To Be “Cause” or Not to Be “Cause”: How to Develop a Brand for Your Nonprofit

Written by Chris Werner. Posted in Shark News

Every cause has an organization behind it – the two are, in many ways, inseparable and intertwined. We focus on making your organization stand out by branding both the group and the cause. To learn a bit more of our approach please read on:

So you have a cause and you're starting a nonprofit organization or you have one and want to know how to build or strengthen the brand. Let’s define first what is a brand? Is it advertising, your spokesperson, a logo? All the above?

We have heard of the Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs, and MDA. These are all brands. And while there may be positive or negative perceptions about each of these, you'll notice their missions are easy to define—providing disaster relief when needed, inspiring people to live better lives, and providing assistance to those afflicted with a deadly disease. They are all based on making a clear promise to their audience. Essentially then, your brand is the reputation you have for delivering on your promise.

What does this mean for your nonprofit or cause? A strong brand helps the organization stand out from the masses of solicitations, distinguish the cause from other organizations doing similar work, and inspires others to support them. The best cause marketers elicit positive emotional responses because people understand and identify with the mission and know that the organization is consistently true to it. When carefully developed and nurtured, the cause brand becomes the interwoven fabric of the organizational culture.

What results from strengthened cause branding is, over time, organizations with strong brands become more well known and tend to raise more money. In today's environment, with more nonprofits than ever competing for ever shrinking sources of funding, your organization can't afford a weak brand.

We can help you create a successful brand for your organization.

Facets of a Successful Brand

Nor organization is one-dimensional and therefore neither is the brand you wish to create or enhance. There are three goals in our model: create a stand out brand; establish street creds; and be real. By assessing your organization's strengths (and weakenesses) in each area, we will begin to understand how your brand value can be built, communicated, and delivered.

  • Stand Out

    While it is tempting to turn your passion into action immediately, with 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, first you need to distinguish your nonprofit from other organizations doing similar work. The average person is deluged with solicitations and is easily confused about what organization does what, so to stand out, you have to be very clear.

    Start with your mission—is it easy for people to understand what you do? Can it be stated in a single sentence? Is it inspiring to enough people to attract a broad base of support to be sustainable for the long term? Do there an “achievable” measure of success that will captivate people's imagination?

    By way of example, the laudable ambition of getting the country’s economy moving again offers little means of measuring success. Conversely, "landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade" is a promise that captivates people's imagination and allows them to envision the mission being accomplished.

  • Street Creds

    Before someone makes that online donation or steps up to volunteer their time, they have to believe that your organization has the ability to deliver on its promise or the ‘track record’ of doing so.

    It makes no different whether your organization is rooted in a rich tradition or fresh ideas, or whether it was created in response to grass-roots needs or global demand, your donors will want to know that you can be trusted so that their money is put to good use. Members want to feel that they are helping an truly ‘good cause.’ So part of the branding message mush revolve around the ‘proof of the pudding’ showing your nonprofit has the credibility to substantiate its promise.

  • Be Real

    The third element of an effective brand for your cause is to get folks identify and care about it. Successful organizations know that they need to go beyond the support from people who are directly affected by the issue to attract a wider audience. By showcasing, in a consistently authentic manner, the challenges you face as well as the expertise you bring to solving the problem, you make it easier for people to trust your organization. Ultimately this achieves the goal of increasing committed volunteers and increasing the ‘kitty’ of donated money.

Every Picture Tells a Story. What's Yours?

Organizations with strong brands are able to be different, establish credibility, and speak authentically. How do we accomplish this? By telling good stories. Stories are the foundation of a strong brand. Stories give a deep and ‘personal’ meaning to your mission and help people connect to what you do. Your organization's story may revolve around the personality of your leader (Jerry Lewis), a galvanizing moment in your organization's history (the fire aboad Apollo 1), or a natural affinity to your audience. Good stories, just like good deeds, give your brand life, excite your donor base, and instill confidence in others that your organization is what it claims to be. We find those stories.


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