While you tend to hear the term more in relation to for-profit businesses, the importance of branding for nonprofits cannot be stressed enough. Your brand is what people think about when they think of your organization. This impacts your public image, your engagement, and your fundraising efforts. Brand management is the work you do to influence and shape the way your organization is perceived.
Nonprofits do have a different purpose than for-profits, but there are many brand strategies that apply to both sides. The following brand strategies can help you forge new relationships and strengthen the ones you already have. You may even be employing one or more already.
5 Smart Brand Strategies for Nonprofits
1. Differentiate Yourself
Why should someone give to your organization instead of another?
That’s the question that drives differentiation. It’s great that there are so many nonprofits tackling social problems, but this also means donors and foundations have a ton of choices in who they support. This is why it’s so important to show how your organization is different.
If you’re the only nonprofit working on a particular cause, this is relatively easy. Most organizations, however, face the challenge of distinguishing themselves from comparable organizations. Consider the cause of bringing clean water to all people—there are hundreds of nonprofits in this sector.
Some ways to set your work apart is to emphasize your differences, such as…
- Where you work – Are you the only nonprofit working in a particular region?
- Your method – Is your approach to problem solving different that other organizations?
- Your goal – Do you have a specific goal for your work that others are not pursuing?
For example, Bright Pink, a breast and ovarian health awareness organization, uniquely offers an assessment quiz to help individuals understand their personal cancer risk. In this space, they are one of the only organizations specifically focused on early detection, and the ability to quickly assess risk online through a quiz helps visitors remember them as a helpful resource.
2. Personalize Your Organization
Personalization has become a central brand strategy for many businesses and organizations. One thing people love about Chipotle is that they get to oversee and choose everything that goes into their meal. This strategy is not new but it’s only just gaining favor with nonprofits.
Peer-to-peer fundraising is perhaps the clearest example of the rise of personalization. Supporters can create their own page, add their own picture, tell their own story, and appeal to their own friends and family. Early adopters like charity: water and Pencils of Promise have demonstrated that allowing people to make a campaign their own can yield impressive fundraising results.
Organizations can also personalize their experience by giving donors a choice of projects or programs to donate to. Through Kiva, for example, donors get to choose to whom they make a microloan, and Moncus Park offers different options to donors looking to get involved. Supporters can provide an unrestricted gift or designate their funds to be used for specific initiatives.
If you’re looking to add more personal touchpoints for supporters, you might also consider your communications strategy. Do you design content tracks for specific groups of supporters? Create donor personas and build custom communications to help each individual feel like the information you provide is tailored to their interests and previous behavior.
3. Be Relatable
Being able to relate to another person is essential to forming a connection and it’s just as important that your supporters can relate to each other and the people you help.
If someone takes interest in your cause, they might go to your website’s “how you can help” page. If they only see pictures and details of major donors and celebrities, they might (consciously or subconsciously) think, “Oh. They don’t need help from me. I don’t have a ton of money or clout.”
But if your “how to help” page features small donors, volunteers, and fundraisers, you send the message that anyone can advance your mission. You should definitely recognize big donors, but it’s also important to show how anyone else can make an impact on your cause. Use your website, blog, and social media site to highlight individuals supporting your cause. In this example below, Charity: water acknowledges their fundraisers in a message of thanks on Valentine’s day.
To: You (our fundraisers)
Thank you for the bold, embarrassing, and beautiful things you do to raise money for clean water! Your heart is contagious, and you make it a joy to come to work each day. Happy Valentine's Day.
— charity: water (@charitywater) February 12, 2019
Relatability also comes into play when you talk about the people your programs help. A potential donor might not think they have much in common with a man staying in your homeless shelter until you explain that he is a father who lost his job during the recession. Details like these help people relate to your constituents.
4. Appeal to the Emotional
Tapping into the emotions that drive your supporters can go a long way toward breaking through stagnation and apathy. This works hand in hand with the concept of making people in need relatable. When people can relate and identify with victims of a natural disaster, for example, they can understand the victim’s sadness and uncertainty. Sympathy is a significant driver of charitable giving.
You can also highlight the positive emotions that come from helping others. This may take the form of donor testimonials or feature posts on your blog that highlight volunteers and supporters. Show your audience that helping your cause is emotionally rewarding for donors too.
5. Be a Thought Leader
Finally, positioning your organization as a forward-thinking and innovative nonprofit can be an effective brand strategy. While there are people who prefer to stick with historic or more traditional charities, adopting new technologies and strategies can attract people who may not have been interested in the cause before.
For example, Because International’s brand largely centers around the theme of innovation. They’ve even incorporated it into their mission—to leverage innovation to make things better. Their program, The Shoe That Grows, a 2017 Classy Award recipient, is a design that expands by five sizes, lasting up to five years.
If thought leadership is a key component of your nonprofit branding, consider what steps you might take to elevate it and ensure your audience views you as a leader in your space.
Whether you’ve been consciously cultivating it or not, your organization has a brand. The associations and ideas people have about your nonprofit can impact your fundraising, engagement, and credibility. Consider how you can adopt some of these brand strategies for nonprofits to influence the way your organization is perceived by the public.