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Trees—their need for nourishment, their structure, and their growth—offer so many rich analogies for both business and life. But, examing the root system offers the greatest insight about how you can deliver marketing value.

I was once asked if the idea for my book (remember I wrote last month that I’m on the journey of writing my own book) was a stump or a tree. So helpful. I used this same tree analogy in Episode 7 of the podcast and created a tree animation to describe how to build a solid new business pitch. So this *new* tree reference in the quote below intrigued me. Initially, it had me comparing the differences between nonprofits and corporations.

"The diversified corporation is a large tree. The trunk and major limbs are core products, the smaller branches are business units; the leaves, flowers, and fruit are the end products. The root system that provides nourishment, sustenance, and stability is the core competence. You can miss the strength of competitors by looking only at their end products, in the same way you miss the strength of a tree if you look only at its leaves."

But are they really that different? If we stop treating nonprofit or association organizations as incomparable, we will learn a lot about the power of core competence. Identifying and staying true to that core will help you grow and make strategic decisions. (I'll save the analogy to your own marketing career for another day, or at least challenge you to think about it.)

Your mission (as a nonprofit or a business) is the tree trunk. This is why you exist! The major limbs are your core services, the things you to do to deliver your mission. I'll use my former client, USO, for illustration. Their "limbs" are services such as USO centers, Entertainment tours, and Family Programming. The smaller branches are the operations that deliver the goodness of that service, so for the latter, limbs would include Operation Phone Home and Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program. And the leaves or "end products" for a program like the reading program are the physical books and videos of parents reading to their children. 

The root system for the USO is providing a home away from home for our troops. Can others create similar reading programs? Yes! Can others create a home away from home like the USO? No! Well, they can try, but not if USO stays true to their core competence. And it's not what you think - the core competence is an organizational "collective learning" - so for USO, it's creating a connection, a memory, nostalgia.

What is your nonprofit's core competence? Can you build a tree out of your organizations' core, services, and program delivery? Does it turn out that you have a grove of trees, all with different root systems? Where your core competence no longer fit with the program delivery so someone planted a new tree. Or a tree with branches of both oak and pine? Where your organization was so eager to grow it created an offshoot without thinking through how a new program would relate or tie into your existing efforts. This is where we can uncover communications opportunities or unravel a messaging jumble and keep moving forward. #marketing #motivation 

Quote above from Harvard Business Review's "The Core Competence of the Corporation."

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I offered five donation page best practices in this video. Building on that, this blog post dives specifically into what you can do to optimize every piece on your page, starting with copywriting. Before you start reading this, screenshot your donation page, print it out, and make notes in real-time as you gather these killer tips and examples.
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For the student in you...this ASAE "Market Like a Powerhouse" online seminar has four sessions, the first one LED BY a colleague and ME! Register and earn CAE credits.

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"How am I supposed to steward donors who send anonymous gifts? I've been building all this infrastructure for taking great care of you, donor, and you don't want any of it?"

Two things first: as a marketer, I feel your pain, and three cheers for having anonymous donors. I know it's frustrating to create and plan donor communications that you then can't share but this question highlights (in the most perfect way ever) that you need a plan for those you can't communicate directly with. There are probably more unacknowledged donors circling your nonprofit than you know about. So, break out of your marketing campaign planning and get back to marketing basics.  

If you update your website homepage every quarter, it may not be enough to engage unidentified yet interested donors. Do you make sure to thank your supporters often on social media? If not, the nameless donor won't get their dose of gratitude. If most of your blog/news talk about operational and program developments, as awesome as they may be, you may be missing the opportunity to build an emotional connection with your mystery donor.

Systems, like automated thank you series, are great, and I encourage you to optimize them (always) but don't forget to evaluate your untargeted marketing channels and messaging, too.

Thanks, as always, to the Facebook group Nonprofit Communications Professionals for this question.
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