For Those in Need (of Branding)

January 23rd, 2014

How nonprofits should approach their branding and marketing.

Branding is as important for a nonprofit enterprise, and perhaps even more so, because nonprofits generally operate with extremely limited marketing budgets and must work harder to stand out.

While you believe that your cause is so noble that everyone will drop what they’re doing to pay attention, it’s probably not the case. Nonprofits are not just competing with other nonprofits for donations, but rather with all other marketers as well, including those with very large budgets. Geico spent a reported $1.1 billion on advertising in 2012. Chances are, your budget’s not even close. But you still need to communicate.

Act like a brand. Like any other advertiser, first you have to determine your brand. What is it you stand for? What’s your purpose, what do you do, what don’t you do, for whom,  and who would miss you if you were gone? Be painfully honest with yourself – and your stakeholders – and don’t believe your own BS. This is hard work, where most of the internal battles occur – or should occur. Because, if you don’t have internal support for a focused brand message, you may end up wasting your preciously limited resources.

The next battle is to look at what you’ve done in the past for marketing and promotion. Are you doing the same things you’ve always done, just because you’ve always done them? Are you more worried about disrupting the status quo than making a difference? How will you stand out unless you stand up? Often, nonprofits continue marketing to an aging audience base that is quite literally dying off. If you need to reverse a trend, doing more of what you’ve been doing in the past is usually a bad idea. One of the best brand vehicles to come along for nonprofits is social media. This may seem obvious, but few organizations take full advantage. It should be the center of your marketing, not an add-on or peripheral tool. If you have passionate advocates for your cause, rally them, and encourage them to spread the word. (And if you don’t, maybe you need to reconsider your cause.)

But somebody has to be in charge of this effort. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that social media
is free. It takes a carefully planned, coordinated effort to be effective. You should have someone (or a team, or a marketing partner) dedicated to monitoring, responding and creating a fresh stream of content. It takes time – and that time rarely comes free. But the returns can far outstrip the investment.

Branding is more than a logo, a color scheme or an ad campaign. It’s the decisions you make and the way your organization behaves. Let your brand be your guide.

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