It’s easy for organizations to lose track of their branding efforts over time, or fail to establish a solid brand identity to begin with. We figured Spring might be just the time to do some organizational soul searching and solidify your unique brand.
Imagine you want to donate to a community-based organization in your city. You know of two—Main Street Community Services and Broadway Community Services—and you need to decide who you’d like to support.
You call Main Street Community Services and ask the receptionist to tell you a little bit about the organization. She is warm and friendly, and she tells you that Main Street Community Services is responsive to community needs and provides innovative solutions to meeting them, then gives you several specific examples of their programs that illustrate how the organization is responsive and innovative. When you visit the Main Street Community Services website, it is well designed and professional, and you see more examples of how they have been responsive to community needs and innovative in their approach to solving them.
When you call Broadway Community Services, the receptionist is also friendly, but he simply lists the organization’s programs for you, which are similar to Main Street Community Services programs. When you visit the Broadway Community Services website, you see a list of their programs and general information, but the information is a bit disorganized and comes off as unprofessional.
You decide to contribute to Main Street Community Services. But why did these two organizations seem different, when their mission and services are the same? How did Main Street Community Services make these straightforward interactions so motivating?
Main Street Community Services had identified its core values through strategic planning and had committed to communicating this core feature of their identity in every interaction. They discussed these values frequently and at every level of the organization, from their staff to their board to their volunteers, and used them to make decisions and stay focused on their mission. Broadway Community Services may have identified very similar values if they had completed a strategic planning process—but because they didn’t, they couldn’t communicate them clearly to someone who wanted to support them.
The Big Bad Branding Discussion
Your organization’s brand is its personality. You are communicating that personality all of the time, in every interaction, whether you intend to or not. When someone visits your website, interacts with your social media, receives a letter from you or talks to someone who represents your organization, they experience your brand.
Small nonprofits can sometimes be overwhelmed by the idea that they need to intentionally communicate their brand. In the fairly recent past, the concept of a brand was mainly associated with big corporations with large marketing budgets. In the online era, however, when the people who may support your organization often find it through a search engine, every organization, no matter how small, needs to know their brand and how to communicate it intentionally.
Fortunately, branding is actually pretty simple.
If you have planned strategically, people will walk away from interactions with your organization with perceptions that are in line with your core values—for example, Integrity, Compassion, Effectiveness. If you have not planned to communicate it, you may be presenting a personality that is way out of line with your organizational values. At worst: Disorganized, Inconsistent, Unprofessional.
When a donor, funder, or volunteer’s first interaction with your organization will often be online, inconsistent branding is a killer. By dedicating just a day to understanding your core values, you can have a foundation for branding that will allow you to communicate clearly to these supporters exactly who you are as an organization.
6 Steps To Branding Your Small Nonprofit (in a one-day workshop)
Step 1: Put together your team
A brand development team should consist of five to fifteen people who represent every level of your organization. If you’re very small and running on volunteer hours, your brand development team should include members of your board and representatives from volunteer programs who are deeply engaged with your organization. If you’re larger, you should have board members, executive leadership, and line staff represented on your team. The more someone interacts with constituents (that is: funders, donors, or the people who use your services), the more important it is to have their voices at the table.
Designate a facilitator, and plan a full day meeting. Make sure you have a place to write your ideas, like a large paper pad with an easel, and bring snacks—or even lunch--to keep your team’s energy up. They are doing very important work!
Step 2: Make sure the team knows the definition of a brand
The discussion at the beginning of this article may be enough. If you think they need more, try “Nonprofit Brands In The Age of Supporter Shift,” or “Creating A Brand For Your Nonprofit,” for brief primers on the work they’ll be doing in this meeting.
Step 3: List your target audiences
Who are the people who help you meet your mission? Are they donors? Volunteers? Government agencies? People who use your services? In a group discussion, identify the top three groups of people who most need to understand and identify with your brand for you to successfully meet your mission.
For some organizations, the people who use their services are a key audience that deeply impacts their ability to meet their mission. Other organizations may rely more on the perceptions of donors, volunteers, or other audiences to be able to meet their mission.
Step 4: List every single one of your values, then narrow the list.
Have everyone at the table individually list the top five values they think drive or should drive the organization. Then, go around the table and say them out loud. Have your facilitator list all of them. If values come up more than once (and they probably will), the facilitator should note how many times they are mentioned.
Once you have every single value listed, start narrowing them down. Have the facilitator help you agree on which listed values go together, which are the most important, and what words best articulate the concepts you’ve all identified. End with a list of about five—but no more than ten—values.
Step 5: Find your points of interaction, and create an action plan
What are the primary ways your target audiences interact with your brand, or encounter you for the first time? If this happens mostly online, you may need to redesign your website to reflect your values and brand promise, or develop a social media strategy that aligns with them. If you regularly communicate with audiences through phone calls, you may ask your receptionist to consider her greeting and communication style in light of the brand platform.
In almost all cases, you’ll need your logo to serve as an anchor for your brand values and promise—to make sure that, when people see your logo, they can attach your brand identity to it. If you don’t know how to do that, a graphic designer does! And you now have exactly the tools he or she will need to give you a logo and visual identity that communicates—wordlessly—what you value as an organization, and what makes you special.
Step 6: Take action!
Make sure your branding work doesn’t end at the meeting. You want these values and this promise to be communicated consistently, throughout the organization. Make sure every member of the organization has a copy of the brand values and brand promise. Keep talking about your brand. Keep thinking about your brand. Ask your constituents what they think about your brand. If you stay engaged with it, you’ll be in control of how you’re perceived as an organization