It seems that everybody wants to run a successful nonprofit, but there are far too many that do not realize the importance of good business practices when doing so.
Take, for example, branding. When you set out to save the world, or at least make it a better place, it’s easy to just assume that the worthiness of your cause will be enough to convince people to contribute. What’s not immediately obvious is the sheer depth of other causes competing for attention—not to mention other nonprofits in same or similar niches.
This results in the same problem that every for-profit business has—how can you differentiate in a crowded marketplace? Nobody wants their nonprofit to be blasted for spending more on promotions than actually helping others, but a little bit of expert branding can be a force multiplier that guarantees that a mission is accomplished correctly.
The great part about improving brand strategy is that the process itself can actually bolster a nonprofit. The same things that contribute to good branding—market research, audience analysis, and challenge assessments, to name a few—are also generally valuable to have knowledge of. Figuring out how to express the brand on a nonprofit can lead to further understanding of what makes the organization unique. It is the frame of reference by which an organization can find its niche. It can also highlight challenges and give leadership a chance to reevaluate their priorities.
So, how can a nonprofit build a brand? For starters, it should be authentic. While it can be difficult to define authenticity, this primarily means that the idea of what the organization’s brand looks like should be consistent, from executives right down to one-time donors. A brand should resonate with audiences, but so too should it resonate with staff. Employees that feel that they are an integral part of a company’s mission are more dedicated to a for-profit business, and in a nonprofit, this sense of purpose becomes even more important.
There’s a common misconception that a brand is a style guide, which can be misleading. Certainly, a style guide can be a big part of a brand. Outdated visual aesthetics can turn off audiences to an organization, and consistent messaging and tone across multiple platforms can go a long way toward creating a unity of theme. However, visuals should be treated as a means to convey the mission of a nonprofit and goes hand in hand with other elements such as branded copy and initiatives.
Speaking of consistency, a large part of auditing a brand strategy is figuring out what is or isn’t “on brand.” Selling an unchanging image helps foster trust and builds familiarity on part of audiences. Everything—from type and colors to website structure and event planning—should follow patterns that a shrewd observer can spot.
All of this leads up to one purpose—giving outsiders an unambiguous picture of your nonprofit’s cause and how it aims to support this cause. There’s a certain level of myopia within an organization, where an individual may be too entrenched in one aspect of work to accurately gain a picture of what it looks like from the outside. This goes back to the benefits of brand research—it can help employees gain a better sense of why they are doing what they do.
There is no one way to correctly brand a nonprofit. Changes should be comprehensive and aim to reassess how the organization is viewed, both internally and externally. The result of good branding can and should be improvements in donations, the capital necessary for continued function. It may sound corporate, and perhaps it is, but business strategy still applies, from international companies to the humblest of nonprofits.