What comes to mind when you think of nonprofit branding? Do you perhaps see the American Red Cross’s classic, eye-catching logo? Or, perhaps you might see the smiling faces of children who have received wishes from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Both of these are great examples of nonprofits that have developed a highly recognizable and trustworthy. However, these brands go much deeper than the looks and images they share as a whole.
This guide provides a deep dive into nonprofit branding, from how you can craft your organization’s brand narrative to how you can communicate that brand to staff members, volunteers, and supporters alike.
Harmony Vallejo is the CEO of Universal Events Inc., a company that supports nonprofit organizations and ethical businesses by managing their back-end tasks, including branding. She writes regular blogs and articles around the topic of nonprofit branding and how to optimize it to increase recognition and donorship.
In this article, Harmony guides us through a deep dive into nonprofit branding, from how to craft your organization’s brand narrative and how to communicate that brand to staff members, volunteers, and supporters.
How to brand a nonprofit organization
“Branding your nonprofit organization requires a lot more than just having recognizable colors to a logo,” says Vallejo. “To brand your organization and ensure that branding is maintained across your marketing platforms, you’ll need to design a comprehensive brand narrative that will last the test of time and communicate that very clearly to a cross who is in charge of conveying it.”
Table of Contents
“Your nonprofit needs to be recognizable to those who could be interested in being supportive of it,” says Vallejo. “There are many ways to make yourself stand out.”
Your nonprofit’s brand needs to connect with your mission’s identity as an organization: The two primary aspects need to be aligned because your mission is what supporters feel an emotional connection to – that emotional connection when aligned with your own nonprofit, will inspire supporters to give their time and funding to your organization rather than competitors.
When your mission and organization are properly aligned, your branding represents your constituents as well as your organization itself: You need to represent those who benefit from your ethical services. For example, images depicting those that you help on their worst days wouldn’t be a representation of your constituents.
Your actions should reflect your nonprofit’s brand: This includes your organization’s overall actions as a whole, as well as those who work with you. Are you a mutually beneficial partner to other organizations within your sphere of influence? Are volunteers, and staff members, seen as ethical, trustworthy, and acting in your mission’s best interest?
“The point I’m making here is that branding touches every aspect of your nonprofit, both internally and externally,” says Vallejo. “It inspires supporters to give to you and trust that you’re using the funds for the right cause, it’s the public’s perception of those who benefit from your organization, and it’s the driving force behind your team’s actions as a whole.”
It naturally follows that you’ll need to craft your brand narrative carefully so that you have a strong foundation carried through your organization’s actions.
“Your nonprofit’s branding shouldn’t be created in a vacuum, taking into account the opinions of your organization’s leadership, and quite little else,” says Vallejo. “This is because your organization’s identity spreads beyond just decision-makers – it’s in each donor, volunteer, staff member, and constituent impacted by your nonprofit.”
We recommend reflecting on your brand internally and externally, surveying all of the above stakeholders against the following questions:
How is your organization currently perceived? Simply ask your stakeholders to describe your organization and note any recurring themes within your organization. Are there different perceptions depending on the type of stakeholders – including volunteers in comparison to board members?
How do you want your organization to be perceived? Maybe you’re currently seen as a smaller organization, but you want to be seen as a major game changer in your sector. Or, perhaps you’re seen as a very traditional, stuck-in-its-ways nonprofit, and you want to be modern, fresh, and up-to-date.
How will individual branding decisions be accepted? For example, if you already have a fairly well-developed brand, even if it’s not formally articulated, you could want to avoid making drastic changes that could be poorly received.
“These questions will help you understand the story that’s currently surrounding your nonprofit organization,” says Vallejo. “Then, you can consider what’s different between that story and your ideal brand positioning. What needs to change to make the two align?”