Jeff Bezos famously said that “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room” This quote explains the importance of branding, reminding us that when we aren’t around, people—donors, potential donors, friends, and other supporters—are still talking about us, still forming ideas about us.
Typically, one might think of branding as a logo or an image with a particular set of colors and an unmistakable style that evokes an emotional connection. A brand, however, goes beyond merely a well-constructed logo. For a nonprofit, a logo is a first impression of your organization, an initial introduction to your mission. It’s important to get this right, but branding goes beyond a sleek and compelling logo.
Branding involves a multitude of factors that all work together to influence how you relate to donors and how donors relate to you. Branding—and its success or failure—can spell the difference between no giving and a lifetime of giving. Here are three essential aspects of branding. These are the most important things to consider when working to incorporate successful branding to build your organization’s identity and improve how you relate to your donors and potential donors.
Before potential donors encounter the mission of your nonprofit, you have the power of visual identity. A nonprofit’s visual identity comes from print materials, fonts, photography, and email signatures—all in addition to your logo. These materials must work together to accurately and consistently symbolize the way you want to be seen in the world and how memorable you are— the same way that Susan G. Komen for the Cure conjures up images of a pink ribbon or Coca-Cola invokes white calligraphy on a red can.
A pixelated or blurry letterhead speaks as loudly as a typo-ridden email. Inconsistent images, fonts, and styles creates a confusing and forgettable brand. Visual identity provides a critical opportunity to be memorable—for the right or the wrong reasons—and it lays the groundwork for the following two aspects of branding.
If messaging is important to sell a tee shirt or a sports drink, it is critical to convey the values and mission of a nonprofit. Messaging goes beyond Nike’s “Just Do It” or Toyota’s “Let’s Go Places.” Messaging is not merely what is said, but how it is said. It communicates the values you strive to represent as an organization—and good messaging ensures that those values are effectively represented across all platforms and media.
Messaging is particularly important for nonprofit branding, because the consistency with which you speak, email, and tweet about the values and mission of your organization is a major factor in perceived trustworthiness. That consistency communicates to the world that your whole organization understands your mission and values well enough to convey it succinctly in every context. It conveys, moreover, that you’re honest about your goals, that you’re not duplicitous or selling snake oil.
Ultimately, a carefully curated message coupled with snappy visuals is only as good as the individuals behind it: your team. An effective brand relies as much on the consistency and use of the logo as it does the quality and character of the people it employs. As Bezos said, you want potential donors to think and to say good things about you and your team when you leave the room or hang up the phone, or when they come across your messages in mail or email.
The ability to speak well and follow up on time is an essential part of branding—like a good handshake and a friendly smile. Branding is a reputation, and your team determines whether it’s a good one or a bad one. Trader Joe’s and Chick-fil-A are famous for good customer service. They invest in this because they know it pays off with long-term, returning shoppers. They are investing in relationships with their shoppers—and setting an example for how nonprofits should invest in relationships with their donors. Build a brand—with the right people—where you’re recognized for a good “customer service”: friendliness, gratitude, responsiveness,
Just as for-profit businesses prioritize “customer experience,” a nonprofit must strive to create a donor experience. This experience goes beyond traditional customer service and penetrates every area of nonprofit life, from the first meeting to the thank-you note and the ongoing stewardship and cultivation that comes after initial acknowledgment letters.
These three principles form a branding trifecta that, when applied together, can transform how your nonprofit relates to the individuals and organizations around you in a positive and lasting way. Perhaps most importantly though, is to consider that the power of each of these concepts is radically diminished when any of them stands alone. Visual Identity without good Messaging and good People, for example, is branding that sorely lacks the substance and reputation to back up what’s on your business card. Visual Identity, Messaging, and People are essential to building a nonprofit brand that keeps a positive conversation going well after you have left the room.
It’s my goal to help purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, craft strong and compelling branding and design, and achieve greater influence. Please let me know if and how I can be of help to you. Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out consulting services online at AmericanPhilanthropic.com, as well as fundraising events throughout the year.