Good brands don’t hurt

This is the first of two columns on nonprofit branding.
Drew Neisser 

The first brands were burned into the hides of cows.  This was painful for the cow but good for the rancher who wanted to keep track of his herd.

Later on, certain brands began to be known for the quality of the beef and this helped that rancher get more money per pound than his lesser-known competitors.  Other brands become known for always being on time to market, while still others found a position as the low-cost, high volume offering.

In the nonprofit world, brands play an equally important role, helping donors and constituents determine which herd to join and which to steer away from.

Start off on the right hoof

Choose your name wisely since you’ll be living with the implications for years to come.  Brand names that have a specific meaning are helpful at the beginning by providing some context for your various constituents.

Make a Wish” is such a name as it clearly defines the end benefit of the organization.  “Children for Children” is another such name identifying the operational “playground” of that charity. “Doctors without Borders” is another example of a name that encapsulates the mission quite succinctly.

All that said, because of the specific nature of these names, at some point in their growth cycles they may find it difficult to evolve past their original tactically-focused mission.

Names like Red Cross and United Way, while less specific, have the advantage of being easy to remember and general enough to encompass many forms of charitable activities.

Careful grooming pays off

With a carefully crafted name in hand, take some time to get your logo right.

Run a contest at a local design school or online to collect some options to review with your board of directors/advisors.

A great logo will set the tone for the brand and all subsequent communications.  A boring logo will be lost in the sea of sameness.

One example of a great logo is Children for Children’s.  It is sophisticated yet simple, appealing to both kids and adults, a move that is essential for this particular charity.  The Children for Children logo has inspired the graphic look and feel of its website, and all other communications.

The logo even plays a prominent role in the invitation to their annual benefit, which has an art theme and features variations of the logo inspired by famous artists like Van Gogh and Chagall.

Getting the right name and logo are essential in the early stages of brand development.  These will force you to define your mission, values and target audience since without these prerequisites, you’ll just have a cow.


Drew Neisser is founder and CEO of Renegade, a New York City-based interactive brand-experience agency. He can be reached at dneisser@renegade.com.

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