Is your Non-Profit a Brand?

Vandana Random

Can the worlds of branding and non-profit ever meet?

I worked in the social sector for three years before taking a short break during which I watched my little son grow into a naughty toddler. When I decided to get back to work, it was as a brand strategist at Cracker & Rush.

The decision to jump sectors was largely driven by curiosity: could the worlds of branding and non-profit ever meet? Or were the two as distant from each other as they were believed to be?

In the social sector, branding is largely misunderstood. It is viewed as an exercise that consumes precious resources and has no tangible results to show for it. The truth, however, is that the sector has not given branding its due.

I believe that branding is particularly crucial for non-profits given the set of diversified challenges they deal with and the multiple stakeholders they interact with.

A Clarifying Exercise

Branding is a clarifying exercise that helps a non-profit stand up, stand out and stand for something. Yes, it is expensive but branding done right is worth every dime – and I say this with the utmost conviction, having now worked in both sectors.

Non-profits often face a barrage of recurrent questions.

What do you do?

What are you known for?

Why should anyone (be it your staff, volunteers or sponsors) be a part of your cause?

Most believe that these questions are answered by their vision and mission statements. But the reality is that these statements are often nothing more than a string of words that lack an emotional connect.

Engaging in the process of brand building helps non-profits arrive at a single, well-thought out narrative; a narrative that can distill the answers to these questions and guide decision-making.

What every non-profit needs, therefore, is a compelling story – one that resonates with all stakeholders, employees and volunteers in particular because they live the brand every day. The story needs to be powerful so that it is one they seek to make their own. A good story also attracts the right sponsors, without any misplaced pressures and expectations.

In addition to creating a cohesive narrative, branding also ensures integrity of the non-profit at all levels. It helps the brand’s front-runners translate its experiences into something tangible that people can connect with and understand.

They say, ‘Strategy is not about knowing what to do, but about knowing what not to do.’ I believe that this clarity and awareness is particularly lacking in the non-profit sector. It is not enough to declare that you are a non-profit working with children. Is it street children? Is it the education of children? Is it children and their nutrition? And, by extension, what are the sectors you will not work in?

Communicating the Brand Story

Branding helps you define what you stand for and what you are exceptionally good at. This focused approach translates into a representation of the non-profit that is consistent across mediums. It also results in the creation of a visual language that is not only unique but also engaging.

In this age of information clutter, the website is the new logo. This is true for all brands, including non-profits. Yet, few have websites that are inspiring. Instead, most websites have no design element and look like brochures crammed with information. A website has the potential to attract volunteers and sponsors from across the globe. It must be used as a platform to not only communicate the brand’s story and purpose but to do so in a visually engaging manner that attracts the right stakeholders.

Despite its substantial, game-changing benefits, some non-profits might still argue that branding is an expensive affair that they do not have the funds for. That it is just not the right time.

But if today is not the right time to tell your story, when will it ever be?

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