Creating a Brand for Your Non-Profit

by Joe Garecht

Person with Megaphone

Guest Post by Adam Farwell

Though it doesn’t carry the same stigma it did even ten years ago, the word “branding” still sends shivers down the spines of some non-profit professionals. Branding is often associated with Old Navy, Burger King, Chevrolet and other huge corporations—which is fair, since they are the epitome of branding giants. The fact of the matter is, however, that a powerful brand is important to non-profits as well. Even if an NPO does have a brand, it generally does not devote the necessary time and resources to it.

Think of branding as something vital to your organization. It’s not as vital as your mission, but it’s just as vital as having an office to operate out of.

A brand isn’t necessarily a specific message or marketing campaign, a brand reflects you directly. Simply put, a brand is you—it’s not a poster, a video or a spot in a magazine. A brand is the way people feel about you, what they talk about when you come up in conversation and your overall reputation in the world of non-profit organizations. Your brand is your mission, your message and the people that drive both of those things.

What are the Elements of a Good Non-Profit Brand?

Now that we’ve established what a brand means to an NPO, let’s talk about the elements that make a good, ethical brand for one. Your brand is going to be much different than Verizon or Chrysler’s because it reflects a mission, not a product. Let’s go from there.  Here are the elements of a good non-profit brand:

Uniqueness

What is your mission? What sets it apart from other missions? Find the heart of your organization, the very essence at its core. Think about the reason why you’re passionate about what you do and what you stand for.

Beyond that, what is the personality of your organization? Some non-profits are personable and use marketing materials that are light and friendly in tone, while others use words than convey severe urgency. What are your specific goals? Always keep them in mind; they’re what set you apart from other organizations. You’re already a unique entity– you just need to convey that fact through your brand.

Authenticity

Don’t fabricate anything. In order to create a good brand you must avoid simply pulling things out of thin air to make your audience happy. Take a long look at your strengths and the history of your organization, and then reflect those back upon the community.

Never say or do anything that you wouldn’t stand behind ten minutes from now or ten years from now. Donors must feel absolutely certain that you’re an organization that keeps promises and stays true to its core values. Your staff and board of directors must reflect your values at all times and be willing to stand behind your brand. You are your mission, not just a marketing strategy.

Consistency

If you leave multiple, wildly differing impressions upon particular individuals then you are setting yourself up for failure. Every message you put out should relate to the one that came before it and add to it. Consistency means making a plan and sticking to it.

Consistency is reflected not only in your words and actions, but in the look and feel associated with your organization. This leaves people with a solid, strong and singular impression of who you are and what you stand for.

What are the Benefits of Good Branding?

Let’s look at the benefits of good branding for your non-profit organization. A non-profit without a brand might still do good in the world, which is extremely important—but a non-profit with a solid brand is in a position to do even more good and leave a lasting impression, because of the following factors:

Connectivity

A good brand connects an organization’s staff, board members and core thinkers to their donors and the community. It establishes trust with the outside world and creates a strong sense of alignment between a brand’s internal values and the way it conducts itself. It builds a strong emotional connection to donors, volunteers and those who work for the non-profit.

An emotional connection is much stronger than a mere financial connection—imagine if every person on your mailing list was completely invested in your newsletter and everything it had to say. You want the community to feel as strongly as you do about your mission, and a good brand is exactly what makes that possible.

Donors

It might seem unpleasant to you, but the fact is that you’re competing with other non-profits for donations and the people who make them. You’re also competing for attention and the aforementioned emotional investment. A good brand showcases exactly what an organization does better than its peers. A strong brand allows donors to see you not just as an important mission, but as the strong group of unified people behind that mission. It proves to them that you’re more than just words and intent—you’re a fully functioning community with concrete goals and the means to achieve them.

Pride

This one might seem superficial, but it’s not at all. A good brand creates unity and a sense of pride, which drives your powerful thinkers and doers to brainstorm harder and work stronger. It brings about a strong sense of morale that reinforces the fact that your mission is important and that you’re the exact people needed to accomplish it. A good brand unifies the head, the hands and the heart in the pursuit of a noble goal. The people behind the non-profit are important and a strong brand brings them together behind the mission with a strong sense of pride.

“Brand” is not a dirty word when it’s applied to non-profits. Rather than being something to frown at, a good, positive brand can boost an NPO to the next level in the pursuit of its mission. A brand is not a set of words and images—a brand is you, your mission and the impact you hope to make on the world.

Adam Farwell is an online publisher for custom t-shirt printer Blue Cotton. He blogs about design, branding, marketing and the various creative projects he’s involved in.

Photo Credit: Rex Dart

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