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Nonprofit, Who’s Minding Your Brand?

by Jeff Rosenberg, MSW

Never before has it been more important for a nonprofit organization to bolster the strength of its brand.  A powerful brand is not just about fundraising or PR, as critical as those things are. It’s about making a difference. Whether the goal is creating change in Congress or in local communities, extensive research makes it clear that achieving objectives requires a strong brand—one that clearly and quickly articulates what your organization does and more importantly, why it matters.

For starters, your brand provides guidance to internal stakeholders, from frontline staff to board members. Staff members at organizations with healthy brands have a more well-defined understanding of how their work contributes to the mission and, as a result, are more successful at mobilizing constituents.

From an external perspective, consumers seek relationships with organizations, not simply information. With a strong brand position and message leading the way, consumers can quickly decide if they want to engage and build a bond with your organization. Your brand makes it clear how your organization’s values align with their personal values.

Finally, research has documented that funders and other organizations are more likely to see an organization with a strong brand as a more desirable partner. Potential partners can more easily determine if your organization’s purpose or passion supports their own mission, goals, and objectives.

As an example, we are currently working with five urban school districts, all part of the National Summer Learning Project funded by The Wallace Foundation. Each of the districts is working to strengthen, build, and expand an innovation in their communities—voluntary summer learning programs for low-income students. One of the most important steps is proving to be developing positioning and messaging that communicates the value of their summer learning offerings to internal and external stakeholders. In each city, new partnerships are being formed or old ones revitalized, as a clear value proposition is helping community organizations and local funders understand how summer learning supports their objectives.

Unfortunately, many organizations that embark on a rebranding process get tripped up by internal skepticism, even opposition. Too many employees, even board members, view working on positioning, brand essence, brand pillars, and message platforms as purely a marketing exercise that’s disconnected from achieving the organization’s mission. It’s important to remember that the end result of an effective rebranding process is an organization that ignites passion among audiences, including leadership, employees, partners, donors, and consumers, connecting with their hearts and their minds in a coordinated march to meet organizational objectives, build preference, and engender loyalty.

So what’s the takeaway? Step back and make the time to study your brand. Does your positioning, messaging, and visual identity communicate who you are, what you do, and why it matters? Do internal and external audiences understand it and easily communicate it? If not, it’s time to rebrand to make a difference.

Jeff Rosenberg, MSW

EVP, Nonprofits & Causes Practice Leader

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