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.

Turning 25: It’s a Big Deal for Nonprofits

The twenty-fifth year may not seem like an essential milestone for nonprofits, but it is a critical juncture at which many organizations either begin a slow march toward decline or pivot toward new, more effective ways of doing business.

To survive (and thrive) during this transitional point, organizations should look at these three things:

I. Leadership

II. Branding

III. Delivery

I. Leadership.

Who is in control? Is the organization’s founder still at the helm, or is a senior staff member who has been there for more than 10 years in charge?  After twenty five years, fresh perspective is essential for growth. Celebrate the visionaries who have organization so far, but bring in a leader who has the growth mindset and energy to make positive change.

II. Branding.

A clear, fresh brand is critical to reposition an organization and its image in the communities where the organization exists and which it seeks to influence. Step outside of the organization and look through the eyes of public. What does the nonprofit’s image, communications, mission statement, and overall aesthetic look like? Ask yourself what this impression means and how it impacts those who receive it. There are numerous companies that specialize in branding. A worthwhile investment for a nonprofit is to work with an outside firm that doesn’t see things through the same lens as the staff or board of directors. A fresh perspective will allow the organization to expand beyond its current branding limitations.

III. Delivery.

Take this moment in the organization’s history to look at delivery. How are the programs delivered? How are you acquiring the constituents you serve? What is the impact? Is the impact what is most needed in your target communities at this time?  Often, there are better ways to deliver your product. But it requires the courage to break the norm and change the organization’s processes, procedures, and staff.

Reevaluating leadership, branding, and mode of delivery can set your nonprofit up for positive change that invigorates donors, funders, community members, and those served by the organization. How will your organization evolve?

PricingPrivacy PolicyRefund Policy