Part 1: Defining brand.

Branding for Nonprofits

In our part1 of a three-part series on how to create effective nonprofit branding and architecture we aim to demystify what a brand really is, and it’s importance for nonprofits. So let’s jump right in…

What is a brand?

When faced with this question, the first thing that comes to mind most often is fancy looking logos and the accompanying catch phrase taglines. This assumption isn’t entirely wrong but it’s not anywhere close to the true definition of what a brand is. A brand simply put is an organization’s persona and the perception it elicits from its target audience. It’s all about perception. What does your audience think of you (as an organization)? Perception is a summary of character, from appearance to personality and everything in between. Your brand persona is one that your audience will evaluate and judge before they do business or interact with you, thereby forming a perception of your organization.

When your organization’s name is mentioned or referenced, a set of opinions, or an expression of feelings – whether this may be the fact that it is unknown – usually follow. The general image that develops in the environments where you are known or exist is a reflection of all efforts you have put into the branding process.

But.. But… Don’t I have a brand?

A brand is the repeated confirmation of the fulfillment that anyone who interacts with your organization in one way or the other receives.

Pretty much, your brand is the set of promises and expectations that exist in the hearts and minds of your constituents. It’s how your audience perceives you.

At Maison Interactive, it’s our mission to bridge this gap between branding theory and practice by aligning an organization’s ideas, actions, and culture with its use of design, messaging and technology. We help translate concepts and dynamics into a clear narrative and engaging experiences that reinforce a nonprofit’s value.

“But I have A LOGO …..”

A stylized name and logo have fast become the basic standard with which organizations are identified. At Maison Interactive we understand, however, that this is only part of what it means to be a brand. There are several, deliberate steps to be taken so that your organization is perceived and understood as you want it to be. Branding reflects in the public realm and more importantly, in the hearts and minds of your target audience.

So in the crowded NGO space, how does any individual NGO stand out from the rest?

The first step is to identify the areas within your organization where your brand ideals or characteristics are revealed to the audience. This should be part of a wider process, which is having the organization develop a complete understanding of itself. It should then identify and understand all its external relationships and their nature. After this, it should define the characteristics through which it wants to be known and understood.

The key factors of a successful nonprofit brand are;

  • Differentiation

You need to distinguish your organization from other organizations doing similar work. There are so many organizations that are vying for donors’ time and money. You must be very clear in why your organization warrants their attention and funds. Your brand must visibly present how your organization is unique, what makes it stand out from other organizations. Brand differentiation is the caviar of brand strategy.

  • Authenticity

Nonprofits are inherently people focussed, always giving a helping hand to the human race in one way or the other. The entire purpose of your nonprofit is to serve those in need, which alone draws on people’s’ emotions. Your brand must give your audience a reason to not only care about your cause but inspire them to act, whether through donations or their time.

  • Credibility

Research has shown that brand credibility influences how your audience ends up perceiving your organization. No one will donate to your cause if you don’t have a trusted, reliable reputation. What this means is that your organization should always present a consistent brand image in all aspects.

Branding can be experienced holistically (e.g., a website or report), or as individual elements ( a tagline or logo). Understood this way, a systems-based approach is critical to developing a framework that helps all stakeholders more easily and effectively manage a nonprofit’s brand.

To build a strategic, exceptional, and consistent brand first requires understanding the many facets of an organization that contributes to the overall brand experience. In our view, there are six key components of a nonprofit organization that defines its brand:

  • Your Organization’s Strategy

If your organization is working with a goal in mind, then your mission, vision, beliefs and core values are what your brand strategy should seek to emphasize. Branding, in this case, becomes a core component influencing growth.

  • The People

An organization’s actions and behaviors are embodied by the people working within. There many, creative ways through which an investment can be made so that the ideas and values you want your brand to be known for, are seen through them.

  • Your Messaging

How we use the written and spoken word leaves the first, significant impression of who we are.

At Maison Interactive we understand that every audience has its preferred mode of communication, and this also affords a good opportunity to create impactful messaging that will sustain the branding effort.

  • Your Interactions

All interactions in both the physical and digital worlds should be viewed as chances to build relationships that strengthen your brand. In this way, you are able, as much as possible, to seek ways that reinforce the promise your brand fulfills, in the hearts and minds of your audience.

  • Design

Good quality design that is well thought out has a definitive impact that keeps people interested in your brand. Today, more than ever, people form quick opinions based on what they see. Incorporating appropriate visual elements has the potential to make powerful statements about your brand.

  • Your Communication Tools

Different tools and applications are used today to deliver brand experiences. To maintain consistency between the organization and the audience, which then establishes a strong connection to the brand and builds trust, a design plan is necessary. It should consist of clear goals, and specific tools and steps. All this then reinforces the trust the audience has in your brand, as their expectations of you are consistently met.

Now that we have laid the assumptions to rest and what you need to remember as you start building your nonprofit brand, what are your thoughts on your nonprofit brand?
Join us next as we set out to explain the guide to the actual work behind this.