January 31, 2017

5 elements of a strong nonprofit brand in 2017

Guide for a nonprofit brand

Strong, resonant and impactful branding for nonprofit organizations is more important than ever, for the simple reason that competition for the time and attention of your audience members is growing increasingly fierce. We each endure a barrage of messages, ads, appeals and offers from for-profit and non-profit businesses and organizations every day. They compete for our attention on our web browsers, in our email inboxes and social media feeds – and that’s only counting the ones that are specifically targeted to us. When your message is just one of these many voices trying to be heard, the difference between making an immediate impact and getting passed by comes down to the strength of your nonprofit organization’s brand.

As someone involved in planning, directing or implementing your nonprofit’s marketing or communication goals, you’re probably concerned with one of (or all of!) the following things:

  • Ensuring your nonprofit’s mission is clearly communicated and understood by your target audience
  • Appealing to potential donors, volunteers, evangelists, new employees and leadership
  • Maintaining the involvement and commitment of current supporters and stakeholders
  • Developing an efficient marketing strategy that supports your vision for growth without sapping your team of important time and resources
  • Standing out from the crowd and competition

A strong, effective nonprofit brand can – and will – support all of these things. In this post, we’ll explore how, by breaking down the elements of a nonprofit brand that contributes real value.

Clear messaging. 

Clear, defined messaging that quickly explains the mission, purpose and impact of your nonprofit organization is at the heart of an effective brand. It serves as the rallying point for your employees and leadership and is the axis around which the rest of the brand rotates, with all efforts supporting that shared purpose and vision. A unique message can also serve as a differentiating factor. For example, your nonprofit may work towards a cause that’s shared by many other agencies, but your approach to delivering the service is unique. Your messaging should highlight what it is that sets you apart from the others in your field – and why you’re best for the job.

Strong visual identity.

The importance of a strong visual identity comes down to consistency and recognizability (in addition to conveying character). There is nothing worse than a brand whose visual communication is scattered, with each piece of digital or printed collateral presenting a totally different personality! With every interaction that your audience has with your organization, they build an impression of who you are and what you stand for (this impression is the essence of your brand). Establish (and enforce!) a strong and clear visual language via color, font and design guidelines so that each of these audience interactions reinforces a sense of excellence, professionalism, and clarity. Also, it’s impossible to understate the importance of robust graphic design in getting your brand to stand out and stay visible. For an example of this strategy in action, check out the visual identity we created for the Vermont nonprofit brand Age Well.

High-impact communication.

We all know how under-whelming it can be to receive a postcard-sized piece of mail from a nonprofit organization and, after reading it, have no idea what you’re supposed to do next. High-impact communication is all about writing and designing your communication pieces around a specific conversion, or in other words, an action that you want the audience to take. For example, nonprofit brands often have their homepage designed for donation conversions, or newsletter signups, while direct mail pieces may be designed to garner RSVPs for an upcoming event. Additionally, attaching a goal to each piece makes it much easier to track the results of your efforts! Efficient and effective brand communication is also aided by a consistent tone of voice that reinforces your brand’s defined character.

Getting everyone involved in bringing the brand to life.

An organization’s brand is its strongest when everyone helps to bring it to life. It is not only the responsibility of the marketing or communications department to maintain the brand – it’s every other department’s job, too. Each employee is a representative of the brand, and each interaction they have with the outside world while working on behalf of the organization is an opportunity to reinforce your nonprofit’s mission, purpose and values.

Visible expertise.

Demonstrating your organization’s expertise in your area of focus is a powerful way to differentiate yourself and to establish your brand’s credibility. There can be a bit of a humility hurdle to jump when it comes to touting your own knowledge, but it’s important to realize that in addition to being instrumental to providing quality and effective services, expertise has the power to generate interest and trust when marketed strategically. An organization’s collective expertise, or, that of a particular leader with a lot of experience, can be published online, turned into informative videos, or channeled into speaking engagements and events. Visible expertise contributes to a strong brand because it reinforces your credibility, positions you and your organization as a helpful resource and a leader in the space, and expands your online reach.

Our passion and expertise lies in helping organizations develop smart, realistic and effective marketing plans that are built on these core elements. Sometimes that means that we start at square one, and work first on building a clear message, strong visual identity, effective communication, visible expertise, and a fully engaged team.

If you’re responsible for the health of a nonprofit’s brand and know that there’s work to be done to improve yours – but you’re not sure where to begin – please get in touch! We can talk through your needs, priorities, and options for strengthening your brand.

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