Branding in the Non-Profit world is too often viewed as a vulgar topic.  Persons who are mission driven and want to make a positive change can get alienated by the thought of mirroring branding best practices from the corporate world.  It cheapens their message or creates an aura of “selling out” and not being true to the mission.

This is simply not true!  A well-established brand is one of the most critical success factors for a non-profit.  If done right, branding both educates and creates desired emotions.  It attracts loyal supporters, donors and advocates to your cause.

So what is branding for a non-profit?  It is more than a snazzy logo or a cute name.  Branding is effective storytelling delivered to an audience that hammers home why your mission and your non-profit matter.  It is the totality of perceptions of what your non-profit stands for, what it does and how effective it is thought to be.  Over time it becomes intertwined with your reputation.  Perceptions here really do become reality.

This messaging is delivered across multiple mediums.  When done correctly it significantly influences the entire spectrum of your ecosystem—interfacing with donors, delivery of your services and the engagement of your staff.  With all of these parties it spreads awareness and generates trust in you and the validity of your mission.  The branding messaging takes on a life of its own….it becomes defined as not what you say you are, but how those in your ecosystem perceive you.

In short, effective branding is incredibly important to a non-profit.  But it’s NOT an easy thing to pull off.  It requires a steady hand at the wheel, patience and hard work.  Brand building is a more subtle process than simply carving out a new logo or a glitzy marketing campaign.  Here are some considerations to internalize as you think about how to create or enhance your current branding.

  1. Be crystal clear on your mission, vision and purpose. On the face of it this seems relatively simple, but it’s not.  These details must be relevant and compelling.  They must also engage your audience with thoughts of how they can support.
  1. Communications: Times change!  A decade ago an awesome annual report was your best method of selling yourself.  This is no longer the case.  Today your website is the fundamental core to your communication structure and brand building strategy.  Think about it—the website is often the first point of contact you have with a potential stakeholder….it also is where YOU have 100% control over the messaging and content visible to these valuable people.
  1. Leadership: Effective leaders for a non-profit can come in several forms:  An outwardly engaging face of the organization (and thus a key part of the brand!), a leader with a  recognizable name already associated with excellence in your market, or a leader who manages steadily and strategically from behind the scenes.  Although these three are different types of leaders, the common thread tying them all together is the desire for stability….the longer the leader is guiding the organization the better.
branding + design in 4 options