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  • Writer's pictureMikaela Bolling

Evolving your nonprofit communications: lessons from 40 year-old Seattle nonprofit



How does an organization’s message need to adapt with a changing community?


That was the question posed to us from Lifelong, a Seattle nonprofit delivering food, housing, and health services to people living with chronic illnesses, including HIV and AIDS.


To talk about the evolution of the nonprofit and the work Brilliant Marketing supported, we sat down with Sage Fitzpatrick, Director of Engagement at Lifelong. In this discussion, we talk about Lifelong’s mission, nonprofit communications, and the value of donor research.


One community. One mission. 40 years.


Lifelong was born when two separate organizations, Northwest AIDS Foundation and Chicken Soup Brigade, were forged into one. Sage talks about how outraged the community was when there was a lack of resources for those affected by AIDS. While the Northwest AIDS Foundation focused on case management and advocacy efforts, the Chicken Soup Brigade provided services to get food to those who needed it most.


However, with the climate of AIDS changing now from 40 years ago, how did the organization expand and adjust their marketing?


With time, developments in medicine provided clinical ways of helping those with the disease. Nearly a decade ago, Lifelong expanded their mission to service all community members with a wide variety of illnesses. It is no surprise that while they were rooted in the AIDS epidemic, expanding their outreach and services caused some communication challenges with the community and donors.


Questions arose such as, “did they still serve those with AIDS? Were they changing their mission?”

Sage explains that while there is a decrease in HIV rates, we are still seeing communities faced with unique barriers, making Lifelong’s mission still vital today. They aren’t turning their backs on who they serve, but expanding to help more people falling through the gap between poverty and illness.


Knowing the importance, not sure how to ask.


The evolution of Lifelong has been drastic. Sage mentions that while the organization itself has evolved, so have their donors. With internal leadership shifting and geographic areas expanding, it was imperative that Lifelong learned how to better market their mission, importance, and reach.


Brilliant Marketing was called on to work with Lifelong on donor research and social media support to assist with better understanding and connecting with their donors.


To keep relevant with donors: get to know them


Brilliant Marketing did two separate types of research: 30-minute interviews with donors and a donor email survey. The outcomes of the research were somewhat surprising to Lifelong’s team.


The research reinforced some of the marketing strategies that they were already implementing; however, other responses gave insight on what their donors wanted to see more of. Sage was able to determine what to prioritize most in their marketing strategies moving forward.


With these insights, Lifelong was able to better understand their donors and become more aware of how to better communicate not only their statistics, but the personal story behind the organization, causing consistent realignment to the mission.


Leading with research aligns your efforts


The research provided a strong foundation for Lifelong’s team to then execute in a way that the donor’s wanted.


Many different types of organizations can benefit from donor research, especially to realign with its missions and values. It can be difficult for an organization to take on a new direction or adapt to changes internally as well as externally. Having help in this process with not only facilitating but understanding the research, can be a gamechanger in making sure that your organization is engaging and educating those who need it most!



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