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Lasting Impression: Moving Your Brand Beyond Logos and Letterhead

Resource Center - Foundation

(Feb. 23, 2009) A good brand is more than skin deep. It is the impression people have of your organization that goes beyond colors, design and catchphrase and stands for something innate to your organization, says Jocelyne Daw, vice president of marketing and community engagement at Imagine Canada, a national nonprofit headquartered in Toronto.

An effective brand is inspiring and unique to your mission. If properly developed, it has value far beyond marketing, guiding mission-based services, communications outreach and development activities.

Daw this week offers eWire readers a glimpse into a book she is writing called Building a Breakthrough Nonprofit Brand: From Mark to Movement, which she and coauthors Carol Cone, Kristian Darigan and Anne Erhard plan to unveil at the 2010 AFP conference in Baltimore.

Building a strong brand, she explains, or going through the often dreaded “rebranding” process, means doing more than giving your organization’s image a face-lift. In the changing environment, to differentiate their organizations and gain community support, nonprofits are strategically building brands that stand for something that their constituents care about and will stand behind. They develop a brand that provides clarity and uniqueness, gives purpose and unifies staff, volunteers, and supporters to action behind a cause that is bigger than the nonprofit itself. They adopt and embrace this new way of thinking about nonprofit brands and in so doing propel their organizations for bigger impact and greater good.

Now, you may be wondering, how have we gone from branding being a marketing tool to being this high-minded ideal with almost magical qualities? Well, it is still a marketing and critically important communications tool. But knowing what you stand for in a deeper sense, before you even begin to write a tagline and draw a new logo—is not magic. It’s just smart.


Can you name, in a word or two, what your organization stands for? Does it align with your mission, vision and values? If not, Daw explains, you haven’t yet done the work necessary to convey a strong, clear and consistent brand. The best brands, though they have a lot of meaning behind them, can be summed up in just a few words. A breast cancer organization that supports survivors may have the single word, “sisterhood” to represent and reflect the brand they want to resonate in the hearts and minds of supporters and other constituents. That word may appear in materials, but it is the idea that becomes the rallying point that can help with the kinds of images used, the fundraiser’s case for support and the way programs are carried out.

Another important element of a “breakthrough” brand is uniqueness, Daw says. Not only does the idea you convey about your organization sum up the values and aspirations of the organization and those who support it, it also sets the charity apart and carves out its own niche. Though a core mission is permanent, the way the mission is carried out, for example “to help kids,” can change if other organizations come along and work under the same general mission. Branding can help communicate the unique strategies that your organization has developed to face current problems. Though mission, vision and values rarely change, strategies must evolve with changes in environment, Daw explains.

Why build a brand?  By building a breakthrough nonprofit brand, nonprofits will be more effective in driving diversified and consistent donations and revenue, maintaining donor and stakeholder loyalty, and motivating, recruiting and retaining top executives, staff, and volunteers. A strong nonprofit brand can be the most stable and sustainable asset of an organization living long past management teams and short-term economic troughs.

A brand should be a rallying flag for supporters, Daw says. And remember to make it focused, simple and compelling. “A brand that tries to be everybody to everyone will end up meaning nothing to anybody.”

About the Book

Daw’s book on breakthrough brands will feature twelve visionary nonprofits as case studies and will showcase the seven breakthrough principles that they collectively used to build, manage, integrate and leverage their brand for greater return on investment. The espoused principles are not simple additions to traditional views of branding; rather they reflect the emergence and acknowledgment of an entirely new way of thinking about nonprofit branding, how it works, what is possible and the implications for the third sector.

Jocelyne Daw is the author of Cause Marketing for Nonprofits: Partner for Purpose, Passion, and Profits, part of the AFP Fund Development Series, available in the AFP Bookstore.

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