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It’s time to embrace ‘branding’

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Heather Denkmire

Heather Denkmire

Heather Denkmire

For decades, nonprofit organizations have held firm to the notion that their mission and good work are all they need for success. More recently, savvy organizations recognize pulling the best from the for-profit world can make the difference for strong, successful, and growing organizations.

Take, “branding,” for example. The concept of branding can seem a distant and unnecessary effort.

Brands are for selling, right? Actually, branding is about finding space in people’s minds: When they hear your organization’s name they think of the mission, and when they hear of activities related to your mission they think of your organization.

Powerful nonprofit brands help more people, attract more volunteers, and raise more money.

If your staff or volunteers balk at any reference to the corporate for-profit world, an organization’s health may suffer. Follow these suggestions to make the best of branding:

  • Speak the language – Instead of relying on common marketing language, use phrasing more accepted by non-profit constituents. Instead of branding, refer to “building emotional attachment.” Successful branding creates feelings of involvement and a general sense of high quality. Most nonprofit activists will support inviting the community into a relationship with the great work of their organization.
  • Make it special – Successful branding only happens when the greater community understands what sets an organization apart from the rest. Awareness is part of the process, but associating an organization with its most unique qualities (the only, the most) is what will help donors and other community members think of your organization. Your cause must be a first-a new category, approach, or service that hasn’t been claimed by any other organization.
  • Connect your constituents – Word-of-mouth is your friend. It’s free, it’s effective, and it’s efficient. If you are consistent in your message, your organization’s name becomes shorthand for your mission. For example, when it comes to free high-quality healthcare, the Our Town Clinic will want to be first on the minds of clients and donors. If the Our Town Clinic hones its message successfully, communicates it through board members, volunteers, staff, the media, and on all publications with great simplicity and consistency, it is likely that the first words out of someone’s mouth when talking about free health care will be the Our Town Clinic.

Perhaps your organization might not call it “branding,” but the nonprofit world can learn a lot from their for-profit partners. Getting an organization’s mission into the hearts of the community is a lesson to learn where everyone wins.


Heather Denkmire runs grantwinners.net. She can be reached at info@grantwinners.net or through the website.

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