6 Questions to Ask Yourself to Build a Powerful, Effective Non-profit Brand

You have a lot on your mind and your plate as a nonprofit professional. Between fundraising, volunteer management, and since COVID-19 hit in March, crisis management. 

Amongst all the foundational operations, where does marketing fit in? Why is “branding” one of the biggest buzzwords in the business world right now? 

And, maybe the most significant question of all, is branding really all that important to nonprofits with all the other initiatives that go into running a successful organization? 

The short answer is, “yes”, branding is extremely important. Good branding will help nonprofit managers raise awareness, support, and funds by:

  • Making your mission clear
  • Building connections between potential partners and your organization 
  • Educating the public on important topics 
  • Bringing your organization together
  • Promoting your cause
  • Attracting new members and donors

In this blog, we’ll explore how to create a brand strategy that accomplishes all these things, and more with these six questions every nonprofit should answer to land on a memorable brand that delights and sparks interest and support. 

What is your “why”?

Your Main Message

When Simon Sinek gave his famous TED talk on “How great leaders inspire action”, he had no idea that his 19-minute presentation about some of the most inspiring companies and individuals ranging from Apple to Martin Luther King Jr. would become a worldwide phenomenon. 

And even though he initially approaches the idea of finding your “why” from a psychological and sociological standpoint, it quickly becomes a master class in good branding. 

His lecture really is worth the watch, but we’ll summarize his main point by saying that he noticed that companies and people speak about themselves in terms of what they do and how they do it. Every once in a while, they may talk about why. He noticed that the truly great leaders flip that traditional model on its head and speak first and most passionately about why they do what they do before diving into how they do it, and leaving what they do to the end of the conversation. 

If you think of some of your favorite brands or commercials, you’ll most likely see a pattern emerge. Usually, through a combination of visuals and words, they have sold you on their purpose — their why — and you formed an emotional connection, even if it’s to a pair of shoes.

Once you’ve discovered your “why”, your most public-facing marketing assets, especially your website, should be dedicated to communicating your story. 

If you think your nonprofit could explore your “why” deeper, Simon Sinek has several resources that individuals and organizations have used to help discover and articulate their main message.

What makes your nonprofit stand out?

Your Name and Slogan

You most likely have your name already picked out, and we bet it’s good. Even people who haven’t worked a lot with branding understand the importance of a name. It should be short enough to fit nicely on websites, business cards, and event signs, but also be memorable and touch on your “why”. 

Slogans, on the other hand, are something some people shy away from. Entrepreneur.com defines a slogan as “a catchphrase or small group of words that are combined in a special way to identify a product or company”. Hubspot summarizes a slogan’s value nicely by saying, “In many ways, they’re like mini-mission statements”. 

It’s not a hard and fast rule that an organization has one, but many successful companies do because it helps in building brand recognition, provides a quick, positive association with your nonprofit, and differentiates you. 

Here are some of the most famous slogans and a few of our favorites from other nonprofits. As you read through this list, think about what about them makes a lasting impression and jot out a few ideas for your own nonprofit:

  • Canadian Blood Services: “It’s in you to give.” 
  • Montana Historical Society: “Big Sky. Big Land. Big History.”
  • Earthjustice: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer.”
  • The people of the United Methodist Church: “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.”
  • Dollar Shave Club: “Shave Time. Shave Money.”
  • MasterCard: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
  • M&M: “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands.”
  • De Beers: “A Diamond Is Forever.”
  • Via: Hubspot.com, thebalancesmb.com

What is the story you want to tell?

Your Fonts and Colors

So far, we’ve talked about things like your main message, your nonprofit name, and a slogan. All of these are key components to telling your story through words. Now, it’s important to combine powerful messaging with compelling visuals — such as the font you choose. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by all your options, but the most important thing is that you select fonts and colors that tell your story. 

Do you consider your brand passionate, yet serious? Modern or more traditional? Playful, yet committed? Once you can answer these questions, you can start to narrow down which font and colors represent your brand the best.

Pick a reliable brand management software to ensure consistency in the design elements and establish a recognizable brand identity.  

Here are examples of some of the world’s most recognizable nonprofit brands. You can see how their font and colors contribute to their stories. 

Feeding America’s fonts and colors denote earthy tones and highlight ways to action. 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) uses bold colors, like black and white, and skinny fonts that seem approachable. 

Mind uses fonts and colors that communicate creativity and friendliness. 

Who is your audience?

The Language You Use

In the examples for Feeding America, WWF, and Mind, you’ll notice that, in addition to different fonts and colors, the organizations are intentional about the language they use. 

Even though we’d like to think that everyone will care about our missions and causes, if there’s one thing to learn from our marketing friends, is that it’s important to be realistic about who your ideal members, volunteers, and donors are. 

If you have a membership software system or nonprofit CRM, you can search your data and begin to understand if your members and partners have certain experiences and backgrounds in common: Do they tend to be younger or older? Do they live in cities or suburbs? Do they like to travel? 

While your nonprofit’s unique “why” and the story should drive the fonts, colors, and language you use, knowing your target audiences should also be an important factor. Once you start to develop a voice and language, you can use it consistently across your social media accounts, emails, surveys, and more to tell your nonprofit’s story and build connections with supporters.

How do you want them to feel?

Your Website and Other Multimedia

We’ve featured a few websites in this post, and as you can see, the visuals of a website go a long way to building a successful brand. Who doesn’t love the panda on the WWF website? 

Other important visuals on a website, in addition to a logo, that tell a powerful story in a short amount of time and with limited space are candid pictures of your team and employees and professional photos of the places, animals, or people you’re trying to assist. 

And, of course, there’s the mother of all visuals: video. Some people think that video is a huge investment of time and money, and while you can spend a lot of money developing beautiful videos, there are now platforms and tools that allow you to create and post short videos on websites and social media in a cost-effective way.

Research your options and know that there are video partners that even specialize in working with nonprofits. 

The important thing to remember with any visual you create, especially video, is that a good visual goes beyond looking pretty. An effective branding piece should communicate your “why”, resonate with your audience, and inspire action, even if it’s just to learn more about what you do. 

How do you make a difference (and how can people help)? 

Showcasing Your Community

Speaking of inspiring action, that is the ultimate goal of a strong brand. You do that through attracting a like-minded community, educating the public, and forging authentic connections, and hopefully, these efforts lead to participation, partnership, and donorship. 

The best part of your brand is your people, so showcase your community proudly. When possible, use real images of your volunteers, recipients, and donors. Include quotes and testimonials from your community on your website, newsletters, and other promotional materials. And consider inviting people into your physical space, so they can see your brand-in-action, whether it’s through a virtual video or tour or by hosting an event in your space. 

After you’ve shown how great it is to be a part of your nonprofit, make it easy for people to join, collaborate with, and donate to your organization. If your branding strategy works, people will want to be a part of your mission. Let them!  

A Quick Word About Consistency

You know your brand strategy is working when people can recognize your name, logo, slogan, and give a quick explanation of what you do. It’s hard to accomplish that if you change your branding a lot. 

In the nonprofit world, you don’t see rebranding as much as you do in other sectors because, as we mentioned at the beginning of the blog, you have a lot of plates to juggle. A rebranding can be a big effort. 

Still, it’s worth mentioning that it’s best to approach rebranding thoughtfully and intentionally. It’s not something to avoid entirely. If your mission changes or you can see things aren’t working after making slight adjustments, it may be time to rebrand. But consider small changes, first (keep the colors, change the slogan). 

And don’t be afraid to brand a specific fundraising campaign. It’s very common for things like big events to warrant their own logos and even slogans to help promote them. This specialized branding should still align with your overall brand, but it gives you the freedom and creativity to do something different and make your campaign stand out. 

For more tips to building a successful branding strategy, check out our Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Branding to get started on telling your story today! 

Sayana Izmailova

Sayana Izmailova

Sayana Izmailova is the Content Marketing Specialist at Wild Apricot, a membership management software. She has worked at a number of nonprofits and uses her experience to help small organizations advance their missions.

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