Why Nonprofit Branding Is Essential to Your Organization’s Mission: And What to Do About It
Nonprofits do amazing work, often while working with far fewer resources than their for-profit counterparts. Those at the helm put in serious effort, because they believe in the mission, but there are only 24 hours in a day. Sometimes, it’s just not possible to touch everything—or even most things—on the “to do” list. In that context, it’s easy to see why some organizations can put nonprofit branding on the bottom of the priority list. But ignoring branding could undermine your mission in unforeseen ways.
First, let’s step back and ask two basic questions.
What Is Branding? Why Is It Important for a Nonprofit?
Branding at its essence is about creating the relationship you want to have with your audience to foster preference, loyalty and trust. Your audience’s perceptions of your organization are formed by each communication action and interaction; and every touchpoint is an opportunity to make a good impression.
A strong brand also creates a perception of value and quality in the minds of the audience. I like to use an example of a gold ring. If you buy an 18K gold ring from Amazon, the cost for that ring is under $200. But if you buy that same ring from Tiffany in the blue box, now the cost is $600. This is just an example from the world of products. But the principle holds more broadly.
A strong nonprofit brand can help strategically advance a nonprofit’s goals—mission and impact—and can translate into:
- Greater financial support; when supporters feel connected to your brand’s story, they are more likely to donate on an ongoing basis.
- Credibility in the eyes of your donors to deploy resources effectively and with greater flexibility organizations with weaker brands.
- Acquiring amazing talent, board members and volunteers.
- Attracting and maintaining useful partnerships.
Ways to Define and Manage Your Nonprofit Brand
Define your core brand values. First, clarify the essentials. What do you stand for? Why does your organization exist? By identifying and defining your core values, you have the foundation on which to create an authentic and emotional tether between your audience and your organization. They also provide a “true north” to keep the organization working toward a common goal. Core values can be used internally or externally and should inform your brand messaging.
Create strong brand messaging and repeat it. Our media environment is oversaturated. People need to quickly understand, hear and see messages multiple times before those messages truly sink in. Create a short, catchy tagline; a compelling elevator pitch; and a deeper narrative. Use this messaging across your marketing materials and outreach and ensure those speaking on behalf of your organization are reinforcing it.
Position your brand for success. In the private sector, you compete with other businesses to gain market share. In the social sector, you often collaborate across organizations. However, you still must differentiate your nonprofit in the mind of your donors to create a desired preference and brand image relative to others in your field. Positioning articulates that difference. To do this right, you need to understand your target audience and the unmet need you’re addressing. You must assess other organizations’ strengths and weaknesses; your own strengths and weaknesses; your special capabilities and advantages; and the impact you’re having. Clarifying this will elevate you and rally supporters, donors, volunteers and partners to your cause.
Develop a visual brand identity. You can reach your audience in seemingly infinite ways. For example:
- Social media platforms
- Your website
- Email marketing
- Print content
- The list goes on…
The work you publish across these categories should be related and visually cohesive to avoid confusing your audience or watering down the brand. People have extremely short attention spans, especially online. Keep your content on point, so it’s remembered and quickly identified as yours.
Branding isn’t just a buzzword, and it’s not something that only Silicon Valley startups and Fortune 1000s need to care about. Your nonprofit, no matter its size, should invest energy in the process. The payoffs are impressive—a more energized donor base, more enthusiastic volunteers, more clearly targeted goals and a way to cut through the clutter and get the message out. But perhaps the best reward is that branding (done right) gives your nonprofit leverage to do the work you have been called to do: to generate results that make a difference.
Leeann Alameda has more than 20 years of experience in directing and implementing best practices in marketing, branding, communications and advertising in both the private and nonprofit sectors. She is the founder and principal consultant of Alameda Marketing Solutions, which provides marketing strategy and branding services for nonprofits, foundations and mission-driven businesses.