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Thursday
Apr122012

Why Creativity is the Underestimated Superpower of the Nonprofit World

Creativity is an under-celebrated superpower.

You hear a lot in nonprofit circles about the importance of telling stories, of measuring our impact, collecting data on relevant metrics and learning from experience. You hear a lot about the importance of having a coherent strategy, experimenting and having a better attitude towards failure, about giving up control, engaging your community. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and the ways organizations can show personality. You don’t often hear creativity singled out as a key thing to focus on, but if you bring creativity into your way of doing things success will flow.

This quote from Maya Angelou never gets old for me.  

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

If you want people to take action to advance your mision you will need them to feel emotionally invested in your work. You don’t invest your heart in that way for things that are boring. One of my favorite comics, The Oatmeal, recently illustrated this powerfully in How to Get More Likes on Facebook. The comic shows why spamming and begging people to Like our content on Facebook is ineffective and exhorts us to “instead, create things that are hilarious, sad, beautiful, interesting, inspiring, or simply awesome.”

The Oatmeal is right. We connect with awesome and you can’t be awesome without creativity. 

The problem is we underestimate our creativity. You may be thinking to yourself that your organization’s personality isn’t all that awesome. You’re all about impact, and data, and showing results. Your wonky. You’re serious. You’re corporate. Funders expect you to be professional and effective, not awesome! 

Nonsense. Whatever your personality and brand, if you’re creative, you can show your awesome personality and ensure your community can connect to your mission emotionally. 

Here are some ideas to get you started. Share your own creative ideas in the comments!

22 Creative Ways to Show Your Nonprofit's Personality


1. The way you talk about your community - Do you talk about doing things together? Which do you say?

  • "With your help, WE were able to build six new playground"
  • "This year, YOU built six new playgrounds"
  • "Our community built six new playgrounds"

2. What you call the people and communities you help. Grantees, partners, friends, changemakers, and heroes all show a different personality and approach.

3. What you call people who give you money. Donors, Supporters, partners, friends, fans, champions, something more fun and wacky, or something more restrained and austere?

4. How you show gratitude

  • Automatic and immediate email contribution thank yous
  • Gala dinner honorees
  • Journal advertisements
  • Plaques
  • Do you name buildings after major donors?
  • Do you recognize anonymous donors?
  • Do you send heartfelt handwritten thank you notes?
  • Do you post dance videos or do things to make people smile when your community helps you reach your fundraising goal?

5. Your logo

6. Your website

7. Your email messaging

8. Your email signature – Interesting quotes? Pictures? Links?

9. Your stationary – Textured? Embossed? Scented? Color?

10. Your font. Are all your documents in Arial, or do you slip in fun Calligraphy fonts? Serif or sans-serif?

11. Your Facebook Timeline Banner

12. Your Google Plus Profile Images 

13. Your Twitter Background

14. You website’s 404 error message

15. Your business cards

Your office is also a great place to show your personality 


16. Your bathroom signs - male/female/unisex

17. Decals and signs in your office windows

18. The way you paint your walls

19. The toys in your cubicle and on your desk

20. The welcome people receive – First impressions matter. Are your front desk people friendly and welcoming, or do they subtly pretend not to see visitors when they walk in. There are a few factors that will contribute to the personality you want to show at your front door. Maybe you want to show professionalism and a business environment feeling to visiting major donors and foundation staff. If you are a direct service provider in your community you probably want to convey a warm and welcoming feeling so that visitors feel more comfortable asking for help.

Are there candies and mints on the front desk? Is there a labeled courtesy phone available for visitors to use? 

21. The freedom you give your staff – Your staff are in the best position to show your organization’s personality. Learn from Zappos. Empower staff to show personality and delight your community. Create a slush fund just for whacky ideas staff want to pursue to thank donors and create community. Call it the Delight Us Fund. Encourage people to involve and recognize supporters in unique ways.

22. Your swag - What tchotchkes do you give away? Pens, paper pads, squeeze balls, bottle openers, mugs, lanyards, luggage tags, rubix cubes, hacki-sacks, whistles, toys, t-shirts, reusable shopping bags. What fits for you?

How you show personality at your organization?

Photo credit to Flickr user kelvin255. This post was drafted on Thursday April 12th

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