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  • Writer's pictureJerry Ketel

How to Brand Non-Profits: Winning the Development Game

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

To increase your reach, communicate your value, and achieve your development goals

Two hands fist bumping in celebration
Winning the branding game means winning the development game.

“If you build it, they will come.”

That well-known phrase from the movie Field of Dreams is indicative of how some non-profits view their mission to serve the community. These social entrepreneurs have a vision and a mission that is clear in their minds. In contrast, for-profit companies aren’t driven by a mission, but by perceived market demand. They may not have a greater purpose but they know how to communicate their services. What non-profits can learn from the corporate world is how to communicate effectively. This is not just to communicate to current and potential donors but also to embrace all their current and potential stakeholders. This includes volunteers, staff and board members. Read on and learn how to brand non-profits like yours and create a valuable institution.

The Attention Economy Non-profits are not just competing for scarce resources to fund their programs, they are also competing for attention — with the entire world. Attention is a scarce resource. There are so many things vying for our time and attention. From Tik Tok videos to your Netflix queue. It has been estimated that the average person is bombarded with 4000 messages a day. We believe this to be an underestimate. If you include all the logos you see every day, the signage, the search ads, the social media messaging, it’s easy to see that anyone staying out in the clutter needs a clear and compelling identity and message. The Clock Model In the corporate world, there is much thinking and discussion on how to manage resources from a marketing communications perspective. And it’s not just in what you might consider advertising and public relations. Virtually everything a corporate brand does has an eye on either marketing or their product/service. The late, great business consultant Peter Drucker once said, “A company has only two functions, marketing and innovation.” Many believe these two elements are one and the same. Executives spend time on getting their offerings right for their potential customers and then they think about how to connect with those customers. What they realize is that the relationship should never stop. In the past, companies would spend much of their marketing in the sales and advertising out their products — in the repurchase phase of acquisition. Now in the always-on economy marketers know that during purchase and after purchase are just as important.

Non-profits have already figured this out. They have flipped the emphasis of the marketing journey from preselling to connecting during and after the relationship begins. Traditionally they have paid far less attention to the early stages of branding communications. This is the lesson they can learn from the brand world.

The cllock model of consumer touchpoints
The clock model translates to non-profits very well.

The clock model represents the three stages of brand touchpoints in the relationship with its stakeholders. Pre Purchase, Purchase, and Post Purchase. Non-profits can substitute the word acquisition and still benefit from this thinking. Where is the best place for you to invest in your brand at this time? A cohesive brand strategy can guide you. What is a Brand?

More than a logo, more than an ad or a social media post, a brand is a relationship between an institution and its stakeholders. Stakeholders include your volunteers, staff, board members, and the community you serve. It includes your suppliers, your government officials, and your donors. Each of these groups has a relationship with your brand. And while you talk to each of these constituencies differently, the goal is to make sure everyone knows what you stand for and how well you serve them. Every one of them should know who you are, what you stand for, and why you exist. Unfortunately, most non-profits do not communicate their vision and mission effectively. This is a crime of both ignorance and hubris. The Value of a Brand

Corporate executives spend a lot of time thinking about the value of their brand. The simple reason is that a strong brand in the minds of their stakeholders increases the value of the company. A strong brand attracts customers, investments, good employees, and general goodwill. A yearly report from Interbrand reveals some of the best-known brands in the world. These brands project an outsized value to a product or service in many cases. How else did a sugar-water company become the 6th best brand in the world?

A graphic of high-value brands
This graphic shows how branding can be one of he most valuable aspects of a company.

These are some of the best brands in the world. One makes sugar water, one sells nutritionless food to low-income citizens, another has laborers jumping off the roof of the production line to escape slave-like conditions. We point this out to remind us that non-profits and greater-purpose companies are inherently more believable as brands with which we want to have a true relationship. We don’t ascribe to the smoke and mirrors some global brands play with public perception — which is why we are in the public service space. Our point is that an institution doing good work in the world deserves to have a brand value that is equal or better than the top brands in the world. At least in the minds of the communities they serve. If you could invest a percentage of your yearly budget to retain quality employees, have a waiting list of volunteers, influential board members, and a greater development pool, would you do that? A well-packaged brand communications program will provide that for you.

You Are Already Close

The good news about building a compelling brand with non-profit organizations is that they are already close to becoming a valued brand. Notice that in the last sentence I used the words compelling and brand together. Most organizations in the not-for-profit sector are considered worthy organizations but they do not have a compelling brand. But with the discipline of marketing communications and brand strategy a worthy institution can become a compelling brand. And you don’t need a multi-million dollar advertising budget to do it. A creative and focused communication can go a long way in the internet age. Using the tools of writing, design, and strategy can make your organization a beacon of goodness that attracts committed stakeholders who want to be part of your cause.

How Do You Get There?

Every brand has a core identity that is the essence of the organization. Finding that essence is a process that assesses core components of the organization — from the mission and vision to the employees, to the directors, to the history, and an overview of the category. It’s an alchemical process that takes empathy, synthesis, and reasoning to develop. One can use concrete tools like laddering, personification, and positioning. And our team can help with that process, of course. Why should you?

A relatively small investment in brand strategy and communications will pay for itself. And it will reap rewards over time. Every single brand engagement our team has entered into in the non-profit space has multiplied the investment ten-fold. Our experience in the nonprofit arena ensures we have encountered situations like yours. We have several road maps to success. In the next installment, we will outline some of the tools that can be used to create compelling brands and increase the ripple effect your organization has in your community. Who are we?

CreateGood is a studio dedicated to the Greater Purpose Society. Our mission is to help companies find their purpose, express their vision, and direct positive influence in the world. It’s a lofty goal but we have to start somewhere. Where we are starting is here. Drop us a note or ask us a question. The first hour (at least) is free.

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