You’re Not Nike — Get Over It
When a nonprofit makes a corporate-style brand promise — whether it's "give because we are great" or "give to make yourself great" — it paints itself into a corner. It can't pull it off. The claims are empty. The problem is, its claims are qualitative claims. They can't be proven. The donor is going to be disappointed, or at least underwhelmed, by the lack of tangible proof he gets.
In fact, the more exciting the brand promise you made, the wider the gap your donor will feel between the promise and the experience.
That's why nonprofits that have never been through the branding exercise often have stronger brands than those who have. They aren't making high-flown, abstract statements about who they are — and promises they have no ability to fulfill. They just put out fundraising offers. To fulfill the promises they make, they only have to be grateful for the gifts and share stories of success. That's not glamorous, and it's not going to get written up in Communication Arts. But it works. It keeps the promise, and that's what matters.
There is a better way
I'm not recommending that you just ignore branding altogether. (Though if you have to choose between a corporate-style brand and none at all, you're much better off with none at all.) There's a better way.
An effective nonprofit brand takes a different approach: Instead of a look-at-me brand, it's a look-at-you brand. It recognizes that donors give to make good things happen, not to support an organization. Instead of promising to be the coolest charity on the block, it promises a fulfilling, information-rich experience that will maximize the donor's impact. It says two things:
● You'll have a lot of impact.
● You'll see that impact, clearly and dramatically.