Looking Good

Present a Strong Brand and Watch Donations Increase

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Meghan Moloney

Brands are everywhere you look, from the name on your computer to the food you’ll eat for lunch. A brand is more than a logo, color scheme or writing style. It’s an organization’s face and the personality it presents to the public.

While branding and marketing efforts are integral to the success of for-profit businesses, they’re often ignored or even looked down upon in the nonprofit sector. Because nonprofit organizations dedicate most of their resources to external social impact, even spending a fraction of funding on the organization’s own development can feel unnatural or even unethical.

But when a nonprofit ignores branding completely, it might just be preventing its own growth. To its own detriment, the nonprofit mindset is often one of scarcity.  Ignoring marketing efforts puts organizations at a greater risk for failure. By thinking only of meeting the next fundraising goal, organizations can survive, but are not given the opportunity to thrive. When leaders choose to assign a line item in the budget for corporate identity improvements with the goal of building and maintaining a strong brand, they demonstrate that they value the organization’s future and set it up for greater success.

A nonprofit brand is the feeling people experience when they interact with your organization by volunteering, reading a newsletter, visiting your website, or attending an event. It includes traditional branding collateral, such as your website, logo, business cards, brochures, and social media; but, it also includes your beliefs, passions, organizational values, approach to change, and motivation to serve. The brands of nonprofits tell us who they are, whom they serve, what they care about, and how they work.

Just as every person has a one-of-a-kind personality, every organization – from an international business to a grassroots nonprofit — has a brand. Rather than encourage you to create a brand, we encourage you to pay attention to the brand your organization is already broadcasting to the public.

Building a strong brand

If you’re interested in strengthening your public persona, how do you start? Here are three elements that are integral to strong brands.

  1. Consistency: No matter what your visual identity looks like, it must be consistent. Your audience should feel the same way each time they interact with your organization.
    • How to achieve it: Use the same logo, fonts, and color scheme across all collateral. Define your “brand voice,” or how the organization will sound in writing, and make sure that everything you publish is written in that voice. Every mailing, social media post, email, and website page should sound as if the same person is talking.
  2. Professionalism: Potential donors, volunteers, and all other audiences will establish a first impression based on the brand you present to them. Just as you’d dress up for a job interview, your organization should present a professional face to the public to earn a respectable first impression.
    • How to achieve it: This is easiest by hiring a trained professional, but there are creative ways to achieve professionalism for a lower cost. For example, marketing agencies who work exclusively with nonprofits usually offer lower rates than business-focused agencies. Student designers and young freelancers can establish solid branding collateral without a hefty price. Investing in an initial brand workshop or training can teach staff the basics of branding and equip them to manage the brand long-term.
  3. Passion: A great brand is backed by clear beliefs and a strong passion. This is where most nonprofits thrive. All elements of your brand should point back to this passion and share your desire for change with your audiences.
    • How to achieve it: We know you have a solid motivation behind your work. Nonprofits can communicate that passion to others by storytelling, which connects your audiences to your cause. A consistent, storytelling-focused brand voice instills those success stories into the personality of your organization.

All in all, nonprofits need strong brands to clearly communicate their purposes with audiences. Although spending funds on marketing efforts might feel unnatural at first, it serves to tell people who you are and why you do what you do. A strong brand will set a nonprofit up for success by sharing its excitement with others and earning the organization the respect it deserves.

As a donor, I’ve found that the organizations I’m involved with long-term are the ones that communicate with me well. A professional brand backed with passion tells me that the organization takes both their work and their relationship with key publics seriously. A well-branded nonprofit communicates that it cares about its appearance. These nonprofits know that doing so will result in more respect, more donors and involvement, and ultimately the capacity to create more impact.

Meghan Moloney studies Media & Journalism and Sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she’s learning how to make social impact through the blend of empathy and professionalism. Meghan is a Buckley Public Service Scholar, a TEDxUNC Co-Curator, and a student leader at Newman Catholic Campus Ministry.

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