Brand Your Nonprofit (Not Your Cattle)
Branding is a dirty word in the Nonprofit sector. Nonprofit leaders are often skeptical of the For-profit associations that branding evokes - pursuit of monetary gain, corporate vanity or a tool for competitive differentiation. The rules of For-profit business don’t apply to Nonprofits so why should the branding not be different also? Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone of the Stanford Social Innovation Review want to re-brand Nonprofit branding in their report, The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector.
Kylander and Stone suggest a new framework, the Nonprofit Brand IDEA - Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Affinity. These original branding priorities are representative of Nonprofit organizations in a way that the For-profit branding model fails to understand. Research by Kylander and Stone revealed four sources of pride within the Nonprofit sector; “pride in the mission of an organization, pride in participatory planning, pride in the values that define organizational culture, and pride in supportive partnerships.” The IDEA framework is built on these characteristics.
- Brand integrity is all about the Nonprofit’s mission; getting your internal identity and external image aligned so that both are serving the mission. It’s about ensuring that the branding strategy is synchronised with the organization’s goals going forward. When your brand matches your mission, your mission is reinforced by every instance of branding. When your house is in order, you can fully focus your efforts on your cause.
Democracy - Brand democracy is trusting your members in their portrayal of your organization’s identity. Social media makes it impossible to police every mention of your organization. Instead of attempting to single-handedly control your brand, empower your members by representing your brand with a clear and consistent identity. For large organizations, setting templates and parameters can be a useful guide for encouraging members to get involved. If your branding strategy is well formulated, your members will be able promote it with confidence, resulting in a consistent message.
Ethics - Brand ethics is about ensuring your internal identity and external image are in sync with your values and culture. Ethics is about branding representing your organization in a way that reinforces your inherent values and does not undermine them. It is about maintaining dignity in your branding and not resorting to underhanded tactics in an effort to boost short-term gains ahead of long-term relationships. Kylander and Stone provide an explanatory example:
We heard many stories of lapses in brand ethics, such as using pitiful photographs of an organization’s beneficiaries to motivate donors. Yasmina Zaidman, communication director at Acumen Fund, contrasts these exploitive images with Acumen’s tagline “Seeing a world beyond poverty.” Acumen avoids “images of poverty that … dehumanize the people whom we want to actually help,” she says, instead promoting images of “pride and dignity.”
Affinity - Brand affinity is working alongside other brands and celebrating the collective effort ahead of individual interests. Affinity is about collaboration and the promotion of partner brands alongside your own. Organizations that encourage and participate in brand affinity will be more likely to receive offers for partnerships in the future, benefiting their cause from the increased exposure that collaboration brings to all involved.
The IDEA framework shines light on the differences between For-profit and Nonprofit branding. Branding is incentivised within For-profit organizations to increase profits, whereas Nonprofits’ pride in their cause leads them to branding. While there remains considerable crossover in the tools for branding utilized by both For-profits and Nonprofits, the emphasis should not be on differentiation, but instead on the benefits of a recognisable brand. Branding will ultimately be what you make of it and organizations that take the time to plan a cohesive strategy and apply effective branding will see the rewards in increased exposure and recognition for their organization. The easier you make it for people to understand, remember and connect with your Nonprofit, the more your cause will grow. Branding is one of your greatest assets toward this end.