Thursday, October 21, 2010

Maybe the Taggies are no Biggy

Nancy Schwartz, one of the best known bloggers, speakers and consultants in the not for profit world has just released the results of the 2011 Nonprofit Tagline Awards – or Taggies as she and her marketing material refer to them. This year she’s even created a slick video to announce the winners.

Remarkably, over 1700 organizations submitted a total of 2700 taglines for consideration and over 6000 votes were cast to choose the winners. That’s pretty incredible considering that the prize for winning is nothing more than being recognized.

Nancy deserves a lot of credit for coming up with the idea three years ago and developing it into something that 1700 organizations know about and want to participate in. And, through the contest, Nancy is making nonprofits devote at least some attention to their marketing efforts – which is a very good thing.

I think the contest raises some troubling questions.

The video proclaims the tagline to be a “vital marketing tool” and that a “smart tagline is a powerful tool for connecting with your base.” Not only am I not buying it, I think it sends the wrong message to nonprofits. The vital marketing tool is the strategic plan from which a tagline emanates. A well-crafted and implemented plan with a lousy tagline will have better results than the converse any day. Amongst the tools that a nonprofit can use to connect with its base, a tagline is probably one of the least effective.

The awards are distributed without knowing anything about how well they represent the mission, goals or stakeholders of an organization. The winner in the Fundraising category – Oregon Zoo’s “Bring Back the Roar” is smart but is it anything more than that? How did it fit into a broader plan? How did it relate to the target market? How did it contribute to results? On top of that a visit to the Zoo’s website shows no vestige of the tagline. So, while it may have been an award winner it clearly wasn’t a keeper (no pun intended).

The video also declares that a tagline will allow you to “build your brand in 8 words or less.” Brands are not built on 8 word taglines. They are built on thoughtfully considering and developing the relationship that your stakeholders have with your organization. There are many successful brands that – believe it or not – have no tagline. In the for profit world, companies like Apple and Starbucks come to mind. Here in Toronto, York University has just completed a $200M campaign marking the 50th anniversary of the institution. While the “York to the Power of 50” campaign name (is that a tagline?) is creative, I suspect the campaign would have been equally successful with a different – and less creative – name.

Too many organizations already want to skip the strategic steps that will lead to effective marketing. They just want the good-looking logo, the pithy headline and maybe now the award-winning tagline. Ultimately, I worry that the Taggies celebrate the end while ignoring the means.


  1. Hi Chuck. I agree that taking a strategic approach to developing relationships with supporters is the most important priority in nonprofit marketing. Taglines as I see them are one product of a strong strategy. And it's my sense that's what Nancy is also saying with her awards -- not that they are a substitute for a strategy. (Full disclosure: I was a judge of the awards.) Taglines are also a great test of your strategy. You can't have a clear tagline if you don't have a clear sense of 1.) Your mission 2.) What is special about your organization and 3.) What your audience cares about. It seems to me Nancy highlights taglines to get at the need to very succinctly get at the heart of our value to our supporters (our brand) - a useful exercise for any nonprofit. I imagine all of us are in violent agreement, however, that your tagline is not your brand - or strategy.

  2. Thanks so much for emphasizing the very same points I use to frame the tagline awards program. I couldn't have said it better myself!

    Indeed, an effective tagline is an indicator of a comprehensive, well-thought-out marketing plan with clear goals and a deep understanding of what's important to the folks your organization needs to engage and meet those goals.

    That's exactly how I position the tagline, in detail, in the Nonprofit Tagline Report. The report provides the context for effective nonprofit taglines, dos and don'ts and many nonprofit examples. You can download the report here:

    Thanks again,

    P.S. Just to clarify, "Bring Back the Roar" is the tagline of the Oregon Zoo Foundation, not the Zoo itself. It helped the Foundation surpass its fundraising goal by 20%, bringing in a total of 6.2 million!

  3. Katya & Nancy,

    Thanks for your comments. I'm sure we have all encountered organizations that want a tagline just for the sake of having one. Understandable in a world where marketing messages including taglines are ubiquitous. My post was intended a a kind of cautionary tale. I know that all of us that are working with nonprofits understand the importance of strategy. And, more and more organizations are getting it (a result no doubt of the amazing work that both of you do). I just want to make sure the trend continues.

    BTW, I love the idea of a tagline as the test of a strategy.