Most people associate brands with for-profit businesses. Companies from shoe manufacturers to restaurants to entertainment providers promote identities that are immediately recognizable by the average person. But developing a brand is about more than just designing a fancy logo or selling goods. According to Forbes, “brand experience done right is to forge relationships with customers such that they feel connected, understood and emotionally invested in you, and they know it’s mutual.”
With the rise of individual online giving and social media, social-good organizations find themselves with the need to better define their brands in order to gain the trust of their donors and stakeholders and prove their continued relevancy as agents of change in their community. They need a brand that connects with donors’ passion for social change and invites them to be part of creating the solution. But what is a nonprofit brand and how do you create one?
According to David Stone, the president of Open Society Foundations, “A brand is a powerful expression of an organization’s mission and value that can help engineer collaborations and partnerships that better enable it to fulfill its mission and deepen impact, and [is] a strategic asset essential to the success of the organization itself.”
In other words, your brand is who you are as an organization, your purpose for existing, and how you present yourself to others. Having a strong brand helps you differentiate yourself from other nonprofits. There are countless social-good organizations, but only your organization does exactly what you do and in the way you do it. Your branding helps other people resonate with your unique mission and encourages them to get involved.
Where do You Start?
The first step in establishing a brand is knowing your own purpose. What is your organization trying to accomplish and why? Have you defined a clear and concise mission statement? Does your nonprofit have a vision about where you want to be in the future? If your organization disappeared tomorrow, what impact would it have on your community? These questions are essential because you cannot communicate something you do not understand.
After defining your purpose, the next step is knowing your audience. Different audiences have different expectations. Donors and funders want to feel connected to the work they are investing in. Large funders, such as government grant boards or foundations, likely have applications that required a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to prove your social impact. In some cases, the funders research social-good providers whose brand aligns with the funders’ goals, and who can show consistent social impact. This is true of funders like billionaire Mackenzie Scott, but it is also true of innovative foundations like The Siemer Institute. They proactively seek to partner with social-good providers whose brand aligns with their goals.
Small online donors, on the other hand, may resonate more with interactive methods for sharing your impact, such as digital impact reports or digital impact story collections. People are emotional beings and the most effective way to encourage their involvement is to tap into those feelings.
The most effective way to communicate your brand depends largely on who you are addressing. If your nonprofit depends on both funders and donors, support your brand with qualitative and quantitative impact data, and then tailor your message delivery as needed.
The third step in establishing a nonprofit branding is identifying the types of value you wish to convey. For the conversation of branding, there are three types of value to consider.
For something to be tangible, you must be able to see it and touch it. Tangible value is about providing things that you can interact with in the real world. For a nonprofit, tangible value might be the food you serve in your soup kitchen or the books you provide to a local school. It also could be the stable housing and increased wages provided for single mothers. These things are concrete and measurable.
Intangible means you cannot touch something. These types of value are also more challenging to measure. Your intangible value as an organization includes your reputation and your perceived trustworthiness by funders, community leaders, and community members. More importantly, you provide intangible value to your community. You may provide your program participants with educational resources, mentoring, or opportunities to build self-confidence through skill classes. These things are priceless to their recipients, but measuring them requires more than just counting hours or tallying delivered resources. You must strive to measure how people are better off as a result of your organization.
Aspirational value can be difficult to wrap your head around because it is by far the most abstract. Your aspirational value is tied to your vision. It is about what you aspire to become as an organization and the good you hope to do in the world. Aspiration value in the social-good sector can mean lofty goals that may never be fully achieved, but are, nevertheless, worth working towards. Eliminating childhood hunger, eradicating domestic violence, ending homelessness. Though abstract, aspirational value can be the most effective at tapping into emotion.
Engaging with More Volunteers
In addition to helping you secure financial resources, a powerful nonprofit brand can also help you secure more volunteers. The enthusiasm provided by volunteers pours energy into your organization and enables you to serve more individuals and families. Individuals donate their time because they are passionate about helping a cause. That passion can provide inspiration for members of your organization, individuals you serve, and the community at large. The same emotional investment in your brand that motivates them to spend their time may also lead them to spread the word of your organization to their circle of influence.
Running a successful social-good organization is no small task. Developing and effectively communicating a powerful brand will help you encourage people to resonate with your mission and invest in your success.
To learn more about using technology to measure and share your social impact, check out our “Ultimate Guide to Impact Measurement.”
SureImpact is a purpose-built impact management platform that is designed for social-good providers by social-good providers. SureImpact provides the data collection and impact reporting infrastructure to meet the unique needs of social-good organizations as they work to find innovative solutions to complex social challenges. SureImpact’s simple and collaborative case management and outcome tracking tools are designed to help nonprofits manage, measure, and communicate their social impact while also increasing data capacity for their team members and supporting a high-performing culture.