Top 10 Trends in Philanthropy #5: Nonprofit Branding

Branding hasn’t come up on any top ten trends list that I’ve seen, so I’m adding it to mine. Because “nonprofit branding” is tossed around a lot, but without real understanding what it actually is.

I cringe when I hear people say, “we just rebranded,” and then they proceed to show off their new logo or website.

That’s pretty, but a logo does not a brand make. No, no, it’s so much more than that.

An example of a strong brand, in my opinion, is Apple. What comes to your mind when you think of Apple products? For me that name evokes quality, creativity, clean aesthetics and ingenuity.

You see, that’s what a brand is. It’s a promise of what you will experience when you interact with that entity, for-profit corporation or nonprofit organization.

Anne Miltenburg, author of the Branding Toolkit for Change Makers, describes it as “a way of showing who you are and what you stand for.”

Marty Neumeier, director of transformation at San Jose’s Liquid Agency, said, “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company. A brand is not what you say it is, it is what they say it is.”

I don’t know how the leaders of Apple would describe their brand, but I really don’t care all that much. I know what I believe it is.

Why Nonprofit Branding is Important

So what are logos, brochures and websites? Those are the visual representations of your brand.

Why is brand so important to nonprofits? How do you have that exploration in your own organization? Here’s a brief case study of one of our consulting clients.

We’re working with a well-regarded affordable housing organization. They provide a range of services — through state contracts — to get people into stable housing or to prevent them from losing their homes. They do this extremely well. They also provide a wide variety of other wrap-around services. that make a real difference in people’s lives.

One of the stand-outs of this organization is that every one of their employees goes above and beyond their job descriptions, beyond what would typically be expected, to make sure those they serve get everything they need. One staff member told us about the day he went to a client’s home to help them do laundry so that they would have clean clothes for work. [Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that can make a difference, huh?]

The problem they face is that no one knows who they are. They can’t even describe themselves without listing every single program and service they offer. And they can’t articulate a case for support.

That’s a problem when you’re trying to increase philanthropic support. So I convinced the executive director that it was time for a thorough re-evaluation of their brand.

How did we start?

It begins with understanding your purpose for existing (also known as a vision statement) as well as your mission. The “why” and “what” of your organization, if you will.

This client had vision and mission statements that went on and on, and never really said anything.

We stripped it all away, taking it down to its essence. We articulated their purpose this way: “Every person in [name of town] will always have a place to call home.” 

Clean, simple, and aspirational. Just what a purpose or vision statement should be.

The “what” was likewise simplified: “We mobilize wide-ranging resources to provide innovative and personalized services that lead families to housing stability, economic self-sufficiency, and an improved quality of life.”

We captured the “beyond the expected” nature of the organization’s staff with a clean, simple four-word tagline.

Once those four simple words emerged, we were blown away with their power. That’s the brand that we want donors, funders, clients, and the public to experience.

From there, the name (there was a slight name change as part of this process), logo, website, intranet, and other other outreach tactics followed.

So what’s my underlying message here? When you talk of rebranding, it’s important to understand the motivation. Is there a problem you’re trying to solve? Slapping a new logo isn’t going to fix what ails you. Do the hard work of really understanding the essence of your brand, and take it from there.

Nonprofit Branding

I heartily recommend purchasing a copy of the “Branding Toolkit for Change Makers.” The second edition has just come out under the name Brand the Change. If you’re really interested in branding, it’s worth the $27.99. 

Glenn is a fundraising strategist who loves working with small- to mid-size organizations that want to innovate and grow. Check out his website, and to find out how he can help you, email him. You can also follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

Image: iStock by Getty Images under license.

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