Building Your Non-Profit’s Brand – Why it Matters.

Guest Post by Norma Meneguzzi Spall

According to Statistics Canada, there are over 170,000 non-profits and charities in Canada. For organizations that rely solely on the discretionary generosity and dedication of its stakeholders, competing for donor share and battling donor fatigue is challenging; but never more so than during times of economic downturns.

Non-profit organizations most able to weather economic storms have strong brand value, high recognition and an enviable level of trust amongst their brand community. Powerful not-for-profit brands, such as the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, National Ballet of Canada, Earth Day, and Greenpeace, are not unlike the big for-profit brands such as Apple, Ford, Nike, and Coca-Cola. They have put considerable effort into honing their messaging around purpose, what sets them apart from similar organizations, and how they want donors and important stakeholders to view their organization.

Unlike the for-profit sector, non-profit organizations are selling an intangible feeling that is borne of being in alignment with the values of the organization, the cause it represents and the desire to make a difference.

Breast Cancer Not For Profit LogosTake the cause of breast cancer, for instance. In Canada, there are three main not-for-profits –Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Rethink Breast Cancer and the Breast Cancer Society — all vying for donor dollars to support education, advocacy and research. Each organization was created because a group of people believed their organization would contribute something more meaningful to the cause. Each of these breast cancer organizations has positioned themselves in a slightly different way to attract a unique donor and to enlist volunteer target groups interested in feeling good about supporting the cause.

Larger organizations certainly have an advantage when it comes to developing their brands. They have the financial capacity to engage in strategic soul-searching and to attract the talent or services that will assist them in making their brand more relevant. However, smaller not-for-profits, or those just starting out, can also benefit from taking the steps to building their brand. In fact, their long-term success in fulfilling their mandate depends on it.

Here are five steps that smaller non-profits should consider when undertaking a brand community building effort:

1. Setting Your Non-Profit Apart: Whatever sector your not-for-profit falls in, there are likely other organizations engaged in the cause. The clearer you are about defining your vision and mission, the easier it will be for you to communicate what you do to others and to inspire them to want to support your cause.

2. Putting Your Best Face Forward: A non-profit brand is made of many things – a logo, a tag line, consistent messaging, quality promotional materials, dealings with stakeholder groups, and an ability to deliver on a stated promise to make a difference. How are these components expressed in your non-profit? Do they make your organization stand out? Is there consistency in messaging and in the delivery of your mission and vision? Do your brand components work for your organization or are they confusing and alienating your stakeholder target groups?

3. Attracting Stakeholder Support: All non-profits are started because someone felt passionately about making a difference. Take time on a regular basis to reconnect with the reasons why the organization was started. Doing so will help to recreate the emotional connection and authenticity necessary to inspire others to support your cause, either financially or as a volunteer. For many small non-profits, building a powerful brand will require guidance from outside marketing and branding experts. The investment in time and money, however, will be transformative.

4. Take Time To Listen: If you are not taking time to obtain feedback from your key stakeholders, donors and volunteers, you’re missing out on important information that can help you better understand how your organization is perceived. Listening to what others have to say can help you determine what messages your target groups need to hear along with ways your organization can expand its reach to audiences beyond those who are part of your immediate community. Develop and deploy surveys or hold focus groups to gather insight into whether your messaging is inspiring others to get involved.

5. Promoting Your Cause: People respond to stories, which are part of the foundation of a powerful brand.  Communicating your non-profit’s story in a variety of ways allows the organization to become real, authentic and meaningful to your target audience. Some stories, or even testimonials, can inspire and motivate while others can lend credence and believability to your cause. Promoting your non-profit through storytelling will bring your brand to your life and help attract people to your cause.

Norma Meneguzzi SpallNorma Meneguzzi Spall is a communications specialist in the area of media relations, sponsorship, special events and promotional programs for diverse accounts in business, fashion, not-for-profit, health, and consumer products.  She provides a variety of services from marketing to content development, from spokesperson training to non-profit management.


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