Engaging Employee Minds and Hearts | Marketing Tools for Nonprofits

It’s special to write a post inspired by the new book by my friend, Sybil Stershic, a champion of the key role employees play in the success of any organization. Sybil gives voice to the intimate connection between marketing effectiveness and the engagement of employees who deliver on the organization’s promises.

Her first book, Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care framed her message for business. This book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits, aligns marketing strategies with employee engagement essentials tailored to the challenges faced by nonprofits. The book’s concise principles and guide format will help you frame a plan. It’s rare to have a marketing guide specific to the needs of nonprofits. Sybil has filled the void.


It’s a downer when we murmur to ourselves at work, “My heart’s just not in it today.” It’s even worse when we realize we feel that way most days.

Explaining away malaise may be easier when we’re doing work that feels mechanical without an  “I’m making a difference” dimension.

What’s not so easy is feeling de-energized even when the work we’re doing, either paid or unpaid, fills an important human need in the community through a nonprofit organization.

I’ve been there myself. Years ago I worked for Head Start where my job included all of these duties: grant writing, coordinating volunteers and parent programs, supervising cooks and bus drivers, and schlepping government surplus food. Yes, there were many days when my mind knew how important the work was but my heart couldn’t overcome the weariness.

Nonprofit jobs are just as demanding today, maybe more so. Employees in nonprofits are the mission’s engine. Most aren’t there to get rich but to enrich. Nonprofit leaders need to recognize that their jobs include being in service to their employees.

The  essential link

Most nonprofit leaders face challenges to sustain their organizations, meaning they need to bring in the revenues that keep things going.

What too many leaders forget is that they need to invest considerable time and attention in their employees, the very people who are the real faces of the organization and the credible voices “marketing” the good work being done each day.

Sybil Stershic’s new book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits, provides nonprofit leaders with a fresh and practical approach to marketing their organizations with an inside-out strategy.

She starts by reminding us that:

Proactively marketing your nonprofit enables you to:

  1. create an effective presence in the marketplace that helps differentiate you from competing organizations, and
  2. pursue your mission through positive relationships with your stakeholders (consumers, members, volunteers, donors, referral sources, influencers, etc.)

Then she quotes marketing professor Philip Kotler who posits that: “‘marketing is supposed to build up…share of mind  and share of heart for the organization.'”

Further defining this concept, Sybil writes that:

  • share of mind “is about creating and maintaining public awareness of your organization”
  • share of heart “is creating and maintaining an emotional bond with people who are important to your organization.”

Leadership is the mission within the mission in successful nonprofits. Executive directors and all others managing operations need to balance their marketing outward look with an internal one.

The employee as marketer

Taking employees for granted or inadvertently making them feel that way invites an organizational downward spiral. It’s like shooting yourself in your marketing foot.

Sybil reminds us that:

Engaged employees stay for what they give–they like their work and are able to contribute, whereas disengaged employees stay for what they get–a comfortable job, good salary, and decent job conditions. Who would you rather have work in your organization?

She makes this essential point:

An “inside-out marketing” approach enables you to take care of …internal stakeholders so they can take care of your external stakeholders….”

Many nonprofit leaders then ask: “How do I do that?”

Sybil’s answer is straight-forward:

To gain employee and volunteer commitment and facilitate their engagement with an organization, internal marketing strategy is based on what I call ‘The Three Rs Formula':

  • Respect–ensure your staff members and volunteers have the necessary tools and support to do their work.
  • Recognition–catch them doing something right.
  • Reinforcement–continually support a mission-based, customer-focused culture.

She drives home her point writing:

The difference in how volunteers and employees are treated on a daily basis depends on the management style of the…people in charge. Are employees and volunteers recognized and respected for their roles in fulfilling the mission or are they considered disposable commodities?

Minds and hearts

Nonprofit employees are the faces and voices of the organization and its mission. They need to have their hearts and minds fully engaged to feel fulfilled.

Nonprofit leaders need to pay attention to what  employees need and listen when they provide  feedback, verbally or by their actions.

Marketing needs to be an organic function that starts with a strong internal message voiced by engaged employees. When the heart and mind work together, we can make big things happen.

Does Your Name Ever Come Up? | Brand Identity & You

The not knowing can drive you crazy. You do your job day after day with no idea where it’s taking you. Your boss says you’re doing fine and gives you a good rating. Is that it? 

I worked for a big energy company that would routinely hire a market research firm to survey  anonymously. They’d asked customers: “Which companies in your state do you do business with regularly?” 

These customer respondents used the company’s service every day and paid a bill once a month, but many did NOT think to name the company. 

In market research terms, that meant the company was not “top of mind.” 

Are you? 

Coming to work each day isn’t enough to make us memorable. We need to stand out. That means making our value obvious, repeated, and within reach.

Ask yourself: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when my boss, my colleagues, and customers hear my name? 

Don’t know? Then ask them. Yes, literally. 

Their answers are your personal brand labels. There are hundreds of possibilities. They get applied to us by everyone every day. It’s our job to know what they are, manage them, and put them work for us.

 We need to be “top of mind” to get us where we want to go. 

Get the scoop. 

Make a list of the recognition (the good and not so) you’ve routinely gotten. These are the skills and attributes that have branded you. 

Categorize the assignments you’ve accepted and write down the words that branded your contributions like: 

Special Events 

  • Office party or company event planner—Organized, creative, deadline- driven, fun-loving
  • Emcee for company galas—Entertaining, good speaker, clever, reliable
  • Meeting scribe—Detail-oriented, effective writer, analytical, trustworthy

 Business Challenges 

  • Project manager—Strong planner, innovative, process-driven, change agent
  • Back up/substitute—Dependable, flexible, reliable, capable
  • Expert resource—Technically accomplished, competent, credible, solutions-oriented
  • Troubleshooter—Problem-solver, dependable, customer-centered, reliable 

  Leadership Roles 

  • Company spokesperson—Reliable, savvy, knowledgeable, ethical
  • Succession list designee—Future leader, committed to professional development, business fit
  • Leader—Decision-maker, motivator, risk manager, results driver 

Knowing how you’ve been “branded” by what you’ve done in the past helps you position yourself for future opportunities. 

Ask if you don’t know. 

This is no time to be shy. Become your own market research firm. Ask your colleagues and your boss what words come immediately to mind when someone says your name. 

Then find out what you need to do to change/maintain those words or add new ones, until you have become “top of mind” in the way you want. 

If you don’t come to mind at all, that’s a bigger problem. You’ll need to find out why you are invisible to the people that you want to know you. Then you need to fire up a serious strategy to network and build strong relationships.

It’s not about them. It’s about you.

It’s easy to blame the system when we don’t make the progress we expect. In truth, it’s up to us to see clearly what we are or are not doing to pave our own way. 

We need to take hold of the personal brand we’re building through our actions, our relationships, our work quality, and the capabilities we showcase. 

Personal brand building is not a cut and dried undertaking. It is fraught with ambiguity, surprises, and unknowns. That’s the challenge you face.

Learn to see yourself as others see you. It may sound harsh but, in many ways, you aren’t much different than a product on a shelf. You need to stand out to attract the interest of the people who can help you, so that the next time they are shopping for someone to deliver the goods, you’ll be top of mind! 

What is your overarching brand identity? Is it one you want or not? What are your next steps? Thanks for sharing!