Branding For Nonprofits

Applying for-profit marketing models to the nonprofit sector demonstrates a lack of understanding on what makes a nonprofit unique.

 Many nonprofits continue to use their brands primarily as a fundraising tool, but a growing number of nonprofits are developing a broader and more strategic approach, managing their brands to create greater social impact and tighter organizational cohesion. However, as nonprofits are realizing the benefits of having a strong brand image, agencies often rush in applying for-profit models and end up with less than effective outcomes as a result. 

Your brand is what you stand for. A brand is more than just your logo or other graphics used by an organization. A brand is the perceptions of all the constituents that are aware of your services, people, or movement. Brand management is the work of managing these opinions. In the for-profit world, marketing professionals talk of creating “a total brand experience.” In the nonprofit world, the conversation should be more about their identity, what their organization stands for and the impact they are having. Your brand ultimately is a reflection of what your organization represents and believes. 

3 Important Points. There are important differences and nuances between for and not for profit organizations that go beyond fiscal management or categorization. There is a deep source of pride that nonprofit leaders and their teams have in what they do—pride in the social mission, participatory processes, shared values, and key partnerships. For agencies to be effective in working with nonprofits, they must:

  1.  Take the time to understand and align marketing decisions with the mission and values of the organization. Join and volunteer with the organization if possible. 
  2. Look at the big picture and work to develop or enhance their brand to align with their long term vision. Nonprofits are not driven by quarterly income/earnings results. Yes, they should have clear metrics in place, but often a nonprofit has a greater long term vision that may take years or decades to achieve.
  3. Be sensitive in understanding the balance needed to raise money while staying true to the cause – balancing and respecting both mission and margin. Sometimes the right thing to do is not necessarily what will generate more revenue or increase membership.

Taking a thoughtful approach to nonprofit marketing requires more than just having an understanding of their purpose.  Closely listening to the voice of all the stakeholders and leveraging the passion of the team is a key to developing marketing strategies that are just as bold as the vision of the organization.