Your nonprofit brand is a powerful force for raising resources. It’s key for establishing a sustainable fundraising program, and building your brand will make the next year-end appeal much more successful.
You might be thinking that your nonprofit doesn’t have the money to spend on a fancy new logo, clever tagline, new website, or a glossy annual report. That’s okay! Because that’s not what branding is about at its core.
Instead, a brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a person’s decision to support your organization over another. Your brand is not about design or graphics. It’s about what people remember and feel about your organization.
Every communication can be part of the branding process. Digital communications, like email, social media, and online search, offer incredible opportunities to build a nonprofit brand … even on a shoestring budget.
If I simply don’t like ketchup, the brand doesn’t matter. The same is true for nonprofit fundraising.
Answering The 5 Key Branding Questions
In branding, you want to find ways to answer critical questions that swirl around in a person’s mind about every nonprofit. Answer these questions in a memorable way and you will build your brand — think of your brand as the shortcut people use to decide which charity to support.
Question 1: “Is this nonprofit interesting to me?”
Sure, you may think Heinz ketchup is what makes a hamburger and fries taste great. Personally, I don’t taste the difference between Heinz and brand “B,” but some of my friends continue to have a passion for Heinz — even after they’ve chosen brand “B” in a taste test. They spend more money on Heinz than the alternative (and no, I don’t put the store-brand ketchup in the Heinz bottle when my friends come over for a BBQ). That’s an example of the power of brand.
But if I simply don’t like ketchup, the brand doesn’t matter. The same is true for nonprofit fundraising.
Take time to find and communicate with the people who care about what you are doing. Don’t spend too much time or money trying to brand with the people who don’t care. That’s the first step to making branding effective. The good news is that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn give you the tools to find your most interested supporters — and the basic tools cost very little to use.
Question 2: “Does the organization seem credible?”
Part of the Heinz ketchup brand includes the consumer’s belief that Heinz has the programs, policies, and staff in place to make good ketchup — consistently, safely, and cleanly. In building your nonprofit brand, you’ll want to communicate that you really have programs, services, and staff. Branding is a process, and digital communications are free to distribute. Don’t send big, dense pieces of content (save that for direct mail to those who have shown interest). Just set up a communications calendar that reinforces credibility over time.
Question 3: “Do they actually make the world a better place?”
People give to an organization for the first time not because they have a strong loyalty, but because they have been shown how that organization is making the world a better place in a meaningful way. Accomplish this with both data and storytelling.
Question 4: “How will they use my money?”
People want to know that their gifts will be used productively. Be forthright and transparent in showing how your nonprofit is using funds. Answering this question goes beyond financial data. Take the time to provide people with an understanding of how their gift can make an impact today or in the near future. An appeal about past good works is generally less compelling.
Question 5: “Have they made a memorable impression?”
If you are not remembered, you don’t have a brand. That’s why ongoing communications are critical. This is where logos, taglines, colors, and fonts become important — but only if they make your nonprofit stand out and become more memorable.