April 30, 2024

The 6 Parts of a Great Nonprofit Brand

Lyn Wineman

Though we’re surrounded by brands every single day, most of us don’t fully understand what a “brand” is—or why a strong one is so valuable. A Great Brand Will Help You:

  • Boost Recognition and Recall
  • Strengthen Donor Bonds and Relationships
  • Improve Your Internal Culture

KidGlov has created and nurtured brands for more than 100 nonprofit organizations. Here are the six things we look for in every great brand:

1. The Elements: Vision, Mission, Values

Let’s take a closer look at each of these parts to understand how they fit together, starting with what we call the Elements of the Brand—Vision, Mission, and Values. Just as with natural elements like oxygen, hydrogen, or carbon, these are the building blocks from which everything else is made.


A vision is a goal—a picture in your mind of the outcome that defines progress and success. A vision should be measurable, so that you can tell whether you’re moving towards it and know when you arrive.


Many nonprofit organizations use “vision” and “mission” interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference. If your vision is what you’re trying to achieve, your mission is what you do every single day to get there. Or to put it another way, one is the goal and the other is the path.


Every organization has values, whether on purpose or by default. Often times, identifying and naming these values is part of a strategic planning process. But there’s a big difference between hanging your values on the wall and living them out. And if you want your values to inform your brand character, you’ll need to give them a little more love.

Here’s a tip: Take a look at your values right now and try to express them without using the common words everyone else uses. In my experience, the most common word in a value set is “integrity.” I’m certainly not knocking integrity—few things are more important. All nonprofits should act with integrity. But when it comes to branding, it may not be much of a selling point—it should really be a given. Integrity is also a word that we all accept without thinking much about what it means. If integrity is something you absolutely want your brand to express, make it a differentiator by choosing a fresh, more imaginative word that no one else is using.

When you combine vision, mission, and values in the right way, you create something that is uniquely yours. Make sure your vision is about your overall goal, and your mission is what you do every day to achieve it. Mix in those values that define you, and a picture of your organization will start to emerge. It’s who you are, what you do, and what everyone in your organization stands for. That’s your brand character, and the next five pieces of the puzzle are all about expressing it.

2. Messaging Statement

KidGlov sometimes calls this a positioning statement because it really does two things—it describes who you are, and it differentiates you from similar organizations. In other words, it pinpoints your position.

If you’re a for-profit company, it explains where you stand in the competitive marketplace. For nonprofits, it places you within the community in your own way.

This statement should say why you’re different from others providing a similar service or competing for donations. It should be your own, unique and authentic. It should be believable, and it should be relevant.

A strong messaging statement will answer these key questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why should someone care about this?

Keep it short and sweet—typically three short paragraphs of a couple of sentences each. And once you have it crafted, use it for all its worth! Like your organizational values, this shouldn’t just hang on the wall. It should be a touchstone that inspires all of your marketing communications, internal and external. When you do a good job of this, every piece of communication you produce will give your audience a way to relate back to your brand and say, “Ah, that’s who those folks are.”

3. Tagline

People often use the terms “tagline” and “headline” interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. A headline is the opening statement in an ad, article, blog or other communication. It announces the big idea. The tagline is the close—the signoff that often appears next to the logo at the end of a TV spot, for example.

In a campaign with many moving parts, the headline might be different but related from one piece to another. The tagline is generally the same in every piece—same language, same location—to reinforce each idea and tie it back to the whole. Sometimes the first headline that introduces a new campaign will migrate down to the tagline spot as the campaign develops. One perfect illustration is a tagline we all know by heart: “Just Do It.”

Taglines should be very concise and memorable, capturing the emotion of your brand in the fewest words possible. They’re typically 1-10 words, but shorter is better.

4. Name

Your name is such an obvious part of your identity that you may not even think of it as part of the “brand,” but it is. If you’ve been using your name for many years and it serves you well, it should continue to serve you well. But there are some reasons you might outgrow it. For instance, if the name of your state is part of your name, it may feel too limiting as you grow beyond state lines. Many of our nonprofit clients have considered a name change for this reason. An updated name is also an opportunity to address shifts in your business model or reestablish relevance to your community.

Because names and taglines appear together so often, they should be complementary. Names tend to be either functional or inspirational (you could also think of them as factual and emotional, or left brain/right brain). Many nonprofits have a very functional name because it’s how they were written into legislation or grants. That’s when adding a new, inspirational tagline as part of a brand refresh can give you more to talk about—more emotion to engage with your brand.

The opposite is also true; many nonprofits will use a rebrand as an opportunity to replace a long, functional name with something concise and engaging. An inspirational name positively disrupts your community. It causes people to think Oh, I’ve never heard of that before, and want to know more about your brand. They’ll ask you questions, and that’s a foot in the door to explain more about who you are and what you do. When you have an inspirational name, though, you need a functional tagline to explain more about what it is you do or whom you serve.

Here’s an unusual example from a recent rebranding project that illustrates the point:

One of our nonprofit clients is a substance abuse recovery center that started out as a facility serving women only. They called themselves the Women’s Empowering Life Line. But that’s a lot to say, and over time, they began referring to themselves informally as W-E-L-L. In conversation, it became simply “The Well.”

The center grew and changed many times under the old name, but when they expanded to include men in their programs, it was time for something new. But rather than start from scratch with a completely new, unfamiliar name, we saw an opportunity to make “The Well” the official name—retaining the awareness they had already built, and taking advantage of the positive metaphor for a place that was a source of knowledge, renewal, and refreshment. But by itself, “The Well” doesn’t tell you what they do. The solution? Pairing the inspiring name with the tagline “A source for empowerment in recovery.”

5. Mark

Your mark is another name for your logo. A lot of thought goes into developing a strong logo, because a good one can communicate so much—functional, inspirational, iconic, and memorable. It also takes time and repetition to attach full meaning to your mark. Think of the decades that Nike or McDonald’s have invested in building the “swoosh” or the “golden arches” into something that we recognize so immediately. Think of the money they have spent teaching us to feel a certain way whenever we see them. Obviously, most nonprofits don’t have these kinds of resources or the potential to generate such a huge return on the investment. This is why it’s so important to choose something that truly tells your whole story so you can stick with it over the long term.

6. Elevator Pitch

When you have created and combined the other five parts of your brand, the elevator pitch is the key that pulls everything together and puts it into action. As the name suggests, it’s a statement of one or two sentences that can tell people everything you want them to know in the time it takes to ride up or down a few floors. You want it to evoke an emotion, but you also want it to say concisely what you do. You may not be able to tell a story within your elevator pitch, but you do need to say, as briefly as possible, who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why anyone should care. That’s a challenge to do in one or two sentences, but you can do it.

When you put all of these elements together and promote them people will begin to recall what it is you are all about. This strengthens your bond with donors and advocates. It also strengthens relationships with the people you serve. It even improves your internal culture by giving people something to rally around that is simple and easy to understand. If it resonates with your team, they can embody it in their own way and feel proud talking to friends, family, and neighbors about your organization. All these benefits are yours when you have a strong brand.

Want to know more? Visit our nonprofit business hub to find a variety of case studies, helpful blog posts and Agency for Change podcast episodes featuring nonprofit leaders.

KidGlov is a full-service advertising, branding and content marketing agency and certified B Corp, with offices in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, specializing in nonprofit marketinghealthcare marketingfinancial services marketingsocial impact marketing, and purpose-driven businesses.