When you were in high school, reputation was everything. How your classmates perceived you, i.e. your way of dressing, what you did for fun, determined whether you had a cool reputation or not. When starting a nonprofit, the way to be cool with the staff, the donors, the board of directors, and the general public involves carefully crafting their perceptions of your organization.

Much of this perception building happens as a result of precise marketing and preventive strategies, in person and especially online, an effective vehicle for reaching many people around  the world.

Here are some ways to obtain and maintain a cool reputation:

1. Create a consistent brand, logo, and mission statement. Carry this consistency throughout your website, social media pages, letterhead, and other marketing materials. Be clear to your audience about who you are and what you stand for. Don’t sway from that mission. Of course, your organization may change. That’s A-OK, as long as you are clear every step of the way about these changes and communicate to your stakeholders why they are necessary for the growth of your nonprofit.

2. Hire staff members who are highly qualified and committed to your mission. Reach out to the community for volunteers who are positively affected by the work you do and want to spread the positive message to others.

3. Request regular feedback. Use a suggestion box or SurveyMonkey to obtain feedback from staff, donors, the community, board of directors, and other relevant personnel in order to gauge their perceptions of your nonprofit. Responses can be anonymous if that is preferred. Use the positive testimonials to augment your website and social media pages.

If you receive negative feedback, take time to understand why. Reach out to the naysayers to receive further details and to prevent negativity from spreading. For example, if a staff member quits, use the exit interview to garner information about the nonprofit’s strengths and areas for improvement. Remember that one person’s opinion is just that – an opinion. However, that one person can spread the opinion through word of mouth and very easily via the Internet. If you take time to understand the person’s view and address it respectfully, then you can nip negativity in the bud. See Third Sector Today’s post on How to handle a troll,” if negativity should appear online.

4. Align your organization with other reputable nonprofits with a similar bent. What other nonprofits are doing what they love, have people who love them, and have been successful for years?

5. Hire a professional who can monitor your reputation. Engage someone to be the guardian of your online presence as well as your presence throughout the community. Let this person be an advocate for your organization, someone who speaks well under pressure and is genuine in both words and deeds.

Perception strategies are crucial to building a solid reputation. If you can immediately connect with the people affiliated with your nonprofit, market sincere intentions, back up your words with actions, address negativity quickly and respectfully, and receive support from other well-regarded organizations, then you are on your way to nonprofit credibility.

For additional tips, visit FirstGiving and Nonprofit Risk Management Center.