Nonprofits often do not have the budget to hire branding or marketing experts, especially in the first few years of operations. But branding is something nonprofits can’t ignore – because whether we want to admit it or not, our brand speaks to our audience before we ever get a word out of our mouths (or off the page) to tell them about all of the great work we do. Your logo, name and tagline are the first thing a potential donor sees in an appeal or on your website. The way you position yourself and emphasize your value in all of your communications are going to determine if your audience chooses to connect with you, and if and when they do, if they choose to continue engaging with and supporting you.
To maximize your fundraising, solidifying your brand can help. And this doesn’t have to mean professionally designed logos or an entirely new website. It just means, communicating and engaging with your audience in a way that is authentic, consistent, and forward-focused. To start, simply think in terms of how you can make your brand STICK:
Your brand should be steady. If nothing else, make your brand dependable. With few staff, the goal should be consistency rather than frequency. Whether you post once a week or once a month, be reliable – your supporters will look forward to the consistent updates (“absence makes the heart grow fonder” can work in your favor here!), and you’ll know you can manage at this capacity for the long term. A consistent video update from the Executive Director filmed on an iPhone can go much farther in terms of building reliability than posting highly designed quotes and professional photos daily.
Your brand should be trustworthy. Trust is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of a nonprofit’s relationship with its supporters. To gain trust, the key is authenticity – honoring the organization for what it is and what it stands for. Is your organization inherently traditional or more modern? Do you push boundaries and test new ideas or stay on the proven path? There are no wrong answers here, but you must be willing to be who you naturally are as an organization to really connect with your donors and supporters in a meaningful way. A grassroots advocacy organization needs to be beating the drum about local issues and sharing messages from other local activists, but if an animal shelter starts sharing their views on political issues unrelated to their mission, a mismatch forms and your audience is left questioning who your organization is. If you reflect authenticity toward your mission in your communications, you’ll build trust. And trust is the basis for a successful, happy, long term donor relationship.
Your brand should be inspirational. The work we do in the nonprofit sector can be daunting and at times discouraging. Crafting a brand that evokes hope and forward movement, one that helps people focus on the potential of achieving your organization’s vision, is key to keeping your donors and supporters engaged. For example, let’s think about a hospice, an organization dealing with what is often the most difficult experience a family ever goes through. Hospice can still bring hope, though – through the ideas of minimizing suffering and cherishing last memories with loved ones. Now think about your organization – how can you draw out hope, even though the work you do may be inherently difficult or overwhelming?
Your brand should be cohesive. Does your website “speak the same language” as your print materials? Are your team members all telling the same story of who your organization is when they are connecting with community members? For your brand to be most effective, everyone and everything needs to be on the same page. Luckily, by practicing authenticity and consistency, you’re already well on your way to creating that unified message.
(As for a K… I am not that clever!)
If your organization can continuously demonstrate that the brand and message you are portraying is who you truly are, you’re already a step closer to gaining that donation, a new volunteer, or finding another client in need of services. Aka, your brand is literally making your mission happen!
The great news is, there are many free and low-cost tools out there to help organizations in their branding. If you are looking to learn more about design, check out Youtube, Udemy, or other sites for courses from professionals. If you think you have a good grasp but just need help implementing, check out Canva, Projector, Gimp or many others. There is a lot out there to give you a leg up in putting your best branding foot forward – Google can be your best friend here.
Above all else though, it’s important to not get bogged down in minutiae. Small and incremental steps forward are much more impactful than getting paralyzed by overwhelm and not doing anything at all. When I don’t know where to start, I always come back to this Arthur Ashe quote, which reminds me how important it is to just take the very first step:
If you just keep focusing on creating a brand that sticks – one that builds trusts, inspires, and provides a consistent& cohesive relationship with your supporters – you’ll resonate with that audience, and they’ll be much more likely to keep coming back to support you, again and again.
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