While companies have thought carefully and consciously about branding for years, this seems to be a new endeavor in the nonprofit arena. Just as nonprofits have been a bit slower than their corporate counterparts to embrace new forms of media and communication (mainly for time and budget reasons), they have been slower to invest time and money into defining and leveraging their brands in order to fulfill their missions. Part of this grows out of antiquated thinking, the idea that if a nonprofit is not focusing 100% of its time and energy on offering services, then it is not doing as it should. But, more recent understandings have allowed the notion that spending some time on strategic thinking and investing a reasonable amount of money in tools needed allows a nonprofit to provide more and better services. In fact, nonprofits with strategic three- or five-year plans often perform well in all aspects, from service provision to marketing to fundraising.
And now - finally - the branding of nonprofits is rightly being considered and invested in. This is the recent conclusion of a great study and article published in the Standford Social Innovation Review. The article is lengthy, but has important points to consider for nonprofit leaders and demonstrates how strategically thinking about one's brand and then executing a brand strategy well is a worthwhile pursuit for any nonprofit and well worth the time and money. To build upon those conclusions, I also the following four reasons why any nonprofit, large or small, should think about its branding:
So people can find you
In today's cluttered world (especially online), the trick is to be found. Whether someone is Googling for the services you provide or just has some extra cash they'd like to put to a good use, a good branding strategy (which includes tactical marketing and communications objectives) will ensure that you're able to be found, recognized, and trusted by potential clients and donors. A good brand strategy will present a high perceived value for those in search of what you offer.
So people can follow you
Nonprofits that accumulate their own audiences - whether via a newsletter or on Facebook - can leverage that audience when needed to meet specific goals. A consistent and well developed brand will enable people to know what you're doing and then work alongside you to accomplish it. They'll know what they're in for and be more likely to come along for the ride.
So people can share you
A good brand can enable good word of mouth. If your work and mission are easy (quick, consistent, and effortless) to explain, then the more likely supporters will be to share you with their friends. A proper branding strategy will make sure you can let your audience know what to say about you whenever you come up in conversation.
So people can experience you
No one is looking for just another charity to support. People are looking for an experience. If you have a consistent and professional brand, then you'll offer a great giving experience, volunteer experience, and service experience to those who come into contact with your work. The sum of your brand is bigger than its parts; an experience is what you're after, not just a new logo or a different slogan.
Ultimately, in the nonprofit space, people want to be able to trust that you'll do what you say with the money, time, or attention they freely give you. If you develop your brand with the goal of trust in mind, you'll arrive there much more quickly than if you do good work and merely hope people will pay attention. Of course, you actually have to be trustworthy (I wish this could go without saying); a new brand can do very little to wash over the sins of negligence, abuse, or error. Thankfully, the majority of nonprofits do great work. It's time they all had great brands to go along with it.
Side note: I'll be offering an in-depth workshop on nonprofit branding at the 7th Annual National School Foundation Association Annual Conference in April. Click here for registration information.
What do you think about the role of branding for nonprofit organizations?
Is it important? Overlooked? A waste of time? Weigh in with your thoughts below.