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Branding Your Nonprofit: A Whole Organization’s Responsibility

An organizational brand cannot only be pushed by a handful of your staff. It must be understood, embraced and fulfilled by your entire organization. A brand is not simply a key message, a logo or a website to maintain. It’s the entire experience that you offer your donors, volunteers, board members, staff, clients, policymakers and others when you interact with them. Here are some ideas for keeping your brand part of the whole organization’s conversation. 

When you think of branding, you probably assume this is something that sits over in your marketing department, if you’re fortunate enough to have dedicated marketing staff. But an organizational brand cannot only be pushed by a handful of your staff. It must be understood, embraced and fulfilled by your entire organization.

Let’s say you’re an organization serving animals, and one of your key goals is to ensure new ”parents” of an adopted animal have a clear understanding of the importance of taking on this responsibility for the full life of the pet. Your marketing staff will likely have written articles about this in your monthly newsletter and added content to your website to make sure the message is loud and clear. But since you left responsibility for communicating this message over in marketing, your volunteer staff that helps with adoptions aren’t selling the story to your customers. Several of your customers end up returning animals a year or two later because they didn’t invest in training, they had a child or moved to new apartment that wouldn’t allow pets. A board member calls you upset to learn that some of your key audiences view your organization as a place to return unwanted pets. If your volunteer staff had embraced this message of pet ownership and responsibility, not only would he or she been able to potentially prevent the failed adoptions from happening, but also your organization would also have prevented damage to your brand.

A brand is not simply a key message, a logo, or a website...
It’s the entire experience that you offer your constituents.

A brand is not simply a key message, a logo, or a website that’s maintained by a marketing or communications staff. It’s the entire experience that you offer your donors, volunteers, board members, staff, clients, policymakers and others when you interact with them. And in order for your nonprofit to stand out and create loyalty, that brand must indicate how your organization is unique and why someone should build a relationship with you. That’s done through every interaction from thank you letters for donations, to orientations for new board members to stories pitched through the media. They all must clearly communicate your brand and do so in a consistent and compelling manner. Over time, this builds both trust and loyalty with your target audiences.

This issue of trust is a significant one in the nonprofit sector. And while it’s something that can be communicated through your marketing efforts, it must be part of your brand at the very top of your organization. When your leadership is considering any type of significant investment or change in approach or services, you need to think about how this will impact your brand experience.

Recently, we saw one of the most trusted brands in the industry lose significant credibility with its dedicated audience—Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Whether or not Susan G. Komen meant to make a political statement with their new funding strategy, they should have recognized the potential for the controversy and ensured a clear and compelling message well ahead of this announcement. Since that time, they’ve been back-pedaling and changing their position without effective communication about why they’re making these decisions. Donors and volunteers who have been loyal for years are questioning their dedication. While grant guidelines are certainly not something created by marketing staff, Susan G. Komen would have benefitted from considering how these changes would impact those they serve and ultimately the organization’s brand.

Ideas for keeping your brand part of the whole organization’s conversation:

 
- Meet regularly with your leadership team to understand key initiatives or changes in service that may be coming up.

- Work with your development staff to understand their fundraising goals and audiences to ensure consistency with your fundraising pitch and marketing message.

- Ensure new board and staff members receive training on your brand during their orientation.

- If you have volunteer training, review the materials presented to ensure they’re consistent with your brand.

- Consider the experience an individual has when walking into your office—is it consistent with the way you want to present your nonprofit?

- In staff meetings, give brief stories about how the work that staff is doing reflects your nonprofit’s brand.

Lauren Welsh is the owner of Mixte, where she works with nonprofit and foundation clients to help them clearly and simply define who they are, who they need to reach and how. Prior to beginning Mixte in 2011, Welsh led the marketing efforts of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

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