About this time last year, CEO Nancy McGee of the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence decided to evaluate the organization’s internal and external messaging.
Were the organization’s leaders communicating their mission clearly? Did their various audiences have a thorough understanding of the Alliance’s full range of services for regional nonprofits? Did everyone involved share the same impression of the Memphis-based organization?
After 15 telephone interviews with Alliance members, non-members, board members and staff, the answer turned out to be “no.”
“We had to stop and ask, ‘What is it we’re really trying to say?’” McGee said. “With a small staff, unfortunately, you just don’t have the luxury of time to devote to an extensive communications plan and getting your message out there. But we learned that if you don’t invest the time in your messaging, people will develop their own perceptions that might be different from yours.”
So in August 2012, McGee and her staff of three enlisted the help of St. Paul, Minn.-based consultant Carlo Cuesta in a rebranding effort that took about a year to complete. On July 1, the Alliance unveiled a new logo and website – npexcellence.org – designed to better communicate its mission.
“Our new tagline under our logo is ‘Effective Leadership = Stronger Communities,’ because it sums up our mission perfectly,” McGee said. “We’re working with nonprofits at every level of their organizations to help them be the best they can be at doing their jobs and serving their clients.”
The rebranding is one of several new developments that McGee hopes will increase awareness of her organization, which provides services to nonprofits in West Tennessee, eastern Arkansas and North Mississippi.
Since 1992, the Alliance has been helping hundreds of regional organizations navigate the sometimes-complex realm of the nonprofit industry and strengthen their impact on their communities. It serves its current 225 members through education and training, consulting, networking opportunities, research and advocacy.
Literacy Mid-South is one of those members. When its executive director, Kevin Dean, took his leadership position there in May 2011, the literacy organization was on the verge of financial ruin. Throughout Dean’s (ultimately successful) efforts to revitalize Literacy Mid-South, the Alliance provided assistance with crafting a turnaround plan and setting a new course for the organization.
“They really helped us align our values and thinking so we could come up with a collective solution to the obstacles we were facing,” Dean said. “Without their guidance, we would not be what we are today.”
Today, through its Training and Technical Assistance Fund, Literacy Mid-South offers financial aid to enable other Shelby County literacy organizations to tap into the Alliance’s training and consulting services.
The Alliance’s consultants assist nonprofits with organizational assessment, executive transition, branding and communication, financial management, leadership development and more. But those fact-finding interviews during the Alliance’s early rebranding stages revealed that many people are unaware these services even exist, McGee said. She hopes another significant development on the Alliance’s horizon will soon remedy that situation.
“I’m very excited about filling our new director of consulting position,” she said. “We’ve never had this position before, and we’ve been seeking a master consultant who can come in and take our consulting to the next level. This person will also oversee our PNE (Program for Nonprofit Excellence) program.”
The addition of a director of consulting will increase the Alliance’s number of current consultants to 12 and its permanent staff to five. McGee is in the process of conducting final interviews and hopes to have the positioned filled by October. By that time, the Alliance also will have moved from 5100 Poplar Ave. to a new location at 1919 Lynnfield Road – a physical shift in a new direction that could be considered symbolic of what McGee describes as an evolutionary phase for the Alliance.
“We have more changes going on right now at one time than ever before,” she said.
Research is another area that’s evolving. This fall, the Alliance will partner with The University of Memphis Public Administration to release a State of the Mid-South Sector report. The first study of its kind, the report will include data such as the number of Mid-South nonprofits outside of churches, their assets and number of employees, along with statistics on how these nonprofits have fared in the recent economic climate.
The purpose of the report is to educate public officials about the economic impact of nonprofits, McGee said. For example, outside of churches, there are 1,000 nonprofits in Shelby County that collectively employ more than 40,000 people and have a collective payroll of $1.7 billion.
To that point, McGee would like the Alliance to take on a stronger role of advocacy for the entire sector. She and her staff will be going to Capitol Hill in early 2014 to emphasize the extent to which nonprofits are an economic force. Locally, they’ll also be working to educate officials on the importance of nonprofits and their influence on the community.
“It’s vital that nonprofits keep a lookout for issues that affect every nonprofit,” she said. “And we want to communicate what the issues are and encourage our members to be vocal about how those issues impact their organizations.”