Nonprofits are not traditional businesses. They serve a higher purpose. And, they operate differently than for-profit businesses on a fundamental level.
But, just because nonprofits aren’t in it for the money doesn’t mean they can or should ignore branding. If you’re starting a new business, a strong brand identity is the most effective way for your new business to gain a competitive edge. But a strong brand identity may be even more important for nonprofits than for regular companies.
As Matt Schwartz of Philanthropy News Digest points out, nonprofits simply don’t provide the same instant gratification of a traditional purchase. Instead, nonprofits appeal to people to invest their time and money in a cause that’s far less tangible.
So, what is a brand in the nonprofit world? Schwartz defines a nonprofit brand as:
…a combination of your mission, values, strategy, relationships, impact — and their value to the world. It’s a gut feeling about the promises you make and your reputation for keeping (or breaking) them.
When you think of it that way, a strong brand is vital to your organization’s success.
The good news is that nonprofits are increasingly aware of this importance. In 2012 the Stanford Social Innovation Review reported that:
Branding in the nonprofit sector appears to be at an inflection point in its development. Although many nonprofits continue to take a narrow approach to brand management, using it as a tool for fundraising, a growing number are moving beyond that approach to explore the wider, strategic roles that brands can play: driving broad, long-term social goals, while strengthening internal identity, cohesion, and capacity.
The trend of emphasizing branding as an overarching strategic tool for nonprofits has only matured in the years since. And, for good reason.
So, let’s take a look at the role branding can – and should – play in your nonprofit’s overall strategy.
Be understood – a clear brand message resonates
Nonprofits deal with a variety of audiences.
Their donors, volunteers, and constituents (and sometimes the government) must be able to easily understand who they are and what they’re about.
People don’t want to volunteer their time or money for nothing. They need a worthwhile cause to motivate them. And, a nonprofit’s brand identity is responsible for bridging that communication gap.
A well-executed brand identity will help people understand your mission.
But, a brand identity that clear and well-defined doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be planned with intent – from the visuals of your logo and website to the messaging of your company name and marketing copy.
Ilma Ibrisevic of the Donorbox Nonprofit Blog points out:
When a brand has been intentionally crafted, properly positioned and aligned to its target audiences, the trust, and loyalty of the audience increase.
This is ultimately the goal of any good brand in the profit or nonprofit sectors – to build trust and loyalty so that people will engage with you.
And, trust and loyalty can only occur when you have an understandable, relatable cause fronted by an authentic brand.
How to Make it Happen
- Choose a brand name that clearly communicates your mission.
- Work with a professional designer or crowdsourcing design team to get a unique logo that captures the essence of your mission.
- Choose brand colors that elicit an emotional response that supports your mission.
- Share your branding journey on your website to help your audience understand how your brand name, colors, and logo are inspired by and encapsulate your organization’s goals.
Get heard – a strong brand cuts through the noise
People today are overwhelmed with marketing messages.
This constant media bombardment is a tremendous drain on a person’s mental resources. And, non-profits have to compete on the same field as every other business for a share of the same consumers’ limited attention.
So, if you want your important message to be heard, you have to speak in a way that allows your audience to hear you. That includes cultivating a recognizable, consistent brand that people can trust.
The human mind seeks out things that are familiar and easily identifiable. In fact, as we previously explained, ” the simple act of repeated exposure automatically triggers an increased positive association in our brains.”
In other words, brands that remain consistent will be viewed more favorably the more frequently people encounter them.
Brands that are inconsistent will not enjoy that same reward. In fact, inconsistent branding may both undermine trust and make it harder to recognize your organization.
If you’re seeking funding, volunteers, or simply shares and likes on social media, a consistent brand will help your message be heard.
How to Make it Happen
- Use the same visual branding wherever your organization is represented. Your organization’s website; print and television ads; and signage, flyers, and brochures for events should all feature the same unique and easy-to-recognize logo.
- Select unique and appropriate brand colors to be used on all of your marketing and fundraising materials. Color makes a strong impact on people’s perception of your brand. Using the same color palette will increase the recognition of your brand.
Raise funds – people donate to brands they trust
As a nonprofit, your mission is to deliver social impact – not make money. But, it’s hard to deliver social impact without money. This is where fundraising enters the picture.
Fundraising is the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. Funding allows your organization to continue to function – which ensures that you can keep working toward your higher goal.
And, with the advent of nonprofit grading sites like CharityWatch.org and CharityNavigator.org, people are more aware than ever about making sure the nonprofits they support are trustworthy. This heightened awareness (and frequent cynicism) makes it harder than ever to raise money.
But, a brand that’s linked with a strong reputation helps to overcome this challenge. For example, The American Cancer Society raised roughly 860 million dollars in 2017. They’ve cultivated a strong and trustworthy brand.
Create your own transparent and trustworthy brand and you’ll see higher revenues for your organization, too.
How to Make it Happen
- Put the money you raise where you claimed it would go. This should be a no-brainer – but sadly, it’s not. You may need to use funds for infrastructural costs like salaries, utility bills, and rent. But, the vast majority of the money you raise should, of course, go to supporting your mission.
- Be transparent about how you use your money. Let people know how much of your revenue goes to infrastructural costs like salaries, utility bills, and rent vs directly funding your mission. People want to see the impact their dollars have made. Transparency increases the likelihood that people will remain engaged with your efforts and your organization. It also reassures new and potential donors that your brand can be trusted.
- Make your fiscal responsibility and transparency central themes of your brand identity.
- Include financial breakdowns on your branded website.
- Share your devotion to fiscal transparency in your marketing messages.
- Make sure your visual branding is always present when showcasing successful endeavors.
Nonprofits are vital organizations fighting to make a difference in our world.
As a nonprofit, you need to use every tool in your arsenal to effect the change you wish to see. Don’t overlook a consistent, authentic brand when planning your strategy.