October 3, 2023
Branding for nonprofits

The Fundamentals of Successful Branding for Nonprofits

Branding might sound like a particularly corporate term and one that you don’t think about much in relation to nonprofits. However, nonprofit organizations also have brands, even when perhaps not a lot of thought has gone into developing it. A nonprofit’s brand is its identity, its values, and the story that it tells. Nonprofits need to build and maintain a strong brand that helps them to stand out, boosts awareness, and increases trust and loyalty. A nonprofit’s brand is essential to inform marketing strategies and ensure the organization has a solid identity. Successful branding for nonprofits includes a number of elements, all of which are important for raising the profile of a nonprofit.

Marketing vs Branding for Nonprofits

Branding forms part of a nonprofit’s marketing strategy, but marketing and branding are not the same thing. They are often confused, as separating the two things can seem difficult. However, once you understand what both branding and marketing are and how they differ, you can apply them in the best ways to further your nonprofit organization.

Simply put, branding is the identity that you give to your nonprofit, while marketing comprises the methods that you use to tell people about who you are. If you’re doing marketing without really having much sense of your nonprofit’s brand, you can find that it’s difficult to put out a consistent message. Marketing campaigns may change, but a brand is designed to be more permanent and help to inform your marketing activities. Brands are not impossible to change, and many organizations do decide to rebrand for various purposes, but they are not something that is constantly shifting.

Some of the elements that might make up your nonprofit organization’s brand include its logo, brand colors, and brand tone of voice. Your nonprofit’s story and history, its values, and its mission are all part of your brand too. On the other hand, marketing can include a broad range of activities. A marketing campaign could involve digital marketing methods, such as SEO, PPC advertising, and social media marketing. It might also involve some more traditional methods of marketing, such as advertising on TV or radio, direct mail, or printing adverts in newspapers, magazines, and other publications.

Branding and marketing are often confused because they are closely linked. You need a solid brand to market your nonprofit effectively, and you might find that your brand starts to develop through the marketing of your nonprofit. However, if you don’t specifically work on creating a defined brand, it can end up never being fully formed. Paying attention to branding is just as important as working on marketing campaigns, if not more so.

How Nonprofit Branding Differs from Branding for a Commercial Company

Nonprofit organizations are not the same as commercial companies, and as such, their branding should not be the same, either. While both types of organization have an aim to make money, it’s in different ways. For-profit companies might give some money to charity, but their core goal is to make a profit. Nonprofits need to bring in money, but their aim is not to make a profit. In fact, they will often be making money through fundraising activities, which will go toward the cause that they support.

Branding for nonprofits needs to concentrate on engaging with the audience, from connecting with people on an emotional level to community outreach. For-profit companies need to build relationships with their customers, but nonprofits often focus even more on how to build a connection between their brand and their audience. For for-profit businesses, the satisfaction that the customer gains from buying their product or service may be the main focus when building their brand. However, nonprofits need to help their supporters feel more of a connection to their cause.

Nonprofit branding often places a particular focus on the organization’s mission and values when building their story. Why do they care about the cause that they support? How did the organization come to be? What goals do they have in relation to their cause, and how will supporters’ money be used? Although supporters of nonprofits might receive a service or product in return for their money, they are often simply donating. As they are not the ones benefiting from spending their money, they want to be able to trust that their money is doing good.

Trust and transparency are important when building a nonprofit brand too. While the call for commercial entities to be more transparent has grown louder in recent years, people usually expect it even more from nonprofits. The brand identity of a nonprofit needs to emphasize care and compassion, as well as transparency, reliability, and trust.

How to Tell the Story of a Nonprofit Brand

Storytelling is a major part of both branding and marketing. To form a solid brand, a nonprofit needs to be able to tell a story about who they are and what they’re trying to do. It’s essential to know what you’re doing, where you’re going, and why people should care about what you’re doing. Your brand story should help people to engage with your nonprofit and its cause.

Here are some of the things that you might need to do when telling the story of a nonprofit brand:

  • Tell your brand’s story in a clear and simple way to connect and identify people with your cause
  • Evoke emotion before providing facts, allowing people to connect and then use the facts to help them make decisions
  • Find a way to quickly resonate with your audience – you might have only seconds to get their attention
  • Use visuals such as infographics and videos to enhance storytelling
  • Show the people behind the brand by both introducing the people who started the nonprofit, staff and volunteers, and those that it benefits – nonprofits shouldn’t be faceless corporate entities
  • Include a call to action to inspire your donors to act and help them feel a part of working toward your goals and fulfilling your mission
  • Be honest about the development of your brand – from where you came from and how your nonprofit has developed to lessons that you have learned along the way

If you need help with telling your brand’s story, take a look at some examples of how nonprofits have chosen to use brand storytelling. Visit their websites and take a look at their “about” page, as well as how the rest of the content on their site tells their story. Observe how they catch the reader’s attention immediately, how they use visuals and how they use their history and values to connect with their audience. If you can tell your story in a succinct and clear way, you can get your message across and define your brand. Focus on stirring your audience’s feelings and getting people to connect with what you’re doing.

Building a Strong Nonprofit Brand

The core principles of building a brand for a commercial business can apply to building your nonprofit brand too. Using some proven techniques, you can build a distinctive brand for your nonprofit.

Define your brand’s purpose

Defining the purpose of your brand should be relatively easy for a nonprofit. You know why the nonprofit was established and what you aim to do. To build your brand, you need to be able to convey this to your audience, letting them know why they should care and how they can make a difference.

Research competitors and your audience

Running a nonprofit might not be as cut-throat when it comes to competitors as a for-profit company is. However, you still face competition, not just for donors but also for other things, such as grants and funding. By researching both your competitors and your audience, you can understand how to differentiate your organization.

Outline your mission statement and values

Your brand mission statement outlines your reason for existing. After defining your brand purpose, you need to craft a clear and succinct mission statement that tells both your audience and employees (as well as any third-party vendors) what you value. Your mission statement will inform everything else, including other elements of your brand and your marketing.

Create a brand voice and personality

One of the important elements of your brand is the way that you sound. This can include everything from website content and social media posts to print materials and even how your staff or volunteers speak to people. Decide how you want to come across to your audience, using some adjectives to describe your brand tone of voice and personality.

Work on story and messaging

Your brand’s story and messaging tell people all about who you are and why they should care. A clear and simple brand story will help you to get your message out there, and show your customer why what you’re doing should be important to them. Communicate who you are to supporters so they can understand with ease.

Create a logo and brand visuals

The visual aspect of your brand is also important and should be as coherent as the language that you use. The logo is usually the first thing that you create when working on your brand image. Choosing brand colors is another part of this process.

Designing an Effective Brand Experience for Nonprofit Organizations

A nonprofit’s brand experience incorporates everything around the brand, from the packaging you use on any products that you sell to communications, events, and customer service. How people experience your brand can be thought about in terms of marketing and other ways that they might engage with your nonprofit and its activities. Designing an effective brand experience for a nonprofit organization can involve many of the things that apply to commercial entities, but there are also some things that are specific to nonprofits that you should take into account.

When building a brand for your nonprofit, it’s helpful to create a branding guide. This is always useful but can be particularly so for a nonprofit. When you have brand guidelines, they can easily be shared with staff and volunteers, as well as vendors and others who may need them. Nonprofits often work with a variety of people both within the organization and outside of it. This can make it difficult to maintain a consistent brand experience, but creating branding guidelines makes it easier.

One thing that many nonprofits can make use of when building their brand is case studies and statistics. There are ways to present facts in interesting and visual ways that will engage your audience and explain to them why you do what you do, as well as how you are making a change. This should be combined with the things that you do to evoke empathy and compassion, which will draw people in so that they start looking at the facts.

It’s also a good idea to focus on community and listen to your supporters when growing your brand. People who spend money with for-profit companies have their say by spending their money. However, supporters of nonprofit companies may feel that they should be more involved in the direction of the organization. If they donate money or volunteer, they may develop loyalty for your brand and feel like they’re part of a community where they can have their voice heard. This is something to consider when developing a brand further or when considering a rebrand, which needs to be carried out carefully and with your current supporters in mind.

Final Words

Branding for nonprofits should not be carried out in the exact same way as branding for companies that are for-profit. Although a nonprofit still needs to make money, the core mission is some kind of social change, charity or altruistic cause. As making a profit is not your goal, it’s important to create a brand that reflects what the organization really stands for. Nonprofit organizations should connect with their audience on an emotional level and emphasize compassion and care. From brand guidelines to creating a brand story, nonprofits should have a strong identity that helps them to stand out.

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