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A New Brand Management Mindset

Resource Center - Foundation

brand mindset imageJulia Shepard Stenzel and Nathalie Laidler-Kylander are co-authors of The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity. The new framework for nonprofit brand management eschews traditional, outdated brand tenets of control and competition, and instead favors a strategic approach based on participatory process, shared values, and the development of key partnerships. Find out whether your nonprofit is successfully practicing the three key elements of brand management by asking yourself the questions below. 

With the New Year comes a chance to shift your approach to managing your organization’s brand. Too many organizations view brand as just a logo and a tool for fundraising. Your brand is much more than that—it is a strategic asset that can help you build organizational cohesion, increase trust, and achieve your desired impact. Nonprofit organizations are increasingly adopting this new mindset for managing their brand. The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity (Jossey-Bass, 2014) outlines this new paradigm and describes a new framework for brand management. How can you start to make this shift? Ask yourself the following questions:

Is top management on board? In order for the brand to play a strategic role, brand management has to be considered the work of the CEO and the entire executive team. It cannot solely be the responsibility of communications, marketing, or fundraising. Organizations need top leadership and the board to recognize that the brand can be a powerful tool to help the organization implement its mission. As such, the brand needs to be considered during any strategic planning effort, so that the articulation of the brand fits with the strategy of the organization.

Does our brand convey the ‘who, what and why’ of the organization? When the brand is aligned with your organization’s mission and values, it conveys the essence of what your organization is all about and allows people to connect emotionally with the organization. This is not always easy, particularly in organizations that have a broad mission and wide variety of programs. What we have found, however, is that there is always a unifying theme within an organization. Sometimes this may reflect more of the organization’s values, rather than the specifics of the mission. When your brand captures this unifying theme, then your brand becomes more strategic and a useful tool for decision-making. A strong brand can help you identify what programs, projects, or partners fit your organization, and which do not belong.

Are we engaging all of our audiences in discussions about our brand? For-profit brands are designed to create certain perceptions in the eyes of customers. Nonprofits have a variety of “customers” including beneficiaries, donors, partners, volunteers, and staff—this makes brand management more complex. But by involving all of your internal and external stakeholders in defining and communicating your brand, you can create a much stronger asset. It is tempting for nonprofits to portray a different image to different audiences. We believe that this is a mistake. A strong brand works across multiple audiences. 

Just asking the question, “How would you describe this organization?” results in valuable input regarding how internal and external audiences perceive your brand. An effective brand aligns the perceptions of internal audiences (your brand identity) with the mission and values, and then aligns the perceptions of external audiences (your brand image) with this internal identity. This is the basis of our concept of brand ‘Integrity’.

The old model of brand management was much more about one-way communications. This is no longer possible in our world of technology and social media. External audiences are talking about your organization whether you like it or not. Engaging with these audiences in an authentic way is key. When you are who you say you are as an organization, you increase trust with these audiences. Stories are an effective tool to convey your brand to different audiences.

This process of engaging internal and external audiences in both defining and communicating the brand is part of our concept of brand ‘Democracy’.

Are we sharing our brand assets? In our current world it is no longer possible, nor is it desirable, to maintain strict control of your brand. The new brand management mindset includes greater sharing of brand assets. Internally, this means providing guidance and useful tools, and setting parameters for your brand, not controlling every aspect of it. This becomes possible when your brand reflects the mission and values of your organization. Staff and volunteers who contribute to the process of defining your brand feel greater ownership and connection with it. As such, it becomes increasingly possible for stakeholders to communicate your brand authentically through everything they do.

Your brand assets also need to be shared externally. We are seeing increasing collaboration among nonprofits, due in part to funders’ requests and also to the realization that the problems of our world cannot be solved alone; real change requires cooperation among multiple organizations. When you use your brand assets in support of a shared goal, you are demonstrating our concept of brand ‘Affinity’. Sharing credit and promoting your partners’ brands as you work with others toward a greater goal can expand support for your work such that the result is greater than the sum of the parts 

For more information about The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity by Shepard Stenzel and Laidler-Kylander, click here.



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