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Just For Nonprofits: Branding For Nonprofits, Part 1: Branding Matters, But Be Careful
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Just For Nonprofits: Branding For Nonprofits, Part 1: Branding Matters, But Be Careful - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Branding For Nonprofits, Part 1: Branding Matters, But Be Careful

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Branding For Nonprofits, Part 1: Branding Matters, But Be Careful

In recent years, there seems to have been a flurry of rebranding efforts by gigantic corporations, tiny local businesses, and everyone in between. With the increasing ubiquity of social media as direct channels of communication from producer to consumer, the very term has been worked almost to irrelevance as anyone with a personalized domain name goes to great lengths to project and protect his or her “brand,” whatever that means anymore.

While the terms tied to “branding” appear to lose a bit of meaning with every media guru’s self-celebratory blog article, the concepts behind it remain vital, and in the world of non-profit organizations, they can connect benefactors to beneficiaries and stakeholders to each other. In an article for Stanford Social Innovation Review, Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone say that “Although many nonprofits continue to take a narrow approach to brand management, using it as a tool for fundraising, a growing number are moving beyond that approach to explore the wider, strategic roles that brands can play: driving broad, long-term social goals, while strengthening internal identity, cohesion, and capacity” (http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_role_of_brand_in_the_nonprofit_sector). The simple image of a lighted candle encircled by barbed wire or the catchy slogan “Doing the Most Good” might stick in the minds of their target audiences, but whether or not they make a difference in ways that matter is worth exploring, especially as rebranding can be an expensive endeavor.

In The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand (Wiley, 2014), Jeff Brooks differentiates between the “shallow” and “deep” aspects of branding, focusing his treatise on the shallow end that is displayed in marketing, and he offers a very stern warning that if a nonprofit’s branding experts apply the concepts of commercial branding to its fundraising, the results will be no increase in revenue, at best. More likely, they will be severely decreased revenue and the loss of jobs.

Brooks argues that the principles driving commercial branding are exactly the opposite of what actually inspires people to make donations to nonprofit causes. A commercial entity strives to make a specific, tangible product (shoes or cereal, for example) into something grander, something that appeals to more abstract motivators such as accomplishment or health. Spend this money on this object now, and you will later experience these greater things.

But donations are different, says Brooks. When someone signs a check for an important cause, the moment of reward is immediate: it is the actual giving that means something to the donor. Sure, the world might eventually be a better place because of this donation, but it’s likely to be at some distant point in the future that has no specific meaning to the check-signer, and somewhere between now and then, that donor is going to be asked many times more for financial contributions.

“The whole notion of commercial branding—that you make a promise and fulfill it with a product—collapses when you apply it to charitable giving,” says Brooks. The donor doesn’t walk away with a pair of shoes or a box of cereal; rather, he or she might receive a thank-you, or perhaps read a report later on how the organization used the money to save the planet, and “that’s nice—and important—but it isn’t a firsthand experience,” which is what commercial branding offers.

Brooks gives a specific breakdown of what rebranding does and how this affects a nonprofit organization’s revenue. Most of the results of rebranding either do nothing for increasing revenue or they cause dramatic decreases in revenue that most organizations cannot survive without significant consequences.

None of this is to say that branding doesn’t matter; it simply points out that branding principles for the nonprofit organization must be different from branding principles for commercial entities, since the actions of the consumer and the actions of the donor come from such different places, even when consumer and donor are the same person. Before your organization spends a ton of money on rebranding, consider a rebranding firm’s experience with nonprofits, and whether or not those efforts made differences where the branding really matters.

 

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Just For Nonprofits: Branding For Nonprofits, Part 1: Branding Matters, But Be Careful - Executive Leadership Articles

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