Branding for Non-profit Organizations – 11 Questions to Build Your Brand

I believe in consistent branding.

What is a brand?

A brand is the total of how the public sees your organization. It is shorthand for your story. It helps people know what to expect of you – not only what you will do, but how you will do it.

The brands we love

Think about the brands you love, and what their stories appear to be. You won’t get this wrong – the story you understand is the story that has been communicated to you. Organizations don’t own their brands – the public does – but there is a lot they can do to manage how the brand is perceived. With the right type of investment and attention, organizations can go a long way towards building the brand they desire.

The strongest brands evoke an emotional response, frequently and consistently.                           

I believe Blue Bell will come back strong after the recent scares about their food safety and the subsequent shut-down, in large part because of the strength of their brand. They have built up over many years a reputation for quality, and also their position as Texas’ home-grown ice cream company, encouraging powerful brand loyalty. I feel like they are a company that cares, and that they will do the right thing. If they don’t manage this crisis well, they could lose that brand equity they have built up over decades. We will be sorely disappointed if I’m wrong, but many of us automatically give them the benefit of the doubt and are rooting for their success. That’s what a powerful brand can do.

Brands, at their best, are, among other things, bundles of meanings, some of them robust, some of them delicate, all of them poised to speak to one or more segments and to deliver an understanding of not just what the product does but what it means – its cultural meaning.

– Grant McCracken,
US marketing expert and academic

How to build a powerful brand

To establish a powerful, effective brand, you need to thoroughly understand – and communicate – the unique characteristics of your organization. To facilitate this, you’ll need to answer the series of questions below. For a non-profit, this should often include input from the Board – maybe a retreat, or at least a special meeting.

It’s critical for everyone involved in the organization to understand the foundation of the brand – the brand character. Answer questions like these to understand what you’ll need your brand to communicate. If you’re working with an outside graphic designer or marketing firm, they should want to know the answers to these questions.

When we work on a branding project at Kim Schlossberg Designs (www.kimmarla.com), we help the client work through these questions as the first, most important step in the process. These questions form the foundation of the later branding work, and of the organization’s identity as a whole.

  1. Who are you serving, and how are you helping them?
  2. What is the unique service you provide? How do you provide it?
  3. Why does the world need your organization?
  4. How is it different than what others offer?
  5. What is the desired outcome of the service? 
  6. Do you have good human stories to share? Is there a common thread?
  7. Who are your audiences? For a non-profit, they typically include: clients, donors, volunteers, employees, community, press, and possibly others.
  8. What attracts these important audiences? What inspires people to give to your organization, or to want to volunteer or work there? Why your organization and not another?
  9. What emotions or perceptions do you want people to feel when thinking about your organization? Maybe safety, compassion, fear, religious loyalty, obligation. Each organization will have a slightly different intangible feel, even if the work they do is similar.
  10. List all the related keywords you can think of about your brand, your service, your stories, the emotions they invoke.
  11. What words, colors, images, symbols, might support those feelings or relate to the keywords?

A brand is nothing more than a story wrapped around a product or service … the reason we consistently refer to a small handful of brands is because they’re the ones that have got their stories straight.

– Richard Cordiner,
planning director, Leo Burnett

Brand expressions

When you fully understand your brand, you can work on expressing it clearly and consistently every time you communicate, no matter the medium. There are many components of branding:

  • Not just your logo!
  • Your tag line and elevator speech
  • Mission statement, vision statement, positioning statement
  • How you answer your phone
  • Everything printed or created for your organization
  • Your website
  • Your presence on other websites and directories such as North Texas Giving Day and your donation site
  • Social media
  • Press releases and articles
  • Email signature lines for everyone in the organization
  • Events
  • How you handle problems
  • Annual report
  • Newsletters
  • Email blasts
  • Promotional products
  • Signs & banners
  • Grants – which grants do you apply for, and how do you write your grant proposals?
  • Donor/supporter database. How do you communicate with your supporters? What format, frequency, etc.? Do you pursue supporters who specifically fit with your brand?

Understanding branding is easy – everything matters.

– Howard Schultz,
founder of Starbucks

Often missed is the fact that you communicate your brand every time you perform your service, offer your product, or interact with the public. Factors such as these all play into your brand

  • Quality of service
  • Staff attitude
  • Ease of access
  • Integrity – consistency between what you say and what you do

Planned or not, your brand is communicated in everything you do.

All of these components will work together to build your brand in the eyes of the public. Like any for-profit business, non-profit organizations can work with these brand expressions to build the image they desire.

A successful brand… is relevant, believable, sustainable, and consistent (and is inextricably linked to your mission).

– Michele Levy,
brand strategy consultant

This is part of a series of marketing articles for non-profits. Sign up on the Kim Schlossberg Designs website at www.kimmarla.com to have future articles emailed to you. Most of the articles will be relevant to for-profit businesses as well. Like Kim Schlossberg Designs on Facebook for relevant posts related to marketing, design, writing, and social media.