Branding for Nonprofits

Branding for Nonprofits

More often than not, people associate the concept of branding with large for-profit companies–companies with complex and pervasive personalities that are ever-present in our daily lives. In addition, it’s difficult for some to consider that non-commercial entities can (or should) have a brand.

Most people who work within the nonprofit sector know these are misconceptions. A quick survey of some of the more prominent nonprofits yields a strikingly large amount of similarities (in regards to branding) with famous corporations. The consistent use of vitals, verbals, and visuals across multiple communication channels by The Nature Conservancy isn’t all that much different than that of Coca-Cola. It’s also not unheard of for executives and directors to make the leap from the for-profit to the non-profit world.

What more and more nonprofits are noticing is that branding isn’t just for for-profit companies. They’re recognizing that the right brand, one driven by mission and organizational buy-in, can greatly affect the impact their agency can have. On the flip side, brand mismanagement could be negating other areas where an organization is making headway. Poor brands can damage well-intentioned organizations.

How Branding Nonprofits Differs from For-Profits

For most for-profit organizations, success can be a measured by a limited number of metrics (i.e.: revenue, profits, and marketshare).  When making branding decisions, the questions asked can therefore also be limited (i.e.: “Will this increase revenue, profits, or marketshare?”)

In a nonprofit, things aren’t quite as simple.

Nonprofits exist for a multitude of reasons. Chief among them are: commitment to a mission, need of a community, passion of a board or founder, and like-minded thinking of a group of driven individuals. When branding questions come up, their answers can’t be found through the same thin litmus test as in for-profits companies.

A successful brand for nonprofits needs to have the following components: integrity, democracy, ethics, and affinity. These attributes can be determined by asking questions, such as:

Integrity: Are the public-facing elements of the brand aligned with the internal mission? Do these elements make sense to the key stakeholders? Are these elements cohesive across multiple channels?

Democracy: Is there trust throughout a nonprofit organization that the brand will be communicated appropriately? Will this brand thrive without unilateral control (which is difficult, if not impossible, in today’s connected world where everyone has a voice)?

Ethics: When the brand is conveyed, does it do so in a manner that embodies the values and mission of the organization?

Affinity: Does the brand work in a supportive manner with other brands? Does the brand share space and credit with collaborating organizations? Does the brand promote collective over individual interests?

This IDEA framework for branding nonprofits asks a number of questions that simply aren’t part of the equation when making decisions for a commercial entity. When asked properly, the right questions can help guide the branding process for a new brand, or one that is going through a rebranding process.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you agree or disagree that nonprofits need a strong brand? Do you work for a nonprofit that is struggling with branding issues? Go to our contact page and let us know what you think.

This post draws heavily from the article, The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector, by Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and Christopher Stone. The original article can be found in the Spring 2012 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

For additional reading, please see, The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy and Affinity, by Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and Julia Shepard Stenzel.

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