Is Your Branding Helping or Hurting You?
I’ve been fairly critical in articles and speeches of nonprofits that allow their branding to undermine their fundraising. This most often happens when the branding people focus on articulating the complexity and success of a charity’s programs and, in so doing, inadvertently undermine successful direct-response fundraising that depends on urgency, need and simplicity.
Examples abound. We’ve known brand folks to suggest an organization focus on sustainable community development rather than sponsoring or feeding a hungry child. While the brand people are correct that sustainable community development is essential programmatically, they have learned the hard way that it doesn’t work in mass fundraising.
I recall one national nonprofit that combats a painful and debilitating disease. The organization funds research into prevention and cures, and advocacy for sufferers. When it came time to articulate its brand, the branding folks put all their focus on communicating that those afflicted with the disease can live normal lives with dignity. They actually said, “We don’t want to give the impression that people with this disease need help!” What they communicated without intending to do so: “We don’t need your donations because our people are fine as is.” That’s an extreme example, of course, but every time your brand guidelines insist you focus on hope instead of need, on complexity instead of simplicity, you risk undermining your fundraising and the future of your organization.
The brand must support program. If it doesn’t, it’s poor branding. This is pretty much universally understood. Most nonprofits do a pretty good job in having the brand reflect and support programming.
But the brand also must support fundraising. If it doesn’t, it’s poor branding. And the organization soon won’t have the funds it needs to conduct its program.
So nonprofits shouldn’t undermine their own fundraising with their brands.