Branding: What is it and why should I care?

November 22, 2016

Disney, Google, Nike: when you hear these words, you automatically think about the companies associated with them and their products. These companies have spent countless hours (and dollars) ensuring that consumers recognize their names. This is branding.

The term branding is thrown around a lot in corporate marketing meetings, but it is also an important component of a nonprofit's customer service and marketing strategies. We don't always think of branding in a nonprofit context, but it is just as important, if not more so, than in a corporate context.

The brand that you build for your nonprofit is to be shared. This isn't a document that you write and file away for safekeeping. Instead, it's a living creed that is shared with your employees, your beneficiaries, your donors, your board and anyone else that will listen to you speak about your organization.

The components of your brand

How others perceive your organization is a big part of your brand. If you have a positive and well-known brand, your fundraising efforts are easier, your recruitment of volunteers and board members is easier and your employees live your values in the workplace.

All nonprofits make a promise to their stakeholders—clients, funders, board members and other constituents—about the services that they provide. The way that these are communicated and delivered are a part of the organization's brand promise.

Most nonprofits don't have access to expensive marketing agencies and unlimited budgets, but you can still be very successful in developing your brand in-house. It will take some time and effort, but it is totally doable. Start by taking a look at your marketing efforts in the past. What did you say? With whom did you communicate? How successful were these marketing campaigns?

As you go through this research phase, you may see common themes emerging. Perhaps there is a reflection of your mission, vision and values in these previous marketing campaigns. This information can be incorporated into your branding message.

The branding message

Your nonprofit's branding message tells these stakeholders what they can expect from you. Your nonprofit needs to build a compelling story about why you're unique and what differentiates you from other nonprofits.

Your brand message should include who you are, what you do and why your work matters. It is likely that even nonprofits in your same space will have slightly different branding messages and that's a good thing because it differentiates you from each other.

When your brand messaging is lacking you have two problems: (1) beneficiaries don't know what services you provide or those services are not well-regarded and (2) donors aren't inclined to contribute because they are unclear on what you do and how their money will be used.

Bringing it to life: implementing your brand

When you give your stakeholders a consistent message over a period of time, you build trust and credibility with them. You want happy donors who want to contribute because they understand the work you do, your mission and values.

In order to bring your brand to life, you need to live it. Everyone in your nonprofit and those you serve need to understand what you do, why you do it and how it sets you apart. Once this transformation occurs, you'll start to see that fundraising, recruiting and other business tasks are easier to complete.