information comes up when you put in both your name as well as keywords you associate with your mission and services. Google Alerts will notify you when you are mentioned in news and blogs.


Local reviews

citysearch reputation

Yahoo local reviews

Yelp reviews


2.  Build your brand

Now that you know what your reputation is, you can work on strengthening your brand. If you have a high rating on Charity Navigator, but you have practically no Facebook presence per Social Mention’s radar, and hardly any news articles pop up about your work on a basic Google search, you might work to improve your social media presence. Whatever your mix for communications is, however,  basic guidelines for nonprofit brand-building are:

  • Get into bed with the best. Make sure you are hand-picking your partners and board members from only the most respected people and groups with high brand ratings themselves. Even if you have to refuse certain corporate funding, you want to make sure you are maintaining an image aligned with your mission and vision.
  • Do fantastic things. Nonprofits, no matter how well advertised and marketed, need to have pure souls and focus first on their missions and action in the community and second on everything else. If you do powerful work, the brand will follow. Marketing powerful community impacts is the easy part.
  • Collect your impact statements. After you do fantastic things, collect impact statements from the people you served with your work. You can use those stories in marketing your brand and building your image. Try surveying the students in your afterschool program, for example, and posting their positive feedback and other survey indicators on your website!

3.  Market your brand

Now you are ready to connect your highly reputable brand to your prospects and to the world. Determining your marketing mix should be part of your development plan and sales strategy, and here are some ideas to incorporate your reputation into that strategy:

  • If you are blessed with a high rating on Guidestar, Charity Navigator, or other source, blast it on the home page of your website, on your Facebook page, on every letter you send to prospects, etc. It is an amazing resource for you!
  • Get mentioned in local papers, on local blogs and websites, and create an online presence by actively sending out press releases to media and all of your partners. You might have to research and cultivate relationships with communications officers and press contacts; take your key partner’s communications staff person out to lunch once a month, for example. Those contacts will mention your work positively on alternate sites which boosts your reputation online and pulls you up higher on search engine lists.
  • Post impact statements and use positive stories from program beneficiaries in your donor letters, proposals, marketing materials, outreach, and all communications! Let your powerful programs and their impacts in the community speak for you.

(More at 7 Points to Consider Before Promoting Your Cause)

4.  Monitor your brand

If you are like most nonprofits, you have very limited funding for communications and development staff, and often follow up on new initiatives fails to happen. Make sure you designate a staff person to monitoring your reputation and improving communication based on feedback and results! Have that person be accountable for monitoring by requiring a monthly quick email report to all staff members about where you stand, for example.

Monitoring to be aware of and to subsequently respond to both positive and negative feedback is an important of reputation marketing. If you are a local health resources agency for example, and a community member blasts online that he is disgusted with your free condoms to teens policy, you can use his negative post as an opportunity.  Comment back about how particular STDs are prevalent in his neighborhood and you welcome an open conversation about boosting educational impact for abstinence in the home as part of your program. People respond to feedback!

Social Media Today reports that 95% of consumers that post bad reviews buy a product or service again if their negative review is responded to in a positive way.  They want you to create a dialogue. You can minimize the negative impact on your brand and potentially even maximize comments as opportunities as long as you are actively monitoring to know about them in the first place. (For tips on how to deal with and make the best of negative reviews, watch this video.)

You do not need to invest a significant portion of your marketing or development budget or staff time to reputation marketing, but you should at minimum be cognizant of your brand status in the nonprofit service marketplace and take minimal steps to make it better.

With free online tools, it is fairly simple to know what your reputation is, build a stronger image, market it via cyberspace and local press, and then monitor it. Though it is difficult to measure exact returns on that staff time investment, odds are it will help you raise funding as well as communicate your impact more effectively!

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