While you tend to hear the term more in relation to for-profit businesses, the importance of branding for nonprofits cannot be stressed enough.
Your brand is what people think about when they think of your organization. This impacts your public image, your engagement, and your fundraising efforts. Brand management is the work you do to influence and shape the way your organization is perceived.
Nonprofits have a different purpose than for-profits, but there are many brand strategies that apply to both sides. The following brand strategies can help you forge new relationships and strengthen the ones you already have. You may even be employing one or more already.
1. Differentiate Yourself
Why should someone give to your organization instead of another?
That’s the question that drives differentiation.
Creating a strong brand strategy is essential to any successful nonprofit organization. It’s an effective way to stand out in the crowd and set your organization apart from others that share similar missions.
A great brand strategy tells a story that resonates with your audience, helping to generate recurring donations, engage more volunteers, and strengthen relationships with current supporters. Differentiating your nonprofit brand means creating a clear, authentic voice and conveying it across all aspects of the organization, including how your employees represent themselves and how the organization appears to its stakeholders.
With a strong, differentiated brand, you’ll have the opportunity to bring people together, have an impact, and really make a difference in the community.
Consider the following steps to discover what differentiates your nonprofit from the competition:
- Conduct extensive research to gain a deep understanding of your organization’s values, mission, and core activities
- Develop a unique brand identity for your nonprofit by creating a distinctive visual language and establishing a consistent voice across all media outlets
- Engage potential supporters by producing captivating, memorable content and stories that resonate with your audience
- Connect with your target audience through different social media channels, and focus on developing relationships across platforms
- Focus on creating long-term relationships with supporters and emphasize transparency, communication, and accountability among other core values to increase brand recognition
- Broadcast volunteer opportunities, fundraising events, and other ways for people to get involved with your organization
- Regularly review your marketing initiatives, fine-tune your fundraising approach, and embrace iteration to optimize your social impact
Additional areas of opportunity to assess when determining how exactly to set your nonprofit apart include:
- Where you work: Are you the only nonprofit working in a particular region?
- Your method: Is your approach to problem-solving different from other organizations?
- Your goal: Do you have a specific goal for your work that others are not pursuing?
For example, Bright Pink, a breast and ovarian health awareness organization, uniquely offers an assessment quiz to help individuals understand their personal cancer risk.
In this space, they are one of the only organizations specifically focused on early detection, and the ability to quickly assess risk online through a quiz helps visitors remember them as a helpful resource.
2. Personalize Your Organization
Personalization has become a central brand strategy for many businesses and organizations. In fact, creating a personalized branding strategy for your nonprofit organization gives you the opportunity to highlight your values.
Once you have determined what makes your nonprofit brand unique among others, the next step is to solidify who your target audience is and what their core interests are. Think about the message you want to share with new and existing supporters. Moreover, how can you leverage your current donor base to help spread brand awareness and elevate your fundraising initiatives?
Peer-to-peer fundraising is perhaps the clearest example of the rise of personalization. Supporters can create their own donation page, add their own picture, tell their own story, and appeal to their own friends and family.
While personalization through peer-to-peer fundraising is an excellent way for your current donor base to spread brand awareness, make sure that you as a nonprofit have designed visuals that reflect your mission and brand—whether it’s a unique logo, illustrations, or slogans—and help to distinguish your nonprofit’s visual identity from others.
Finally, ensure that your branding efforts reach the right audiences, either through digital marketing or through offline strategies such as direct mail or printed marketing materials.
If you’re looking to add more personal touchpoints for supporters, you might also consider your communications strategy. Do you design content tracks for specific groups of supporters? Create donor personas and build custom communications to help each individual feel like the information you provide is tailored to their interests and previous behavior.
3. Be Relatable
Being able to relate to another person is essential to forming a connection and it’s just as important that your supporters can relate to each other and the people you help.
By creating a relatable nonprofit brand, you are more equipped to create genuine connections with people who share interest in your cause. When people can relate to your brand, they are more likely to want to support it, which means that you have to do the work of making sure your brand leaves a lasting first impression and resonates with your audience following the first point of interaction.
Invest time and resources in getting to know your target audience, crafting messages that show why your cause matters, and finding creative ways to make your nonprofit mission and fundraising initiatives resonate.
Once you’ve built a strong brand that has stickiness, you’ll be rewarded with more volunteers, more donations, and a larger community that is engaged in what you’re doing for the greater good.
Leverage your website, nonprofit blog, and social media as a way to highlight individuals supporting your cause. Feature donors, volunteers, and fundraisers to demonstrate that anyone can advance your mission. It is definitely advisable to recognize big donors, but it’s also important to show how anyone else can make an impact on your cause.
If someone takes interest in your cause, they might go to your website’s “how you can help” page. If they only see pictures and details of major donors and celebrities, they might (consciously or subconsciously) think, “Oh. They don’t need help from me. I don’t have a ton of money or clout.”
Relatability also comes into play when you talk about the people your programs help. A potential donor might not think they have much in common with a man staying in your homeless shelter until you explain that he is a father who lost his job during the recession. Details like these help people relate to your constituents.
4. Appeal to the Emotional
Tapping into the emotions that drive your supporters can go a long way toward breaking through stagnation and apathy.
As a nonprofit, it’s important to recognize that many people are motivated to take action when an emotional appeal is involved. Make a meaningful emotional connection with your audience by speaking to people’s hearts as much as you do their minds.
This may include sharing stories or testimonials that showcase the lives your organization is transforming, making people laugh through entertaining videos, or finding unique ways to celebrate the individuals and communities who have helped support your cause along the way.
Ultimately, when your organization speaks to people’s emotions, you will make a greater impact and truly show the power of your work.
5. Be a Thought Leader
Finally, positioning your organization as a forward-thinking and innovative nonprofit can be an effective brand strategy. While there are people who prefer to stick with historic or more traditional charities, adopting new technologies and strategies can attract people who may not have been interested in the cause before. This can be done without sacrificing brand consistency.
All it takes is the willingness to get involved, to make an impact, and to put your voice and ideas out there. If thought leadership is a key component of your nonprofit branding strategy, consider what steps you might take to elevate your voice and ensure your audience views you as a leader in your space.
To help get you on your way to becoming a leader in the nonprofit sector, explore opportunities to:
- Get connected with people and organizations in the nonprofit sector to develop your understanding and learn more
- Reach out to fellow thought leaders, find nonprofit conferences and webinars to attend, and explore blogs and articles
- Engage with the conversations, offer insights, and be sure to follow up with those that could be a helpful source of information in an effort to further evolve your brand identity and positioning
- Challenge traditional thought processes, start initiatives that make a difference, and always aim to collaborate