Bill McKendry On How To Leave a Lasting Legacy With a Successful & Effective Nonprofit Organization

…Examine every decision and put it through a “brand filter” to determine whether it is “on brand” or not — that’s true of hiring decisions, location decisions, technology decisions, customer journey and support decisions, partnering decisions, board member decisions, giving and involvement decisions, and sponsorship decisions. For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a […]

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…Examine every decision and put it through a “brand filter” to determine whether it is “on brand” or not — that’s true of hiring decisions, location decisions, technology decisions, customer journey and support decisions, partnering decisions, board member decisions, giving and involvement decisions, and sponsorship decisions.


For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill McKendry.

Bill McKendry is founder and board president of DoMoreGood.org, which has now combined efforts with Nonprofit Hub and Cause Camp, to provide content, thought leadership, and educational conferences and workshops for nonprofit organizations. Bill was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s (AAF) Hall of Achievement for his cause work and is a frequent public speaker on the topic of how branding and marketing can help nonprofit organizations do more good. He’s just released a book also called DO MORE GOOD which provides insights and advice on how nonprofits can move from good to growth.


Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

Being raised in a household where both parents were deaf from birth profoundly shaped me, I credit this upbringing with the reason I have a strong desire to be a voice and communicator for those who need help.

As such, I see my career in marketing and communications not just as a career, but as a calling. Because so much about marketing and communications is about translating the vision and dreams for an organization to priority constituents, having been a translator for my parents in my youth gave me early training on how to communicate clearly and, at times, urgently.

I used to see my childhood experiences as not ideal because none of my friends had that responsibility with and for their parents. However, today, I’m thankful because it has helped me a great deal in my profession as a communicator and in life.

Beyond that, another defining life experience is having worked for many of the world’s largest brands early in my career (I started at the advertising agency BBDO and on clients such as American Express, Taco Bell, Dodge and Kohler), I learned how the most successful marketers develop very clear, concise, and compelling messaging based on well-researched insights. Once I had a taste of that, I never wanted to serve any client ever without doing what I knew was best for them.

As I entered working with nonprofits by choice, starting a marketing/branding agency in 1994 that dedicated 50% of its efforts to working with nonprofits, I observed that they do not uniformly understand how to harness the power of marketing and communications to help create more awareness and support to advance their missions.

The combination of my upbringing with my professional training made working with nonprofits a purposeful passion and has given me an opportunity to make a difference, not just a living.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

All my aspirational leadership qualities have been inspired and shaped by my faith. So, I look to Jesus and what he modeled as a leader above all other examples.

Most Christians say that following Jesus’ example of leadership is about taking a position of servant leadership (putting others first). While that’s true, I understand his leadership to be multi-dimensional beyond just that attitude. Jesus showed that to be an effective leader you need to:

1. Look to be a peacekeeper | looking for ways to resolve differences with respect and understanding.

2. Be approachable | you should be easy to access and give people the feeling you have time for them.

3. Have compassion | always try to understand the condition from which people are viewing an opportunity or problem.

Beyond those, Jesus moved people to action because he treated people equally (regardless of title or ability, he made sure people understood he cared for and respect everyone equally) and he always displayed grace (giving people the room to fail and learn from those failures).

A nonprofit leader I’ve always admired was Mother Teresa. In 1996 I had the opportunity to film Mother Teresa, a year before her death. I was working with a client that was interested in creating short films and commercials to make a difference by influencing the perspectives of Catholic women.

At this time, Mother Teresa was coming to the United States to celebrate forty years of her work in Calcutta. She was being honored with a dinner at the White House.

As this opportunity came together quickly, one morning I found myself in Washington, D.C., standing outside a convent where Mother Teresa was staying for her engagement at the White House. The video crew, my business partner, and I were going through the normal preproduction protocols. One standard practice is to get a signed model release before filming.

While it seemed crazy to ask Mother Teresa to sign a model release, to legally protect everyone involved, it just needed to be done. Representing Mother Teresa was a younger nun, Sister Sylvia, who was acting as her handler.

Mother Teresa was eighty-six years old at the time, so Sister Sylvia was, my guess, about seventy-two years old. She and I reviewed the contents of the model release and other documents that needed to be signed to get our paperwork in order.

During our discussion, Sister Sylvia asked me to explain what I did, what my business was about, and how we worked for our clients. In a nutshell, I explained that we helped our clients, over 50 percent of which were nonprofits, to communicate more powerfully and persuasively — which then would help them raise the support they need so they don’t just do good — they can do even greater good.

I said, “Maybe you know, Peter Drucker says a nonprofit organization’s purpose isn’t just the cause it’s working for, but even more, its purpose is to raise the donors and funds needed to make the impact they are hoping to make. And like the business world, it takes resources to grow your impact, so communications and marketing provide the fuel needed to grow.”

At this point, I was sure I had lost this sprightly seventy-two- year-old nun with my diatribe. Instead, she looked at me and said, “I get it, Bill.”

I responded, “Sister, I mean no disrespect, but I know a lot of really smart nonprofit CEOs who don’t get what I just said. Can you tell me, in your own words, your understanding of this concept? We’re a relatively new firm, and I’d love to know what I have said that might have resonated with you.”

She said, “Mother Teresa and I talk about this topic all the time. We use a different wording to describe our needed focus on getting support, and it’s this: ‘No margin, no mission.’”

She then went on to say, “Do you think Mother Teresa really wanted to come to America and speak at the White House? No, not really. She would prefer to be back in Calcutta, helping people. Do you think she really wants the attention that goes with accepting awards like the Nobel Peace Prize? No, she doesn’t seek any attention. She wants to stay in Calcutta and give her attention to the people there. But the reason she gets on a plane, comes to Washington, D.C., or goes to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Sweden, the reason she does all this stuff at the age of eighty-six is because she understands,

‘No margin, no mission.’ If we don’t raise money and awareness, we can’t help the people we really want to help.”

That statement “No margin, no mission” stuck with me, and it’s forever impacted the way I look at nonprofit organization growth. Mother Teresa got it. And so did Sister Sylvia.

They understood why communicating your needs powerfully is so vitally important. If the Missionaries of Charity (the nonprofit Mother Teresa founded) didn’t have the public awareness and financial support it needs, it wouldn’t be able to continue its amazing work.

It wasn’t Mother Teresa’s desire to be filmed or attend a fancy dinner in her honor. She much preferred to put on her sandals and serve the poor and sick and abandoned people of India, but she was wise enough to realize that she couldn’t continue to do that good work — as famous and admired as she already was — if she didn’t find ways to tell people about it! She wanted to do more good! And did she ever!

Beyond her vision and work ethic to do all she could to do all the good she possibly could, Mother Teresa clearly followed Jesus’ model for leadership. Despite being world-known and an honored guest of the President of the United States, she treated everyone on our crew that day with grace, respect, and compassion. She didn’t make anything about herself and stayed focused on the needs of others.

Quiet leadership, yes. Powerful outcomes, clearly. Key lesson: When you’re willing to sacrifice your ego in order to change the world, you will do more good as a result.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

Understanding that nonprofits have competition that they can’t see and, therefore, spend virtually no effort defending themselves from these forces.

In short, the consumer market and businesses in general are the most formidable competitors for nonprofits when it comes to garnering a share of people’s discretionary time and money. Which means a nonprofit’s voice in the marketplace competes with all other voices, especially those coming from the makers and marketers of consumer goods and services.

This means the “competition” nonprofits includes all distractions that compete for people’s time, attention, and money — such as the mall, movie theater, sporting events, or theme parks.

Interestingly, though, nonprofits don’t like to talk about competition because they seem to only understand this topic from its most rudimentary, direct competition definition — those that compete in the nonprofit space for donor dollars and/or provide similar services.

But the reality that nonprofits compete with world-class marketers such a Coke, Apple and Nike for discretionary time and money should give nonprofits a sense of urgency and make them more deliberate in how they combat these market forces.

That intentionality and determination is at the heart of my book. And it’s foundational to understand if you’re a nonprofit leader who wants to do more good.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

Do More Good the book and the organization are a multiplication movement. We’re about teaching organizations how to garner, grow and sustain awareness and support so they can do more and more and more good.

We’re not trying to define what good needs to be done, we’re simply saying this world needs more good. We’re also saying that we have a clear-eyed understanding of what fuels growth and our mission is to help nonprofits capture more than their fair share of those resources.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

My upbringing as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) put me in the position of being a voice for those who need help from my earliest days. I believe advocating and trying to “do more good” is in my DNA.

Beyond that foundation, doing good is also the bedrock of my faith. One of Jesus’ greatest commands to his followers is to love thy neighbor. And his definition of neighbor was one that has global implications. Being good and doing good is core to Jesus’ teachings and I am passionate about following his guidance and wisdom.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

I’ve worked directly with over 300 nonprofit organizations. In that work I know my efforts have contributed to saving lives, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, educating the unreached, finding/saving the lost, providing justice for the marginalized, creating understanding between those with differences and growing love, respect, charity, and human kindness.

While it’s not often I get to meet the people individually that have been helped through my/our efforts, I hear their stories from the organizations we serve, and they provide all the energy needed to keep up the “good” fight.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

When it comes to being purpose driven, I am of the mindset that one needs to take those endeavors as serious as they would take anything in business. In short, if you have a purpose in mind, make it your business to do it as well as anything you’d do for money.

As such, three actions to take to help you solve anything are:

  1. Don’t be risk averse (if you’re afraid to fail, you won’t take the risks needed to achieve great things).
  2. Don’t make emotional decisions (always try to collect facts, do your homework and as much as you can, base decisions on well-researched outcomes).
  3. Find the source from which the root draws its energy (Root causes are not typically found by examining the roots, rather they’re in the soil that surrounds them. That’s what contributes to positive/negative outcomes. When it comes to nonprofits, I ask them to be mindful that the only two things that produce revenue/income are marketing and innovation. For them, everything else is a cost, so marketing and innovation budgets should be the last things you cut … not the first.).

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.

Going back to the advice I received from Mother Teresa … no margin, no mission, this really is the underpinning of my work and advice to nonprofits. I really hate to be so practical when it comes to legacy-type discussions, but the fuel of legacy are the resources needed to build one.

That’s where I look to the business world and see that really, really successful companies cease to see themselves as companies, but instead, see themselves as brands. And that’s what creates uber success, growth, and gives them a sustainable advantage and makes for a lasting legacy.

Be a brand, not an organization. That’s the overarching message of everything I’ve been saying, teaching, and even preaching on how an organization can ultimately do more good.

Reality is, when you look at the biggest and most successful companies in the world, they seem to understand something the nonprofit world doesn’t really get — that is, they understand the importance and value of their brand.

Companies, institutions, and organizations that want to build a legacy understand the importance and value of their brands do these things:

  1. See their brand as a series of “mental shortcuts” for important audiences to communicate what their company, institution, or organization does, what it does well, and what makes it unique and different.

Nike tells its customers to “Just Do It.” Apple challenges their loyalists to “Think Different.” And Harley Davidson promises their following “Freedom.” (Note: Harley is still the only brand where customers willingly tattoo their endorsements on their body.)

One of the most powerful, “power of a brand” stories I tell is when I discuss this topic with college students. When I do, I often ask students to tell me the “mental shortcut” thoughts they have when I mention the brands “Apple” and “Amazon.”

They immediately begin shouting to me their answers with the excitement of kids yelling out their choice of flavors in an ice cream store. Once they’re done, I ask them: “Did anyone think of the fruit or rain forest when I mentioned those words?”

Silence.

At that point, they fully grasp the power of branding.

2. View their brand as their most important asset to be leveraged for success, growth, attention, partnerships, and investment.

Nonprofits are often penalized and scrutinized for their investments in marketing and fundraising. As a result, they, their boards, and their donors see marketing activities as an expense rather than an investment in growing their brand.

Wall Street sees brands differently, many times more valuable than any other asset a company can own. As of this writing, Tesla is the world’s most valuable car company. Not only more valuable than giants like Ford, GM, and Toyota … but they’re currently valued on the market as being worth more than all other car companies combined.

What drives that value? Physical assets? Number of patents? Cash on hand?

No, no … and no.

What makes Tesla more valuable than all competitors combined is their ability to innovate and the value of their brand.

How does that translate to the nonprofit world? It says that people prefer to invest in visionary organizations with the potential to do more good. And knowing how to demonstrate that in the market really well shows not only that you can make promises, but you can keep them too.

A simple definition I often give for a brand is: promises made and promises kept.

Another tip I give often about branding is to understand that “different is better than either bigger or better.” Tesla is a clear example of that point.

3. Recognize marketing as the fuel that grows their brand and, therefore, requires serious effort, risk-taking, and investment along with a measured and expected ROI.

I mentioned in an earlier answer the importance of risk-taking. While it’s an often-admired trait in the business world, nonprofits tend to frown upon taking risks as they see every dollar collected as provided by a donor.

I agree that donor dollars need to be stewarded as wisely as those borrowed from a bank or invested by the stock market. But the reality is, all these dollars come to an organization with responsibility. And I see a responsible organization as one that not only knows how to operate within its means … but also one that understands growth is healthy.

I once had a nonprofit client that was building a significant attraction (a theme park) to be able to educate while entertain. They saw this investment as one that would grow the awareness of their ministry and give it the opportunity to reach new audiences, which would ultimately grow their ministry.

Thankfully, they didn’t just have the “build it and they will come” mindset when they were constructing their plans for this attraction. They were wise enough to articulate to their donors that they would need a healthy marketing budget to bring people to the attraction.

We were so successful at the launch of this attraction that the local visitors and tourism bureau asked to meet with my client and share that the area was 16 hotels short of satisfying the demand they experienced just in season one of the attraction. They were pressing my client on whether they were going to build more hotels or whether the visitor and tourism bureau should be pitching investors to do so.

My client was so delighted by that conversation … that what they built was attracting hotel demand that was 16x greater than what already existed … he said to me: “Why don’t more nonprofits do this?” Meaning, why don’t more nonprofits plan to market what they built vs just building it and hoping that their plans will be successful?

My answer to my client was: “Because they don’t understand that hope is not a legitimate strategy. And you do.”

In short, success requires risk and the right to fail. More success requires more risk and more room and grace to fail.

4. Look at their CEO as the person who needs to prioritize and spearhead leveraging and accelerating growth using marketing and innovation to increase brand recognition and value.

The acronym CEO in the past meant that person was the Chief Executive Officer of the company. Reality is today, it stands for Chief Engagement Officer.

CEOs are no longer the person expected to spend their days looking at spreadsheets and driving cost-cutting measures. Rather, they are the visionary for growth and innovation.

Peter Drucker was famous for pointing out that a business has one and only one purpose … to create a customer. He also said that a nonprofit organization’s purpose isn’t just the cause it’s working for, but even more, its purpose is to raise the donors and funds needed to make the impact they are hoping to make. And like the business world, it takes resources to grow your impact, so communications and marketing provide the fuel needed to grow.

Hence, the modern CEO is about engaging with and communicating to others about getting and maintaining the fuel levels needed to grow. Steve Jobs to Richard Branson to Elon Musk, the new breed of CEO is all about engaging others in their visions and plans for their lifestyle-changing brands.

Modern nonprofit CEO’s need to be inspired to do the same.

5. Examine every decision and put it through a “brand filter” to determine whether it is “on brand” or not — that’s true of hiring decisions, location decisions, technology decisions, customer journey and support decisions, partnering decisions, board member decisions, giving and involvement decisions, and sponsorship decisions.

Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, was asked how he built one of the world’s largest brands with virtually no advertising. After all, brands usually become brand names by promoting themselves through massive and expensive media campaigns. Schultz, in response, is credited as saying, “Understanding branding is easy. Everything matters.”

What did he mean by that? Essentially, he was saying that an organization makes an imprint with each contact a person has with that brand — whether the contact is from an ad or through an experience.

The key to Starbucks’s success is understanding that every brand touchpoint matters to achieving customer loyalty.

If you know anything about the Starbucks experience, you understand that it leaves very little to chance. From the store location, décor, signage, music, and product packaging to the baristas working behind the counter, everything is intentional — and everything is managed as if it matters to the company’s brand perceptions and its overall success. Each and every contact is managed to make the best impression possible.

A top-level “Brand Experience” consultant with whom I once worked always asked his clients to pretend that they were a club that requires people to pay a membership fee. He then would ask:

  • Why would people want to belong to this club?
  • Why would they pay to get in?
  • How much would their membership be worth to them?
  • What would they say to get others to join?
  • Why would they renew their membership?

In short, he was saying the experiences people have with a brand must be managed intentionally so they continually bring value or return on investment.

Supporters to a nonprofit incur costs well beyond the dollars they contribute — their time, attention, and consideration are all valuable. So, it is important to make every contact count.

And for a nonprofit leader, they need to examine their organizations and ask themselves — are we deliberately managing every brand contact?

If not, I’d ask them: Are you a visionary leader who understands the importance of making everything matter and to put your organization in the best position to do more good?

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

My definition of success hasn’t changed, it remains to do more good until I can’t do it anymore. The definition of how to achieve success has been significantly altered, in my mind, because of the pandemic.

It’s more important than ever for nonprofit leaders to be good stewards of dollars and resources used for growing awareness and support. In our current pandemic-shaped and media-saturated

world, it’s essential. One of the keys to being successful today is to spend less time and money on messaging that doesn’t resonate with your donor audiences.

The news cycle has become seemingly endless doom and gloom. Fear and negativity dominate discussions of all kinds, and there seems to be no end in sight to our high-tension atmosphere and divisiveness. During these times, people want solutions, and they want to know there are difference-makers out there.

The author of the international bestselling book Sell Like Crazy, Sabri Suby, who heads Australia’s fastest-growing digital marketing agency, wrote in a social media post how brands can be a ray of sunshine in the storm and can thrive during times like these.

He said the secret is to understand that in tough moments, people don’t want candy or vitamins. Rather, they are looking for a painkiller.

Candylike brands and candy messaging are representative of organizations that are very nice, and that people enjoy, but they aren’t positioning themselves as a solution to a burning problem. So, while they can get support during good times, they’re not seen as essential in more challenging seasons.

Examples of nonprofit “candy” brands are fine arts organizations, theater groups, symphonies, galleries, performing arts venues, zoos, and planting trees. While many people feel strongly about the need for these enriching activities and events (count me in that crowd), they’re not universally seen as essential to support when times get tough.

Vitaminlike organizations are known to have a very positive impact over time, but they’re also not seen as solving issues of urgent need. Therefore, like candy organizations, they are not positioned well to grow during economic contractions.

Examples of nonprofit “vitamin” brands are hiking trail associations, after-school activities, junior athletic programs, nature preserves, museums, and fitness programs. These would all fit into the vitamin cause category. They’re all seen as good for participating individuals, but they’re not perceived as critical.

Painkiller brands and messaging, in contrast, are seen as coming from causes that offer immediate solutions to vitally important and pressing problems. These are problems that the majority of donors recognize and agree need to be alleviated promptly and urgently.

Examples of nonprofit painkiller organizations are those dealing with hunger, emergency housing, healthcare, and community safety. These are all painkiller causes that thrive during tough times. Painkiller organizations are seen as solving urgent issues. They are perceived as critically important — now.

Suby also says when situations are dire, you don’t want to position your organization as anything but a painkiller. Think about it this way, he says: “If you’re feeling crippling pain, your focus goes quickly to finding immediate solutions.”

In other words, you might be a vitamin type of cause, but you’d better find someone or something you serve that has an urgent need or you will miss “moments of opportunity” during challenging times to capture attention and support when people likely have more time and empathy than they do during stronger economic cycles.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa Sherman from The Ad Council noted: “This is a moment of irreversible empathy. As the number of people who find themselves in tough situations soars . . . so does the number of people who understand at a visceral level what instability feels like.”

Charity Water is an organization often admired for its messaging and positioning. One of the reasons it’s been so successful is that its mission was founded on a painkiller platform — the recognition that many diseases being treated in Third World countries were caused by unsafe drinking water. And though it has bold goals of providing clean water for 100 million-plus people, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it shifted the messaging in its ads to focus on delivering lifesaving hand sanitization resources and education for vulnerable communities.

That education was about the importance of handwashing, using clean water, and killing germs, and it was a message that Americans could relate to. In short, this organization dealt with a new pain using a different painkiller message and shifted from just drinking water messaging to the need for clean water for handwashing to prevent COVID-19, as well as its ability to provide sanitation and hygiene training for people in great need.

But it’s not the only organization that had timely and powerful painkiller communications resulting from a reaction to COVID-19. I’ve watched during the pandemic as performing arts venues encouraged people to buy gift cards to support them in a moment of great uncertainty and help support out-of-work performing artists. These venues connected the message about supporting the arts with why performing arts is an urgent need right now.

I’ve seen a trail association change its messaging from supporting growth to supporting maintenance and providing safe trails for people seeking a healthy escape from being in lockdown in their homes. I worked with an organization that provides deaf people with Bible translations, and I encouraged them to shift their communications focus to helping deaf people who are hungry during these difficult times — since they have language barriers, their challenges were temporarily greater to get the basic needs such as food and water.

That shift in communication focus has made these organizations’ campaigns successful! The bottom line is, when people are feeling pain, a vitamin won’t provide immediate relief. Candy is out of the question. Instead, they are looking for painkillers. And while that may have been more evident during a pandemic, the reality is, there’s always someone in pain and there likely is always the need to message accordingly.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

My answer to these kinds of questions is always short. That is, I have learned to see life not as a “win/lose” proposition and, instead, I see it from a “win/learn” perspective. Quite honestly, I’ve learned far more from my setbacks and losses than I ever have from my victories and successes.

So, sometimes, I actually enjoy not getting what I want or have set out to get. Because the lessons I’ve learned are far more valuable.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

This one is easy, Elon Musk. He seems like my kind of person … a person who doesn’t just want to make a living, but one who wants to make a difference.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

DoMoreGood.org is probably the best place to follow my progress online.

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.

Thank you for giving people a platform to share meaningful thoughts that help set us all on an important journey to do more good.

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