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Branding has taken on new meaning in the nonprofit world. Your brand can not only serve as a catalyst for more efficient fundraising but also as a tool for community engagement and advancing your mission to the next level. In fact, your brand could be your greatest asset and provide organizational efficiency and cohesion for all of your moving parts.

So, if “brand” only conjures images of golden arches, Nike swooshes, and Mickey Mouse ears, you might think about broadening your definition. Here is what you need to know about branding to use it as a tool for fundraising and strategic planning.


What you need to know about branding for your nonprofit


The value of brands

A brand is possibly the most valuable aspect of a company – its products’ reputation and market image all rolled into one logo and name. Globally, people pay more for Coca-Cola over any other cola soda because they know the name, associate it with quality, and consumers are loyal to the product.  Coca-Cola has spent billions on advertising and marketing over the years to achieve that status.

So what are brands worth? In the corporate world, brands account for 30% of a company’s value, according to the The Economist. That “brand equity”, a popular term since the 1980’s, is the stake that businesses put into boosting their image to increase their worth.

What makes a brand valuable?

Generally, three components make a brand valuable:

  1. Consumer awareness of the brand.
  2. The qualities consumers associate with it.
  3. Consumers’ level of loyalty to the product.

The most valuable brand by far in the world is Apple, worth more than twice any other brand at $145 billion. Forbes reported that the loyalty of consumers to the Apple brand allows the company to spend one third of what its closest cell phone competitor, Samsung, spends on advertising!

The most valuable nonprofit brands

While they can’t get near Apple or Samsung’s brand value, nonprofits’ brands also can carry significant monetary worth when analyzed for their direct impact in procuring revenue. A study by Cone Communications (2009) of the most valuable 100 US nonprofit brands revealed that the YMCA was worth the most, at around $6.4 million.

Brand value for a nonprofit, however, comprises its revenue as well as its image. “Brand image” is very similar to the corporate brand value components of loyalty and quality. The American Cancer Society had the greatest brand image in the US, because, as Cone’s survey revealed, Americans recognize its name, believe it to be relevant to them, and clearly know what it does.

Building brand image

Your nonprofit brand only has value if you build your brand image. To do so, you need to consider your audience, your goals, your organizational personality, and what messages you want to relay with your brand. One of those messages should be what personal value your audience will see in you. Even if you’re not curing cancer like the American Cancer Society, you can link your work to something valuable for your audience. For example, if you work with schools, you might link your brand to children or to education itself.  Don’t shy away from a bit of research into your market segment to get this idea right.

Then you advertise your brand as widely as possible!

How big nonprofits use brand image to unify

A highly developed, recognizable brand image can help you raise funding for your organization if leveraged properly. New research shows, however, that the most effective large nonprofits are also using brand as a strategic tool to cohere mission and messaging as well.

Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone, in a study published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, interviewed 73 global nonprofits to analyze what brands mean and could mean for nonprofits across the world.  They found that nonprofits use brands to fundraise, but they also use them as a central focal point to relay their mission to staff, partners, and program recipients in the field.

Brand management is actually now a tool for boards and other stakeholders to measure organizational effectiveness as a result. Nonprofits that have high levels of pride and commitment from staff and low levels of “mission drift” – or choosing to pursue programs and partnerships further from a core organizational mission – have high levels of brand management and ultimate effectiveness in their work.

Applying brand management to smaller nonprofits or startups

Smaller nonprofits, and especially startups, have the most opportunity to make their brands work for them. For the best brand management and highest brand value, small nonprofits should stick to a few core programs that really relate to their brand, especially when in the startup stage, and actively advertise the brand through channels that are appropriate to their desired market segment. If you are aiming to help senior citizens, don’t spend half of your marketing budget on social and web media but on newspapers, radio, and with local partners.

You have to be careful to pick your partners right as well. Make sure they align with your brand to manage your messaging. Mission drift can divert your resources as well as make you appear disorganized to funders!

Then you need to leverage your brand for funding. If your brand image is weak, take advantage of your partners’ brands or boost your online popularity with a new blog and press releases to sites and media that relate back to your mission and values.

The key to making your brand work for you is not just picking a good one to start, but also evolving it as you evolve as an organization. Be flexible, open-minded, and democratic about your image but strong in your mission and values, and your brand will become a shining reflection of who you are.

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