The Importance of Branding for Nonprofits, NGOs, and Foundations
Your brand may not be on the top of your long list of important “to do’s” but if you want others to align with your vision and participate in the broader conversation around your mission, branding is as important for your organization as it is for a consumer or B2B company.
While nonprofits aren’t selling a product or a service in the transactional sense, they are “selling” — their ideas, their goals and their vision of a better future — persuading to attract funding, board members, volunteers, attention, and political impact. The succinct messaging and coherent visual identity developed during a thoughtful branding exercise allows more effective communication of purpose.
When should you reconsider your brand?
In our experience, foundations and NGOs find that there are critical junctures in the pursuit of their mission or timeframes at which their brand needs a dynamic visual and messaging refresh. This strategic crossroad can be:
A refocusing of purpose or mission
An anniversary or organizational milestone
Major new funding or the launch of a major initiative
A merger with another organization
Adjusting to new organizations in your orbit
Why? Because brand building makes all efforts more efficient.
From internal value pillars to visual standards and message guidelines, a brand creates a solid framework on which to hang communications and outreach efforts.
Ultimately, brand messaging and identity that’s aligned with values and goals will result in a more effective use of resources. According to an article in the Stamford Social Innovation Review, a nonprofit brand signifies not only what an organization is about, but also is “a source of efficiency because it acts as a time-saving device, providing a shortcut in the decision making of potential investors, customers, clients, and partners.”
How is a brand built or refreshed?
Glad you asked!
By deeply understanding of where you fit among your peers: Differentiate your organization’s vision, assess what makes you unique in the nonprofit landscape. In an arena where there are worthy organizations doing similar work or serving similar constituencies, your brand can help you, your specific values, your goals and your methods stand out from the others.
By identifying and focusing on your very specific stakeholders: Get granular about who your target audiences are for your various communications. Whether donors, funders, volunteers or other stakeholders, knowing who you want to reach and how helps determine not only the written communications and visual language you need to employ, but the channels you should consider.
By creating clear and powerful messaging: Be sure your messages are focused and crystal clear. Are you funding toward a goal? Make sure the goal is well-defined and communicated and that the call to action is emotionally resonant and will grab your stakeholders. Establishing brand pillars will enable your entire organization to adhere to your messaging guidelines.
By designing brand visual standards to align with your goals: From your logo through to the style of photographs, when establishing your unique visual brand standards you need to consider the entirety of your vision, the audience and desired messages. Each element helps differentiate your brand as they — just as importantly — help create emotional resonance for the audience and supports the story you’re telling.
By deploying your brand assets regularly and consistently across all of your stakeholder-facing materials: Widely recognized consumer companies spend millions creating and promoting their brands. But by harmonizing your brand across all touch points — from website to fundraising emails to environmental signage — a new brand can quickly make the desired impact.
What kind of resources do we need for a brand project?
Branding from an experienced and knowledgable agency is definitely an intensive and thoughtful process that requires top-down organizational buy-in and budget.
But even a small investment in branding pays off. Deploying a thoughtfully developed and consistent brand identity can help your materials work harder to broaden your reach, to create more ready recognition, to emotionally connect others to your story and your accomplishments, and — most importantly — help you further your organization’s mission. Cleaning up the brand expression can be a starting place for a small brand refresh project or the end result of a strategic engagement.
Where to start?
Get internal alignment first, when you can make the case for the change and the investment the results will be more readily accepted. Partner with the best qualified firm you can. There are a few opportunities for free nonprofit rebranding (like our Brand New Brand! initiative), but organizations of size should plan on investing time and resources to get the smart strategy and results they need.