pinkie swear

Okay people, let’s dispel the brand misconception right here and now: Your brand isn’t your logo or your brochure or the design of your website or a better-crafted pitch letter. None of these things are a magic bullet to attract more supporters to your cause or more donors to your door.

Many nonprofits have internalized the concept of strategic communications over the past few years, becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of identifying target audiences and creating messages to reach them. That’s a smart and important move.

Yet, many of these same nonprofits still don’t get the concept of branding, which is the work of communicating the deeper essence of the organization and its vision. Some nonprofit leaders fear that there’s something unsavory about branding or think that they don’t need a brand—or worse, as a nonprofit, that they don’t even have a brand. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Your brand is your reputation. A nonprofit’s brand describes how the organization lives and encapsulates its deepest values. Understanding your organization’s brand is a way to understand what your constituents see when they look at you. In other words, your brand is sum of the bonds that people have to your organization.

Each year, Cone evaluates the top nonprofit brands in the nation, ranking the best-known, most-trusted organizations. They also ask the leaders of these organizations to reveal their secrets of what makes a powerful nonprofit brand. In particular, these folks really get it:

“Consistent commitment to an unwavering mission that is recognized as credible and honest, stands with integrity of purpose and is unbendingly true to its purpose.”
Father Larry Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA

“Trust and relevance are the corner stones of building a powerful nonprofit brand. Community members, policy leaders and other organizations trust Goodwill to consistently deliver on its mission.”
Jim Gibbons, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries International

“Once you decide what you want your brand to mean, everything about the way the organization does business must be aligned with that meaning. Finally, you must remain diligent about keeping that alignment, but also about constantly reevaluating and refining your approach.”
Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc of the United States

You’ll note that these leaders aren’t talking about the color of their logos—they’re talking about living their mission with integrity, about giving people a reason to bond with your organization.

Actively shaping your brand means finding ways to demonstrate your values through your work and to live up to the ideals of your organization. A well-defined brand is a measure of how well your programs are aligned with mission and values.

Your donors, your volunteers, and the people you serve all have a heartfelt tie to the organization and the work you do. So, how does your organization cultivate those connections? How are you forging stronger bonds with your closest supporters?

How are you helping people bond with your organization? By demonstrating your values in everything you say and do. When you do that you’re also building a powerful brand.

(Image © Lauren Girardin, used with permission.)

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Holly Minch is LightBox Collaborative’s chief engineer and founder. She hopes to see you at her November 15 CompassPoint workshop on “Branding is Bonding.”