The change nonprofits are working to create often involves a layered solution to complex problems, and therefore requires certain resources: passionate driven talent, financial support, and strong community relations.
In order to get those resources, you need two things: a strong programme (which is the main focus of most organisations) and a strong brand (which is an intangible asset that nonprofits are often a bit unsure of). A brand is what your user perceives of you, and how they experience your product or service. This perception helps them decide whether they want to engage with you further, so it is critical that you create an impression.
A brand is what your user perceives of you, and how they experience your product or service.
In my experience, organisations that don’t shy away from building their brand in parallel to building their programme are the ones that have mobilised their resources the best. Here are four tips to keep in mind when you embark on your branding journey:
1. Your brand needs to be more than your logo
A branding system is like a wardrobe. It has a range of elements–often in the form of colours, fonts, styles, icons, illustrations, photos, tone, language–in the wardrobe carefully styled by your designer, from which you can pick what you want to wear and use on any given occasion. Whether you want to dress up for a donor event or dress down for a staff townhall meeting, you can pick from your wardrobe so that it best reflects who you are.
Many organisations think that having a logo and a few brand colors is enough to start with. It isn’t. You need a wardrobe from the very beginning so that you start building brand familiarity and trust with the outside world. It doesn’t need to be as extensive as large corporate brands, but it should be enough that you know instantly what to pull out when you are communicating externally.
Familiarity comes from seeing consistency in your visuals, in your voice, in delivering on your promise. Familiarity allows others to know what to expect from you, and gets them to understand how you stand out from other brands. This leads to trust. Which ultimately leads to stronger relationships and partnerships, loyalty, and funds. In a qualitative donor research study that my communications studio ran in 2018, we found that the number one reason for them to financially support an organisation is when they trust it and the people who run it.
2. Take a stand
In your rush to please everyone for money, don’t try to be too many different things for different people. Stand for who you are and how you want to present yourself–playful, young, mature, elegant, futuristic, or experienced; and then stick to it.
Your authenticity will be more relatable to the donor than trying to match your personality to theirs.
Think about what makes you unique and where your biggest strength lies. Your authenticity will be more relatable to the donor than trying to match your personality to theirs. One of the more well known ways to go about this is by articulating your brand compass–your vision, mission, purpose, values, and objectives. Here is a a good guide for this exercise.
3. Be emotional
The role of the brand is not to explain what you do, but to make people feel who you are. Every interaction with your brand should leave people feeling something about you. I feel happy when I see Coca-Cola branding. I feel pumped and inspired when I look at Nike ads.
This is particularly important for social sector brands because in my experience working with social sector organisations, I have noticed that most people make their decision to contribute or participate based on how they feel, more that what they think. Think about what you want others to feel–angry, charged, hopeful, excited, reassured. Use your visual identity, voice, and words to emote your vision and what you are passionate about. It will transfer on to others.
4. Include everyone
In my seven years of helping nonprofits with their branding and communications, I have noticed many instances where the leader or leadership team have done a thorough job in crafting and creating their organisation’s brand. However, it doesn’t trickle down to all members of the organisation, and thus leads to brand confusion and inconsistency.
It is very important to train the team to use and embrace the brand. In fact, it is even better to get them involved in its creation, especially if the team isn’t very big. Doing this will increase buy-in and make implementation much easier.
Next, create a simple usage guidelines book to help the wider team communicate and represent the brand in one voice. If you employed a design team to create your logo and branding system, you can seek their help in developing these guidelines. You can also find examples here. Remember: your brand is only as good as your team is in representing it.