Nov 25 2017

The Challenge of Building a National Brand

You received a generous three-year grant from a national funder to help other organizations replicate your highly successful after-school program in their communities. This is your opportunity to create a nationally recognized brand.

You knew you could help and were flattered by the attention. Your board and staff were enthusiastic about building a more prominent profile. Good feelings all around.

You knew this expansion wasn’t core to your mission. But you convinced yourself that being active in more places would help attract more funding so you hired more people and, with much fanfare, launched a technical assistance center. Good feelings continued to grow.

You quickly found that providing technical assistance wasn’t a core capability. It distracted senior staff, jeopardizing your local work and your brand and creating tensions among your core donors who grew concerned about their investments in your programs. Good feelings stopped.

Your national funder also became anxious about your ability to meet your grant commitments and questioned the organization’s ability to execute more broadly. Worse feelings started to creep in.

You were now faced with the real possibility that this boost in real income might be coming at the expense of psychic income, mostly in the form of management credibility—the hardest asset to rebuild.

Could you have avoided this unintended consequence by

  • Asking for additional funding from your technical assistance investor to cover any opportunity costs to your own core programs;
  • Working with front-line staff to consider all the environmental challenges you might encounter;
  • Sharing this assessment with your board and your technical assistance investor and considering ways to phase-in the funding more gradually to avoid jeopardizing your core service delivery mission;
  • Setting more appropriate expectations with all about scalability:

What support you could provide

How quickly you could provide it;

  • Codifying your technical assistance commitments in service level agreements that could be planned and managed thoughtfully?

Knowing what you now know, would you still have taken the grant? Maybe so. But thinking about psychic income and weighing how much was at stake might have improved your odds of success.