Authenticity is the Key to Effective Nonprofit Branding

Image courtesy of Edgethreesixty Branding

An organization should ask itself everyday: does our brand reflect our identity? If the answer is anything but a solid “yes” it is time to institute change – fast.

Knowing who you are is the bedrock of effective communication. Everyday dispatches – including visual materials, internal and external communications, solicitations, call-to-actions, invitations, and annual reports – must project your organization’s brand and channel the key components of its identity succinctly.

Here are some informal case studies that demonstrate a variety of branding weaknesses.

The Philadelphia Orchestra demonstrates value by leveraging the name of its all-star music director. Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s name has become a stamp of approval on the orchestra’s communications materials, signaling a central role in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s public identity.

This is an interesting take on branding, albeit a somewhat short-sighted one. While the institution’s mark will stay the same, the music director will change over the years, thereby leaving the impression that the orchestra is most powerful and impactful with a “name” associated with it.

Another case study: the Please Touch Museum.

The institution’s trademarked name fails to convey its identity clearly. Originally located in Center City Philadelphia, the museum is now situated in Fairmont Park in a renovated historic building. Please Touch Museum’s current tagline which focuses on this geography, leaving its purpose in the dark. Using hyper-local terms alienates out-of-town tourists, decreasing the likelihood of them exploring this gem of a museum.

If the organization’s leadership wishes to reach a broader audience of families and donors in the greater Philadelphia area and establish the museum on national and international levels, it should consider revisiting its branding to underscore the experience visitors can expect. “Please Touch Museum® where kids learn through play,” is one fitting example.

Let’s look at one last case: The Salvation Army. The international humanitarian organization’s motto is “Doing the Most Good,” and the group maintains a commitment to “meet human need without discrimination.” There have been – however, a number of controversies over the past 15 years, including firsthand accounts of LGBQT individuals facing discrimination when seeking services from The Salvation Army. By directly contradicting its stated mission and ethical practices, this discrimination obviously does not mesh well with its public image. Critics of the organization have used the evident irony behind this brand to underscore the organization’s perceived hypocrisy.

Since accusations of anti-LGBTQ discrimination emerged, the organization has taken strides to improve its treatment of gay and lesbian individuals. Transgender people, however, are still frequently discriminated against and experience difficulty obtaining temporary housing through The Salvation Army. As long as the organization does not live up to its brand, critics will still be able to use it against the group, diminishing its effectiveness and preventing it from pursing its mission.
The most important component that could improve these brands: authenticity. Authentic branding and a clear understanding of organizational identity are key to developing a strong base of followers, donors, and patrons.

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