Nonprofits, NGOs, and charitable organizations have transitioned heavily in the marketplace to being forces for awareness and action in Western Culture. Whereas once, marketing was focused solely on fundraising events, membership drives, or various development pitches, nonprofit branding has become a significant force of influence, as social good has become intertwined with our daily lives. As a nonprofit, the brand has the potential to be the driving force or a disassociative challenge toward your goals of creating awareness, development, or public support for your mission. An effective brand shows the areas where target audiences are aligned with your organization, calling them to partner with you toward success.
Starting from Scratch
To begin, what defines a brand, a logo, a mission statement, an ethos? Does a brand have its own persona, or is an extension of those who lead the venture (or adventure, as most nonprofit professionals know). A nonprofit brand is a unique element, very distinct from a product or for-profit business brand. While a product or service brand speaks to its connection to a consumer, a nonprofit utilizes mission and vision to build a community of like-minded individuals.
It is a construct held in the minds of those aware of it. It's how people identify your organization and how it makes them feel. Nike sells you Lebron's jersey, CR7's cleats, Nadal's racket, or Tiger's look on the course. A nonprofit builds an association between an idea and an audience that affords access to their community.
Whether you're creating a brand for the first time or rebranding to reflect how your organization has changed, it's essential to spend the time and put in the work. Remember, your organization's brand is likely to stay with you for many years, and you want to be sure it will continue to represent you as environments changes. To get you started, here are six tips for branding your nonprofit.
Initiate a Collaborative Effort
Branding should not be done in a vacuum. In a nonprofit environment, branding exercises require the voices and perspectives of a collective to get their best results. Often times, organizations enlist several people, including their internal team, donors, volunteers, board members, and other stakeholders to flesh out the perspectives from a mission and vision. Various perspectives help you make sure your brand captures the organizational purpose and engages the right audiences.
A collaborative effort also helps your brand bring your mission and vision to reality. Nonprofit work is never done, and often distractions and detractions from your mission and vision can make your community ineffective at reaching your goals. The collaborative approach to brand builds buy-in as it constructs the overarching persona. This rallies a number of members of the existing community around a consistent perspective, mitigating personal points of view or particular focus from overwhelming the organization as a whole. Doing what you say you do, and being who you say you are, is key to building trust between your nonprofit, stakeholders, and the community.
For example, when you know the American Red Cross is doing a specific project, you identify the associated good that comes with that. They have developed the brand so well that when you see the logo marker of a red cross, you connect to the values and mission they serve, without having to read their website verbiage. They have also been doing it for a long time, so whether it's giving blood, disaster relief, or training and certifications, an extensive variety of stakeholders all share the same vision. Even more, the American Red Cross logo lends credibility and legitimacy to anything it touches.
Conduct a Brand Therapy Session
First, you need to give some serious thought to what your organization is, what it seeks to do, and how it does that. This exercise is sort of like a therapy session for your organization that works to answer the big identity questions of "Who am I, and why do I exist?" Here at PRIME, we approach this with worksheets, a series of discussion questions, and collaborative work sessions that will eventually result in your brand statement.
Your brand statement is a one- or two-sentence statement on which all of your other brand elements are based. This is, at its core, the story you want to tell about your brand. That statement takes form through agreement on its basis as well as its execution. One of the most common errors with brand exercises happens when people try to mutate their mission and vision to appeal to a diversity of audiences or multiple desired outcomes.
What's true personally is true organizationally. You can't be everything to everyone. If you are one or two things and can focus your efforts on those successes, you will find others who will share passions and effectively achieve goals. If you spread yourself thin, meeting goals here and there, finding support in some areas but not others, your brand will be as confusing and indistinct as your efforts. These types of therapy sessions help you flesh out the focus of who you really are and what you really want to accomplish.
Create a Brand That Stands Out
Besides thinking about your brand outside of any context, consider how your brand is positioned, among others. What's different about your organization than others of the same type? What is distinct about the people in your org, or connected to your efforts, that will resonate with a community surrounding it? These are called differentiators. By incorporating them into your brand, you'll set your organization apart from the rest. When you know your differentiator, the method you take your nonprofit to the public space has a dependent factor to help you stand out.
Movember is one NGO that stands out as an example of great brand positioning. There are plenty of organizations that succeed in raising millions for diseases. The Alzheimer's Association, The MS Society, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital all hit specific audiences and communities of passionate supporters. Still, along with raising money for cancer research, Movember has made transparency a distinct part of their brand.
They raised over $65 million in 2015-2016, with their annual report showed 75 cents in every $1 raised went directly to men's health programs. Especially with a brand that thrives on little fish development, that is even more a differentiator, as their community can be confident undertaking campaigns on their behalf, knowing that most of the money raised actually goes to the cause they're supporting.
Establish a Brand Personality
Just like a person, every business or organization has a personality, and this personality should be consistent across media and evident through those who work for your organization. Is your organization more caring and compassionate (such as an organization that offers resources to those who can't afford them), or more firm and driven (such as a think-tank looking to affect policy change)? Or is it something completely different?
Your brand's personality will affect your brand's many elements, from the color of your logo to the messaging on your website. As these are often the association points that people readily use to connect their experience to your community, you want to strive for consistency as you develop each facet of your brand's personality. It will resonate through the visuals you use, the colors you choose, and (maybe most importantly) the voice you carry into what, how, and through whom you communicate to the public. Your brand personality can also be thrown off if the tone, emphasis, or the experience you cultivate is inconsistent with the mission and vision of the organization.
Create a Branding Guide
After you've deliberated these hard questions and made decisions about your brand, you'll want to put it in writing and elaborate further through a branding guide. A branding guide establishes how anyone in your organization should represent the brand. This is true for everyone, from the Executive Director to the person at the front desk. Your brand guide needs to be consistent in a speech, an email, a poster, a website, or a mailer. Whatever type of collateral, digital production, or experience of the organization is, it should carry the right brand markers so that the experience is an echo of the mission and vision.
The goal of a branding guide is to create consistency across platforms and people. If your logo looks slightly different in every location, how will people remember it and identify with it? A branding guide may include guidelines for logo placement and orientation, words you do and don't use, color palettes for your website and collateral, key messaging, and more. In a production sense, this might be called a style guide. Still, the branding guide will also have information regarding tone, voice, and community that drive particulars about the organization that informs the intended experience.
Assess and Reassess
As you begin developing brand materials, make sure to continuously assess whether they reflect the brand that you so carefully crafted. Think: Does this tone of voice match our brand? Do these colors reflect what's been established in the branding guide? You should constantly be asking these questions, so as not to stray from your core brand. This will help you maintain consistency and, therefore, credibility and trust with stakeholders and the public.
At PRIME, we're experts in helping nonprofits develop brands that tell their story. Let us know how we can help you build your brand to make a difference.
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