As a non-profit organization, your brand isn’t just a logo or text. It’s a symbol and a feeling — one that resembles hope, inspiration or kindness.
For your program participants, non-profit branding is often associated with the experiences they have while enrolled in your program. For your volunteers and donors, your brand is deeply connected to the feeling they get from giving back to the community and to others in need.
To that end, non-profit branding and its image are synonymous with a mission and message because the brand doesn’t just serve the non-profit — it serves communities, too.
For instance, when people see your logo or branding, whether you’re a YMCA or a garden project non-profit, you want them to remember what you’re working towards and call on you to help or be helped.
Why does non-profit branding matter?
Just as financial or food insecurity can prohibit growth, brand insecurity can have a similar impact. Writing grants and fundraising takes time, money and energy. Not only that, but it also requires you to tell a story, one of which you may not have the luxury of iterating again and again. But, if you find yourself worried that your non-profit is missing critical (and digital) fundraising opportunities, you’re not alone — 66% percent of charities share that concern.
However, a strong brand helps tell a non-profit’s story.
To quote the folks of Stanford Social Innovation Review, “a brand is a psychological construct held in the minds of all those aware of the branded product, person, organization, or movement. Brand management is the work of managing these psychological associations. In the for-profit world, marketing professionals talk of creating ‘a total brand experience.’ In the non-profit world, executives talk more about their ‘global identity’ and the ‘what and why’ of their organizations. But the point in both cases is to take branding far beyond the logo.”
So in sum, there are two core components a strong non-profit brand can lend a hand in:
For many non-profits, these two components are inextricably linked. The stronger presence and identity you possess, the more likely people are to donate money. And the more money you can accrue, the more you can build your brand presence.
By building a brand, you extend your capacity and reach. But, how do you do that when you’re already strapped for resources and time?
How to build your non-profit brand
First, let’s address the elephant in the room.
The work you’re about to do (i.e., brand building) might sound counterintuitive, but it’s not. Take a minute and remember that your non-profit brand experience contributes to your collective community effort, which in turn empowers you to build a brand that lasts.
Maintain long-term brand authenticity
Whether your non-profit is well-established or relatively new, you must maintain long-term authenticity for branding to be effective.
Authenticity, while a relatively played out terminology, is a critical component to ensuring your non-profit messaging can stand the test of time and resonates with donors, program participants and volunteers. Authenticity can manifest itself in many forms, for example:
- Embracing your non-profit’s uniqueness.
- Transparent communications about fundraising and other processes.
- The act of gathering feedback from donors, constituents and community members.
- Owning up to mistakes or shortcomings.
Evaluate your current impact
Having a clear, measurable impact translates into a clear, memorable experience, as well as more donations or grant opportunities. So, start building your brand strategy by evaluating your impact effectiveness.
To do so, ask yourself, board members and core staff:
- Is our impact claim clear?
- Is it easy to understand why my non-profit matters? Do donors, program participants or volunteers clearly understand what we’re working toward?
- Or is it something that’s hard to define or articulate?
- Are our brand values well defined?
- Do our brand values reflect our mission?
- Do we properly understand our target demographics?
- Have we created personas that articulate our target audiences?
- Are our current donors and volunteers a reflection of our target audiences?
- Are we appropriately tracking existing marketing strategies?
- Do we use software and tech platforms that empower us or prohibit us from measuring our impact?
While this might be a time-consuming task at first glance, answering each of these questions ensures your organization has an appropriate and solid foundation from which to build your brand strategy from. To learn more about basic marketing strategies for non-profit organizations, check out our comprehensive (but approachable, we swear) blog post.
Make a statement
There are two statements worth making — a brand positioning statement and a value statement.
As we mentioned in one of our previous blog posts, “a brand positioning statement is a short and concise description that sums up your brand. It includes:
- Your brand promise
- Your category or market
- Your customer base
- A high-level description of benefits
- Who you are”
Whereas a value statement (or proposition) “should describe beneficial features of your product, services, strategy or approach.”
Keep in mind, both your brand positioning statement and value proposition are not intended to be used or seen by folks outside of your immediate organization. Both are intended to serve as a north star for branded content creation. Whether you’re writing a grant or creating new program collateral, leveraging these two statements can help content stay on-mission and helpful.
We can’t stress this one enough. Being consistent is your key to unlocking access to new donors, volunteers and program participants. To be consistent is to be recognized. Because being consistent not only helps set the stage for future content creation, but it also helps ensure your message is understood loud and clear.
Consistency can mean a lot of things. For example, consistency is:
- Making sure your logo isn’t pixelated, warped or distorted and is always used correctly.
- Ensuring that your marketing materials are written in the same voice and tone.
- The use of on-brand, professional stock photos that reflect your mission and target audience.
Streamline and templatize
Making do with very little is the M.O. for most in the non-profit sector, so it makes sense to streamline, templatize and craft easy-to-duplicate (or copy and paste) content wherever possible. While it might feel redundant, empowering colleagues with cut-and-paste (with some customizable flair) content ensures that collateral and messaging stays true to your north star mission.
(Screenshots are from the Philanthropy report template found in the Lucidpress gallery)
Do your non-profit branding justice
Your brand, and more importantly your community, deserves a proper foundation from which you — and your colleagues — can build out from. Doing so not only ensures your ability to successfully create content in the future but it also ensures you remain visible, consistent and memorable to your target audiences. Regardless of whether or not these folks are donors, volunteers or program participants. To learn more about how to specifically create a consistent brand story from touchpoint to touchpoint, check out our ebook on nonprofit messaging and how to make do with very little. Or, if you're more of an auditory learner, tune into our Brand Land episode on branding and marketing in the non-profit space.