Six Ways to Boost Your Nonprofit Brand
I’ve had the opportunity to present at nonprofit conferences many times over the years and have found that when I talk, a fan favorite is the elements of branding and how to use them to strengthen your brand.
The Benefits of a Strong Brand Help You:
- Boost Recognition and Recall
- Strengthen Donor Bonds and Relationships
- Improve Your Internal Culture
The Elements of a Brand:
1. Vision, Mission and Values
A vision is a goal.
- Your vision should be measurable.
- How will you know if it’s not measurable?
- How do you know when you’ve reached it?
- How do you know you’ve arrived at making that vision a reality?
Oftentimes, nonprofits have their vision and their mission be the same. In reality, though, there’s a distinct difference.
Your vision is your goal—what you’re trying to achieve. Your mission is what you do every single day to get there. In other words, your vision makes sense of your dream. Your mission is what you do to achieve that dream.
What do your values do for you?
Sometimes they are part of your strategic planning process.
Maybe you’ve had your vision and mission for years, but when you did your strategic plan you also came up with your values.
To be foundational for your brand, you need to give your values a little more love. What values are used for is to express your brand character.
Here’s a tip: I invite you to look at your values and avoid common words that everyone else has in their organizational values.
I’ve found that the most common word in a value set is integrity. I’m certainly not knocking integrity. I think that’s an amazing word, but it’s almost become too nice of a word.
Everyone thinks they know what integrity means, but maybe they don’t. Maybe it doesn’t express your character. If integrity is one of your words, look into it and define it the way you want to. Pick out a different word that means something similar to integrity.
In that base layer—vision, mission, values—make sure your vision is about your overall goal, your mission is what you do every day, and sprinkle in those values that bring your brand alive with your character. It’s what you stand for. It’s what everyone involved with your organization stands for. That is the base layer of the pyramid.
2. Messaging Statement
KidGlov sometimes calls this a positioning statement.
The reason we do that is because this messaging positions you. If you’re a for-profit it positions you in the marketplace against your competition. For a nonprofit it sets you within the community in your own way.
This statement should say what makes you matchlessly different from your competition—everyone else within your community providing a service similar to yours or competing for donations and fundraising opportunities. You want this messaging statement to be your own: unique and authentic. It should be believable, and it should be relevant.
Your messaging statement should answer these key questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why would anybody care?
What helps when crafting a messaging statement is something KidGlov often uses called brand archetypes.
Brand archetypes put your message into a human context. When you put things into a human context, it makes it more emotional. This connects to people, pulling their heartstrings and, if you’re trying to fundraise, their purse strings. Brand archetyping is an effective tool for that.
Make your messaging statement short and sweet—typically three short paragraphs of a couple sentences each. Once you have this messaging crafted, you can use it to inspire all of your marketing communications.
If you are wondering how to make your website stand out, use this authentic messaging to help you do that. You can use it for social media, direct mail, print ads, digital ads … you name it! But use it again as a foundational messaging statement, and try to stick with it. What you’re doing is answering key questions. Someone can then relate back to your brand and say, “Ah, that’s who those folks are.”
Taglines are typically 1-10 words, and they wrap up your messaging statement or positioning statement into fewer words so it can be paired with your logo.
They should be very concise, very emotional and as few words as possible. I know I said 1-10, but I like them even shorter than that, if possible.
As a nonprofit, if you have a name you’ve had for many, many years and that is serving you well, it’s going to continue to serve you well. But you may have a name that has the name of your state in it, making you feel like the name is preventing you from going beyond state lines. Then you may want to consider a name change as part of your branding.
Changing your brand name is a way to boost a brand and reestablish relevancy within your community. Oftentimes, nonprofits have a functional name because that’s how they were written into legislation or grants. You may want to consider a name change for this reason.
When considering the combination of taglines and names, you can go two ways. You can have an inspirational name and a functional tagline, or you can have a functional name and an inspirational tagline. The reason these are good combinations is because they give your messaging legs. They invite people to engage with you instead of just being functional and restrictive.
Functional names make sense because people easily understand what you do. But functional names also give people an assumption that they know everything about you when they probably don’t.
That’s when coming up with a new inspirational tagline in a brand refresh to pair with your functional name gives you more to talk about—more emotion to engage with your brand.
You could also have an inspirational name. A lot of new names are crafted this way. An inspirational name positively disrupts your community. This causes people to notice and either want to know more about your brand or think Oh, I’ve never heard of that before. They’ll ask you questions, and that’s your foot in the door to explain more about your nonprofit organization.
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.
HopeSpoke is an example. If your name is HopeSpoke and the tagline is moving children and families forward, you’re inspiring children and families to move forward.
There is an inspirational name and a functional tagline to show they are helping children and families. The moving forward piece is then compared to the services: behavioral health, mental health, etc. That’s the magic of using a functional tagline and an inspirational name.
Your mark is your logo.
Oftentimes, we want everything. When people look at that mark, we want them to consider all of the many things we’ve tried to communicate and craft.
We want everyone to see it and know exactly what it is. But it takes years to create and budget that. It takes years—decades—to formulate the Nike swoosh or the golden arches of McDonald’s. Some nonprofits don’t have that available. We sometimes put those branding marks up there as comparisons, but we shouldn’t.
First, they’re for-profit. It’s not that a nonprofit couldn’t achieve brand recognition like that, but what you want to do is make sure you’re just telling your whole story.
Each one of these six elements is a way to boost your brand and tell your story to the audiences you need to tell it to. Each one of these layers—your vision, mission, values, messaging statement, elevator pitch, tagline, name and mark—help strengthen your brand. Even if you can’t do a brand refresh or rename your organization, focus on one of the layers.
6. Elevator Pitch
Your elevator pitch is taking the essence of your whole messaging statement and putting it into one sentence that people can easily remember. 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—as briefly as possible—say 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, you will benefit by having a stronger brand. You get to boost that brand awareness. People will recognize you for your words, your mark or logo, and recall what it is you are all about.
The next thing it does is strengthen relationships with your donors and advocates. It also strengthens relationships with those whom you serve. And it brings it home by improving your internal culture by giving people something to rally around that is simple and easy to understand.
If it’s easy for them to repeat, that’s great. That means they embody it in their own way, and they can talk to neighbors, friends and family about your organization and be proud of it. They can understand what it is you do and the difference you’re making in the world. Those are the benefits of having a strong brand.