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What is Branding, Anyway?

Resource Center - Foundation

(Jan. 4, 2011) Simply putting on a doctor's uniform does not make someone a doctor. Yet many organizations' branding efforts do just that--focus solely on looks. In a new book from the AFP Fund Development Series, authors explain that a breakthrough brand actually helps clarify the nonprofit's very purpose.

According to the book Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding, a brand is a collection of perceptions about an organization, formed by its every communication, action and interaction. It is what people collectively say, feel and think about your organization. Branding, then, means that you articulate what your organization stands for. It means putting forth a compelling, focused idea that sets it apart and is meaningful to supporters.

In short, a breakthrough nonprofit brand "convinces the head, touches the heart and engages the hands." People understand what you are about, are drawn to the cause, and they have an experience with your organization that matches their expectations.

In addition, a breakthrough brand actually drives your organization's strategy. Through branding you tell people who you are, what you stand for and what you do. Your organization, then, has to carry out that promise. Breakthrough brands provide an overriding idea that "drives strategy and infuses every decision, activity and communication with a deeper and distinctive purpose."

Purpose, Not Packaging

Done well, branding moves beyond simply putting a new "face" on your organization or fundraising campaign. It is not about devising a new look, logo or language. Breakthrough branding ties the organization or campaign to a larger purpose or cause, expresses what the organization achieves for others, and aims to build relationships in the long term. And, unlike what the authors call "traditional branding," breakthrough branding involves everyone in the organization, not just the marketing or communications team. In short, you are not just saying it, you are doing it.

Breakthrough branding also involves making a shift in thinking. Your aim is not just to be well known, but to be "well owned," in other words, you should aim to make interactions meaningful. "Being better known does not equate to being better understood or valued," note authors Jocelyne Daw and Carol Cone. "Mass awareness is helpful, but it does not necessarily lead to support and less surely to love." Rather than experiencing themselves as mere names on a list, with a breakthrough brand supporters feel a pride of ownership and view the organization as an extension of themselves and a means to achieve goals they value.

Daw and Cone explain that meaningful two-way engagement accomplishes far more than any controlled message from the top ever could.

Importantly, building a breakthrough nonprofit brand does not have to be prohibitively expensive. Smart branding is about strategy, not costly ad campaigns, the authors explain. In fact, they argue that branding is one of the most cost-effective ways to strengthen and sustain an organization.

Seven Principles

Daw and Cone offer seven guiding principles for establishing a breakthrough nonprofit brand, listed below.

Principle One: Discover the Authentic Meaning of Your Brand
The authentic meaning of your brand provides the focus and framework for building your organization's strategies. It is the bridge between an organization's unwavering mission and its evolving strategies.

Principle Two: Embed Your Brand Meaning Across the Organization
A breakthrough brand embeds its meaning into every organizational function, from people management to information technology systems.

Principle Three: Rally Internal Brand Ambassadors
Potential supporters are often introduced to nonprofit brands through contact with internal constituents such as staff and volunteers.

Principle Four: Develop 360 Degree Brand Communications
Find authentic, compelling stories and utilize a variety of integrated communications, including online and off-line tools.

Principle Five: Expand Your Brand by Mobilizing an External Community
Provide a host of opportunities for supporters to interact with the organization in ways that align with the core brand meaning.

Principle Six: Cultivate Partners to Extend Your Brand Reach and Influence
A truly breakthrough nonprofit brand values strategic alliances that offer access to new expertise, relationships and assets.

Principle Seven: Leverage Your Brand for Alternative Revenue and Value
Charities can generate alternative revenue streams by mixing entrepreneurship, service delivery, savvy marketing and creative fundraising. Increasingly, nonprofits are applying for-profit business concepts  to address social and community challenges.

Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding: Seven Principles to Power Extraordinary Results offers case studies and examples, and offers clear principles for making a powerful brand. The book is part of the AFP Fund Development Series published by Wiley.



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