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How missions are transforming their brands

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis impacted us all, but those experiencing homelessness were among the most vulnerable.

I am blown away by the work that was done in rescue missions across the country to provide meals, shelter and life-transforming support through those uncertain times. At the same time, I believe missions are finding themselves at a crossroads today.

Missions are evolving – both in the services they provide and in the way they identify themselves. Because of this, the way they present their story to donors must evolve, too.

Organizations who fail to clearly express their identity may lose out on building meaningful relationships with their donors. So how do missions ensure that, as they grow, their brand grows with them?

The answer lies in transformation.

Redefining rescue missions

In 2018, The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions changed their name to Citygate Network.

This move was a part of a bigger industry shift as more and more organizations found that they didn’t identify with the “gospel rescue mission” descriptor.

Then, in September, Citygate announced that they were making another adjustment.

To better define ALL of their organizations, they have shifted from using the term “rescue missions” to using “life-transformation ministries” when discussing their members.

These changes underscore a bigger movement that has been happening over the last few years: Missions are modernizing.

Their identities are still rooted in, and driven by, faith. That hasn’t changed. How to communicate that transformation in their work to the donors who support them just requires a new approach.

Many missions no longer tie themselves exclusively to food, clothing, shelter and addiction recovery. They now also offer mental health programs, medical treatments, education, job training, housing and so much more.

As the needs of those experiencing homelessness change, missions are transforming their areas of service along with them.

But with this long list of possibilities comes a dilemma: How can missions ensure that their life-transforming work is being clearly communicated to their donors?

Transforming your rescue mission's brand

As rescue missions evolve into life-transformation ministries, their brands must evolve, too.

Many folks in the industry have expressed the concern that donors acquired through quick offers like “$2.10 sponsors a meal” don’t get the full picture of the life-changing work that the organization does.

That’s not to say that these offers don’t work, and we should certainly still use them. But we must move away from thinking offer and brand are mutually exclusive.

A great offer needs the support of a firm foundation. It must be built upon a larger brand awareness strategy. As missions evolve in the work that they do, their branding has to keep up.

Brand awareness in and around your community is essential as you continue to transform. If you fail to define your brand to your constituents, your fundraising will fall short.

As you begin to reassess your brand awareness strategy, consider doing the following:

  • Conduct brand exercises to solidify your story
  • Determine the key pillars that define your mission
  • Build consistency from there within your messaging
  • Lean on data to learn what resonates most with your donors

An offer will get a donor’s attention, but when it’s not backed by a great brand presence, it can fall flat when it comes to long-term support.

I firmly believe that how missions define themselves and their brands is a positive step forward in this transformation that is occurring in our space.

By building the foundation of your brand, defining what sets you apart and sharing that with donors, your mission will be able to overcome the hurdle of fully communicating its transformative work.

Glenn McKinney

As Senior Vice President at RKD Group, Glenn McKinney works with faith-based organizations like rescue missions and life-transformation ministries to provide innovative mail, online, phone, research, major gifts and planned giving strategies for clients. A strong champion of RKD’s donor-centric philosophy, Glenn and his team consistently exceed clients’ fundraising goals.

Glenn has 23 years of experience in the mission space. He spent eight years working for two missions in New York -- New York City Rescue Mission and The Bowery Mission -- before moving to the agency side for the last 15 years.

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