How many nonprofits are there that do exactly what you are trying to do?
Maybe the answer is none, in which case, you are in a great spot! More likely, there are quite a few, and you may be struggling to stand out from the others.
How can you make you cause appear one-of-a-kind so you’re not fighting for attention?
The answer lies in nonprofit branding.
What is a Brand?
First of all, let’s get clear about what a brand is and how it applies to a nonprofit.
When most of us think of a brand, we think of a symbol of some company – McDonald’s golden arches, the Nike swoosh – but a brand is actually the associations you have with that symbol.
The Nike swoosh capture the idea of working hard to win no matter what (“Just do it”). The golden arches tell a story about a particular kind of eating experience: friendly, approachable, convenient, and tasty.
Without focusing on branding, you’re just another little nonprofit doing the same thing as a millions of other nonprofits.
With a strong brand, you’re one-of-a-kind.
There is nobody else who does quite what you do in the way you do it, so you are automatically no longer competing on the same field.
This is true even if what you do doesn’t change.
Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, co-author of the book The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity, explains that nonprofit brands should focus on mission and values. It is meant to support collaboration, rather than competitive advantage as in for profit businesses.
You can read an overview of her work here.
Defining Your Brand
Ask yourself, “What do I stand for?”
Too often, nonprofits focus on what they do rather than what they believe, but the foundation of a powerful brand identity is in understanding and conveying why you do what you do.
Google stands for making the world’s information useful and accessible. Apple stands for elegant, user-friendly technology.
In the nonprofit world, Greenpeace stands for aggressive environmental action. Women for Women International stands for empowering women to help themselves and each other.
Stick to Your Brand
You have to stick to what you believe in. Otherwise, you dilute your identity and the focus of your nonprofit’s mission.
Neither Greenpeace nor Women for Women allow other agendas to divert them. Greenpeace has their tactics and they stick to them. Women for Women doesn’t have programs for men.
This might be a problem for some, but it works for their supporters, who are loyal and devoted.
This can be hard to do. Sometimes, you see an opportunity to help that you can actually address, but it isn’t in line with what your nonprofit or cause stands for. It takes conviction to stay the course, which is why strong brands are hard to develop and maintain.
Examples of Successful Nonprofit Branding on CauseVox
The Bayshore Christian Ministries is a youth development organization in East Palo Alto. They needed to raise $10,000 this past year, which was their 30th year of ministering. The campaign they developed was the $30 for 30 years, which is memorable and recognizable.
As an organization, Bayshore stands out because it has a unique mission of helping youth not only with spiritual support, but also with life skills centered on technology, particularly appropriate to the Bay Area. This is an example of strong nonprofit branding; you know exactly what to expect working with Bayshore.
With their awareness of modern forms of interaction, Bayshore’s campaign was a success mainly through online giving driven by social media.
Mark Whitehead’s fundraising campaign, WOD for Water, is an arm of a larger nonprofit called Neverthirst, which focuses on bringing clean water to the world. WOD for Water stands out as an example of powerful nonprofit branding because it directly speaks to the intense workout community (WOD stands for Workout of the Day) and leverages an already powerful group mentality.
WOD for Water’s event branding focuses around fitness and the thirst hardcore athletes experience. They even carry water jugs as part of the workouts. It’s pretty clear what you can expect to experience as part of their fundraising efforts. They don’t do bake sales, or canvassing. They do workouts, and they only focus on providing clean water.
WOD for Water probably won’t appeal to people who don’t enjoy hard workouts. That’s fine. Whitehead knows his audience and by staying true to what he stands for, is able to keep the donor base strong and devoted.
Anchor Church in Virginia Beach, VA, initiated a fundraising campaign specifically to rebrand itself. The church focused on being as open to donor involvement as possible, and the emphasis was on existing churchgoers and their sense of ownership. That was their brand: community ownership and involvement.
Anchor did this by communicating well with its donors and by explaining the “why behind every dollar.” The result was a campaign strongly focused on donor ownership and investment, and a powerfully loyal donor base (it hit 75% of its target within 8 days of a 30 day campaign).
Take some time to think about your nonprofit’s or your campaign’s brand. What do you stand for specifically? How are you different than other nonprofits working on the same cause? Does your campaign messaging emphasize that difference?