Nonprofit Branding: 7 Branding Lessons for Nonprofits
You’ve got real people who need real help. We get it – as nonprofit marketing veterans, we’ve been there. But here’s a secret we’ve learned – a strong brand goes a long way.
Everything from making a nonprofit a better place to work, to increasing the quality of work to getting more funding is simply easier with a strong brand. Now, a brand is more than just branding elements like ‘fonts and colors’, it’s what defines your organization. Here are 7 lessons in nonprofit branding from our experience working with some of the universe’s most inspiring nonprofits.
1. Strong branding, especially for nonprofits, focusses on the solution, not the problem.
Let’s take (RED) as an example – AIDS is the problem, but an AIDS-free generation is the solution to stop the cycle. “Fighting AIDS” is not the same as “an AIDS-free generation”. One is extremely daunting and a seemingly losing battle. The latter is the solution, something that’s impossible to say wouldn’t be a good thing. Think of it this way: “the world could use ________.” The blank is your mission, and it can be applied to messaging big and small.
2. Strong branding boost morale and prevents ‘mission creep’.
With a concise, solution-focussed mission, amazing things happen. A strong brand and mission can keep internal staff on-point, which makes internal culture positive, therefore makes overall execution of the nonprofit’s programmatic work stronger. It enables internal teams to say whether or not programs are ‘on-mission’, saves time on creating collateral and creates cohesion within an organization. Notice that the top nonprofits that make the ‘best to work’ list are also the top brands.
3. Strong branding shows you have your house in order.
Marketing matters – a nonprofit’s most important audience in many ways is the public. It’s the donor dilemma, a donor wants to contribute where they know their money will be well-spent, but you have to spend money to get in front of those donors. And it’s true – see above re: empowered employees with a mission. A strong sense of purpose across the organization translates into an organization’s work which means better work which in turn makes the organization more attractive to donors. See? Branding is the gift that keeps on giving.
4 – Strong branding doesn’t have to be hard or expensive.
From a process point of view – first start with your brand personality, then define your mission statement. Look, feel, messaging comes next. You can do this in-house or you can hire it out to an agency with a tight process (like Media Cause), but this doesn’t need to be a 6-month exercise or an organization-wide grab-bag of wishful thinking (ugh). Once you have look, feel and basic messaging down, social media becomes intuitive, content strategy becomes authentic, and visuals like infographics or photo selection become a snap.
5. Strong branding is a visual shortcut.
You can use logos, iconography and images instead of buckets of text to explain your mission, successes and overall worldview. Convey emotion, purpose and a united front using just imagery with minimal text. People will know what you stand for in a more emotional way, you get to cut the copy way down and overall communicate more efficiently and powerfully. One look and we get $95B, progress in Africa and AIDS. That’s a lot of complex info for a single glance.
Here’s an example from the One.org “About Us” page.
6. Strong branding is a competitive advantage.
When people recognize you, you’re already one step ahead. Introductions and small talk are tedious, so when you get to skip intros and dive right in as the other guys are putting on their “hi, my name” is sticker, you win. You get to cut to the chase – showcase your work, engage with your community, ask for donations, put on your events. Because, really, who wants to talk about where they’re from when you can have a real conversation?
“Hi my name is Rick Astley” vs:
7. Strong branding is inspirational and inspiration is contagious.
Tying in emotion, ambition and a can-do attitude inspires donors, employees and your program’s stakeholders. Capturing that inspiration and communicating it across all of your work paints every single aspect of your organization with inspiration. When an organization knows what it stands for, lives and breathes that mission and has pride in its work, inspiration becomes contagious. Annual reports, benefits, and websites become a way to keep inspiration going. Seem ambitious? It is. But it is totally doable with the right brand approach. Still looking for brand inspiration? Check out, 5 Ways Nonprofit Branding Can Accelerate Growth.
Here’s our challenge to you. Tell us what your organization stands for, and tell us whether anyone outside your organization would say the same thing.If so, tell us your story below or reach out to us on twitter @mediacause.