GCN Brings Funders, Sector Pros, and a Bit of Romance to The Fox

Last week, GCN welcomed more than 250 nonprofit professionals—members and nonmembers alike—to The Fox Theatre for a free afternoon of funder insight, thought leader expertise, and in-depth networking with grantmakers, colleagues, and the author of Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, Intimate Relationships with Consumers.

On Thursday, May 1, GCN ushered in the Spring season proper with a special event at The Fox Theatre, welcoming nonprofit professionals from across Atlanta. More than 250 attendees met with foundation representatives and other grantmakers like the Georgia Council for the Arts, nonprofit service vendors like Bloomerang and BDO, and keynote presenter Tim Halloran, author of Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, Intimate Relationships with Consumers.

Nearly a dozen different funders greeted visitors to the Fox’s Egyptian Ballroom at the always-popular Funding Roundtables, a recurring feature at GCN member events that sits down attendees with grantmaker representatives, and leaders from the nonprofits they fund, to discuss particular funding challenges. At the Fox Funding Roundtables, attendees learned about opportunities to secure general operational support (with The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta), how to launch a successful capital campaign (with Coxe Curry & Associates), and issues particular to their cause area (human services with Nordson Corporation Foundation, environmental issues with Cox Enterprises, and education with Delta Community Credit Union).

Jolie Maxwell, assistant vice president at SunTrust Banks, walked a table of nonprofit leaders through the details of Challenge Grants at a Funding Roundtable devoted to “Engaging Individual Donors via Georgia Gives Day,” giving attendees talking points to use when asking major donors about funding a challenge grant. Maxwell also gave them a thumbnail strategy for building buzz on the way to the state’s big day of giving, while attendees who had participated in a Gives Day were quick to offer lessons from their own efforts.

No question was off limits or too basic: Maxwell and company happily provided a step-by-step walkthrough of the day itself, from both the nonprofit perspective and the donor perspective. Likewise, the table devoted to “Volunteerism,” headed by Cheryl Kortemeier, ED of the Corporate Volunteer Council of Atlanta, found attendees who weren’t asking board members to attend (that is, to buy a ticket) to the events they helped plan. Kortemeier encouraged her tablemates to take it a step further: “You should always ask the volunteers who aren’t volunteering to attend your events.” And if you think those volunteers can’t afford it, she suggests you ask your board members if they’d like to pay for a volunteer to attend (as well as themselves).

GCN business partners were also on hand in our Community Marketplace, offering information and on-the-spot consulting for a range of services, including accounting, donor management, software and hardware systems, insurance assessment and coverage, fleet management, online data solutions, marketing, HR, facilities, information technology, and more.

Tim Halloran’s keynote presentation, titled “I Your Cause,” built on ideas and tactics that the marketing expert developed while working for top companies like Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, Kraft Foods, and Delta Airlines. Using the example of for-profit brands like Diet Coke and Apple, and nonprofit brands like Atlanta Botanical Garden and Habitat for Humanity (a GCN member), Halloran demonstrated the principles and power of a brand that appeals to emotions, desires, and aspirations—and how it fits into an overall strategy he calls “romancing the brand.”

Taking Dos Equis for example, Halloran detailed the branding process that led the limited-market niche beer to double its sales volume, increase nationwide awareness by 47 percent, and “go viral” in memes and media. The secret was “knowing themselves” and “knowing their type,” two steps in Halloran’s “romancing the brand” strategy that amount to doing your research: by going to bars and talking to people drinking their product, Dos Equis discovered that what their customers want is to hang out with their friends and share good stories. They desired, in other words, to be interesting.

To connect emotionally with that customer (which, not incidentally, is the next step in Halloran’s strategy), Dos Equis created an aspirational, inspirational figure who embodies that desire: “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” The cherry on top, Halloran notes, is his tagline: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” That lines works, Halloran says, because it says that the emotional message—the character’s voice—trumps any consumption push. (Further proof of the line’s media quotient, says Halloran, is how it’s become a standard template for hip punchlines: “I don’t always do X, but when I do, I prefer Y.”)

A cocktail party rounded out the proceedings, giving everyone in attendance a chance to compare notes, make new connections, and get a few more minutes in with GCN partners in the Community Marketplace while unwinding over wine, mixed drinks, and finger food. At 7:00, the crowd left largely the same way it spent the day: chattering, animated, and eager to share with their nonprofit colleagues.

"Generally, if you get great leaders in a room together good things happen," said GCN President and CEO Karen Beavor. "We were pleased to offer a space for that to occur."

View more pictures from our event at the Fox Theatre on our Flickr page!

Marc Schultz is contributing editor at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

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