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Branding for Community Nonprofits
A growing number of nonprofits are exploring the strategic benefits of developing a powerful brand that resonates with their audience.
Branding is a word often associated with multinational corporate giants, and understandably nonprofit organisations tend to shy away from the very concept. After all, when you are a nonprofit engaged in the business of going valuable on-ground work for vulnerable sections of society, wouldn’t it be easier to simply let the work you do speak for itself? Not quite.
An increasing number of nonprofit brands are visible to the public eye today. These aren’t just large nonprofits, but also smaller and mid-sized nonprofits who have recognised the value of building a strong, cohesive brand identity. What has caused this paradigm shift in the way nonprofits perceive branding and use it for a whole host of things rather than just a tool to fundraise?
What is a Brand?
To understand why branding matters for nonprofit organizations, we must first understand what branding entails. Often when one considers branding, the thought of a logo or an elaborate advertising campaign comes to mind, however things aren't so simplistic. A nonprofit brand is more than just a few physical elements — it’s an entire experience, from start to finish, that a patron has with your organization.
A brand is a reflection of who you are. It is a combination of your “appearance”, both physical and virtual, and the feeling you elicit among people when they come across your organization. A brand is a projection of the nonprofits purpose as well as the people who work together to drive that mission. Effective branding opens the door to opportunities and resources for nonprofit organizations, by triggering positive emotions (and eventually, positive action) among the people it touches.
Elements of a Nonprofit Brand
At its core, a good brand is easily recognizable and inspires trust. Unlike a for-profit brand that represents a product, a nonprofit brand reflects a mission. A few elements go into making a good nonprofit brand:
Perhaps the most recognizable aspect of a brand, is in its visual identity. A professional logo, brand colors, typography, imagery and illustrations form the foundation of an impactful brand, and the consistency of these elements across all channels brings together a nonprofits personality and gives it life.
The recognizability a consistent visual identity is what makes consumers comfortable with the nonprofit brand. Not only does it set a particular nonprofit apart from a sea of other competitors (along several that may work for a similar cause even), it also develops a unique personal connection with the consumers of the brand.
For example, Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit that works with young people from regions of conflict, uses pastel shades of green along with a particular sans serif font as part of their branding. Both these elements are used in their logo, icons, website, social media pages, printed materials such as brochures, email campaigns and so on. The imagery used also features pictures of young people (their beneficiaries) dressed in the official green Seeds of Peace tee-shirt, lending a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing look to their visual identity.
One of the best ways to build greater brand recognition is having the senior management, board members and staff members demonstrate core organizational values by being its spokespeople. All interactions that consumers have with anyone who is part of the nonprofit family, will leave an impression. Remember that positive impressions translate into positive action. A nonprofit that is perceived to be run by thought leaders reinforces a sense of excellence and professionalism, thus solidifying trust in the brand.
Authenticity & Transparency
It might be daunting for nonprofits to carve a niche using branding, in order to get ahead of their competition. While this process is important, it is also imperative to remember that branding is not simply a marketing strategy and therefore cannot be fabricated. As a brand grows, so does its audience and outreach. Nonprofits that remain true to their mission, and transparent about their processes, will always engender a greater level of trust among their patrons, than ones that do not.
Why Branding Matters
Building Awareness, Trust & Capacity
Nonprofits need people to succeed. Branding helps draw in people who resonate with your cause and who will eventually help further it by working with you, volunteering, donating or partnering. Awareness of your brand goes hand in hand with generating trust and galvanizing support. In a self-reinforcing cycle, a consistent and impactful brand reinforces the nonprofit’s credibility and increases supporter loyalty, which is turn brings in more supporters.
A lot of charitable giving in recent years, has been found to happen online, in an ever- increasingly competitive virtual space saturated with a variety of nonprofits. A brand that present a cohesive, engaging digital presence stands out and is likely to find exceptional success with online fundraising. Intelligent brand design not only allows donors to form an emotional connection with the causes they support, but also encourages them to keep returning to brands they have positive experiences with.
Reinforces Values Internally & Externally
A good brand creates a sense of belonging and pride not just for the consumers of the brand, but also the people within. Branding helps constantly reinforce the nonprofits purpose with every activity that the organization undertakes, creating unity and inspiration that drives everyone.
For example, annual reports are an important tool in the suite of branding materials, that are circulated among all stakeholders. Girls Who Code’s 2016 digital annual report is designed to hit upon all the things that make this nonprofit a leader, while serving as a reminder to readers of their mission statement and how they are working to fulfill it.
Unlike a corporate for-profit business, a nonprofit’s brand speaks directly to its community. Developing a brand strategy that sets them apart, also helps nonprofits draw attention (and resources) to the larger cause and drive long-term social changes.
At this point, you may already be compiling a to-do list for the way forward with your nonprofit’s brand to make it memorable for your audiences. Here are some basic steps you can start with:
Create clarity about your mission and values.
Take stock of the current situation with branding within and outside your nonprofit.
Invest time and resources on the basic building blocks of a brand - logo, website, communication collaterals.
Look for opportunities for collaboration or partnerships with influencers within your existing community.
Be patient! Brand building doesn’t happen overnight. However once you start building your brand you will realize how exponentially it can grow.
As the number of nonprofits grow, brand building is quickly becoming an indispensable part of any nonprofit’s marketing strategy in order to not get lost in the crowd. With dedicated time, and driven by a well-defined brand strategy, nonprofits can take their organization to the next level of growth and success, in pursuit of their mission.
About the Author
Anita started her professional career with a degree in computer science engineering, but over the last 8 years, has helped various corporate and nonprofit organizations develop their marketing strategy. She is passionate about conceptualizing and implementing innovative campaigns that help build powerful brands. Anita has been a blogger and photographer for over a decade, and in her spare time can be found coding Tumblr themes, rereading Tolkien, journaling her adventures over at That’s So Annie or trying her hand at learning something new (right now, it’s baking)