MindFire Communications, Inc.
Non-profit Branding
July 12, 2010 | Lynn Manternach, Ph.D.
A strong brand is important if you’re selling products or services. It’s even more important if you’re selling a mission.
Every non-profit has a brand. It’s the emotional connection you have with your audience. It’s your story and how you tell it. It’s the specific reasons why you’re relevant to your stakeholders. It’s the way you get people to think of you first when they have a need or concern that your organization addresses. The most successful non-profits have names that evoke a sense of familiarity along with positive feelings and associations.
Unfortunately, branding is a topic most non-profits spend very little time thinking about. They are so focused on service delivery that they don’t give much thought to creating an identity for their organization that is easily explainable internally or externally. Every organization is fighting for attention. If people can’t quickly understand what an organization does and why it matters, they’ll move on to other things.
The benefits of an effective brand extend far beyond being able to clearly communicate what your organization does. A solid branding program can:
• Communicate your organization’s value proposition more efficiently and effectively.
• Grow the size of your audiences, including board members, clients and potential funders.
• Motivate your audiences to spread the word for you.
• Inform your marketing strategy.
In some ways, non-profits have a built-in advantage when it comes to branding. They tend to be mission focused. But even with the focus of a singular mission, it’s easy for non-profits to get off track when it comes to their brand.

Understand brand perceptions

Consumer decisions are both logical and emotional. You need to understand both.

On the logical side, you need to understand what those outside the organization think your mission is. Do they understand what you do and why you do it? What do they think you do especially well? What makes your organization relevant to your key stakeholders?
On the emotional side, you need to understand what it is about your brand that connects you to your current supporters. What is it about giving to you that makes them feel happy or validated or just good about themselves?

How do you want your brand to be perceived?

Your non-profit brand is about your mission and where it connects emotionally with your supporters. Donors give because of what that giving says about them. You need to understand that emotional sweet spot because it’s the most powerful part of your brand.

Once you understand how you are currently perceived by your audience, and where your most powerful emotional connections to supporters are, you can build a plan to focus your key messages and provide experiences that enhance the emotional connections to the brand.

Bring the brand to life

Every aspect of your organization has to be focused on living the brand. Start by educating those within your organization about the brand and what it means to them. How does the brand guide their actions and decision making in the everyday course of their work?
Good branding is a team effort. Getting everyone across your organization involved in bringing the brand to life makes the outcome more successful, and those who understand how their individual efforts contribute to the greater good tend to be happier, more productive employees.
Be consistent with your messages and your brand. Your materials should have a consistent look and style that people can immediately connect to your organization. Keep your message clear and consistent, whether in conversations with others, in speeches made to business groups and civic organizations, in brochures, annual reports, public service announcements and other materials. If you’re not consistent you’re hard to identify and even harder to trust.
Authenticity matters – a lot. People are more likely to contribute their money and support to organizations that clearly live and breathe their mission. There is no better way to build your brand and public support than to live up to the image of your brand and the values your organization publicly espouses.
You already have a brand. It makes sense to take the time to understand that brand and make sure it’s contributing to the effectiveness of your non-profit mission.

This article originally appeared in the Corridor Business Journal

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