If you’re a marketer like me, the past few weeks have been a flurry of emails, reports and dashboards focused on driving year-end results for your organization. With 2018 behind me, I’m excited to turn my attention to the year ahead. The planning process for a new year brings with it an opportunity to reflect on 2018’s success and things that may merit closer review of change.

And why not? The dawn of a new year presents a great opportunity for a fresh start. As organizations put together budgets to present to their executive leadership and boards, the need to understand and document these resolutions may hit your inbox soon. This is especially true for big changes, like a rebrand.

Not long ago, “investment” felt like a dirty word for nonprofits – after all, money spent on branding takes away from funds available for new programs or activities that can move an organization’s mission forward. But a strong brand can play an important, strategic role for an organization, driving long-term awareness, strengthening identity and creating cohesion among internal staff, volunteers and other constituents.

What is a Brand

Advertising executive David Ogilvy defined a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes,” while AIGA, the Professional Association for Design, defines a brand as “a person’s perception of a product, service, experience or organization.”

For commercial products, proving the brand’s value can be relatively straightforward. A consumer purchases a product and the product either delivers on the brand promise or it doesn’t. M&M’s for example, “melt in your mouth, not in your hand.” Take the time to apply L’Oreal mascara, “because you’re worth it.” Spill something? Grab a Bounty paper towel as it’s the “quicker picker upper.”

These relatable consumer experiences have become a growing part of talking about branding across nonprofits of all sizes. Many nonprofit executives define brand using for-profit language, in part because they’re often discussing brand with board members and donors whose own roots are in the for-profit world.

Yet for nonprofits, their brand effectiveness can be more subjective, relying on the audience to visualize a world that’s better for them having been part of the organization’s mission. The strength of the brand is determined by the trust, loyalty and enthusiasm it elicits. A nonprofit’s brand reaches beyond the organization and its mission, appealing to what’s most meaningful to their audience. Whether a donor-focused charity or a member-driven association, the nonprofit brand must show that the organization delivers on its promises for the individual and the broader collective.

Living the Brand

That’s a lot to live up to. Although the ambitions of nonprofit marketers are growing, the strategic frameworks and management tools available to them haven’t kept pace, with lots of the language and strategy borrowed from the for-profit sector brand playbook designed to boost name recognition and drive brand reputation. But optimizing your brand doesn’t have to be hard or take a back seat to other activities in your organization. Integrating the brand conversation alongside other planning discussions can ensure your brand is:

  • Closely aligned with your organizational strategy
  • Deeply ingrained with your nonprofit’s culture, ideas and values
  • Part of each action, with staff recognizing interactions with members, donors, supporters and other constituents as unique opportunities to reinforce your brand’s value
  • Reflected in what you say and how you say it
  • Fully supported by your visual identity and technology tools, creating opportunities for consistent quality across all communications and interactions.

Taking Your Brand to the Next Level

Branding delivers tremendous value for nonprofits, driving the awareness that leads to acquisition, the enthusiasm that drives engagement and the loyalty necessary for strong differentiation in a crowded marketplace. While branding should be part of everyday conversations around organizational strategy, culture, messaging and tools, there are several steps nonprofits interested in improving their brand in the new year can take to get started:

  1. Know Your Target Audience: Without a clear vision of who your organization engages with, building a brand to drive their support is next to impossible (or at the very least inefficient)! Personas can provide a helpful framework for identifying who’s who. Learn more about defining your target audience and personas to get the ball rolling.
  2. Differentiate Yourself: Why you? Showing what makes your organization unique is paramount in helping you stand apart from other nonprofits serving a similar need and trying to reach the same audience. Does your organization have a specific goal that others aren’t working towards? Do you serve a niche audience or geography? Are your programs unique? Donors and members have a growing number of choices when it comes to which organization to support – give them a reason to choose yours.
  3. Be Approachable: The ability to be relatable is essential to forming a connection and creating deep, long-lasting relationships. Articulate, as part of your brand, how donors, members and other supporters can become involved in your brand’s promise and organization’s mission.

Nonprofits who ignore their brand – or deny they have a brand – do so at their peril. People’s perception of your nonprofit can impact your acquisition, engagement and retention efforts. Strong brand cohesion, and the high levels of trust a great brand can inspire, contribute to greater organizational capacity and social impact. Bring your brand to life to influence the way your nonprofit is perceived across channels, whether in person or online, your communities and constituents in 2019 and beyond.

Want to know more about elevating your brand’s reputation across channels? Discover the must-have martech tools you need in 2019 to effectively leverage your marketing technology stack.