Building a Strong Nonprofit Brand [Step-by-step Guide + Free Resources]

Having a strong brand is not just a great idea for commercial organizations. Nonprofits, NGOs, Social Enterprise also need to create and manage a strong brand. In this article, we’ll help you get started share a couple of advanced strategies and (free) resources and courses to become better each and every month.

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You might not think about branding when you think about nonprofits, NGOs, and other social enterprises. Branding sounds like something strictly for big businesses. The truth is branding is an important factor for nonprofit organizations just as much as it is for businesses. Branding is all about your public image. It’s how the world sees your organization and the work you do.

A strong brand can help you raise money, increase awareness, and build a reputation. Here’s why you need a strong brand as a nonprofit organization and some tips for creating a brand strategy.

What is branding?

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos

What is branding

Branding can be explained in many different ways. We chose Jeff Bezos’s explanation because we feel it goes further than just business and ROI.

What is brand identity?

Next to having an understanding of what a brand is, we also need to understand what the identity of a brand is. This is the starting point of your branding journey.

Investopedia offers a useful definition of Brand Identity:

Brand identity is the visible elements of a brand, such as color, design, and logo, that identify and distinguish the brand in consumers’ minds. Brand identity is distinct from brand image. The former corresponds to the intent behind the branding and the way a company does the following — all to cultivate a certain image in consumers’ minds:

  • Chooses its name
  • Designs its logo
  • Uses colors, shapes, and other visual elements in its products and promotions,
  • Etc.” 

A great Branding book

We find “The Brand Handbook” by Wally Olins to be a very helpful starting point to understanding brands better. The book offers exactly the expansion of vocabulary and tools to get a much better grip on brands, brand identity and brand management.

The multi-award-winning book was one of the world’s most respected and experienced practitioners of corporate identity and branding.

Get it on Amazon

Why Do Nonprofit Organizations Need Branding?

Branding isn’t just for businesses, it’s for all organizations that maintain a public appearance. Think about some of the most well-known nonprofit organizations like Pencils of Promise or Habitat for Humanity. The odds are you have a very clear picture of these brands already, just from what you already know about them. That’s what branding does. It shapes the way the organization’s messages are received by the public.

It’s not enough to have a great cause you’re fighting for as a nonprofit. You need to know how to market that cause in a way that people will actually want to help. Branding helps your organization stand out in a world with so many different causes. It helps the public learn about your story and how you make the world a better place. People like to donate and volunteer for organizations they trust and understand. Your branding bridges this gap between average people and your organization!

Start with the Core Idea and Purpose

When creating a strong brand for a Nonprofit or NGO, you should always start with the core, which is the Core Idea and purpose of your organization.

Olins underlines the importance of working from the inside out when it comes to brand, purpose, and consistency:  

Outward consistency of this kind will only be achieved, and for that matter is only appropriate if it is the manifestation of an inward consistency — a consistency of purpose. This consistency of purpose derives from the vision, or the core idea, and is almost always the base from which a successful branding program(me) can be developed. 

Arguably, it’s far easier for a Nonprofit to state its Core Idea and Purpose than it is for a commercial organization.

Create a Brand Book to collect everything there is to know about your brand

Create a Brand Book which tells the story of why your NGO was founded, by whom, how it evolved to what it is today. Check out this great free resource to get started with creating a Brand Book.

What is a Brand Book?

  • Brand Book inspires and helps keep people in your Nonprofit aligned with the Purpose or core idea of your organization. A Brand Book helps to communicate the story and purpose of your charity.

Want some inspiration? Here are some great Brand Book / Style Guide examples for Nonprofits.

Create your visual identity

Now that you know what your nonprofit stands for, it’s time to collect how the brand should look like and how it should be communicated in a Brand Style Guide.

What should be included in a Brand Style Guide?

  • Color codes;
  • Logo (variations)
  • Tone of voice (ToV)
  • Typography
  • How people should use images
  • Anything else that helps to keep your branding consistent.

Create your own Brand Style Guide

In the examples of the resource provided, you can see that Charity: water goes beyond just stating the colors and typography and also showcase what kind of images they want to be used along with their brand. They state that they want to focus on hope (so images that inspire hope) instead of poverty and despair.

Don’t worry about creating a perfect Brand Style Guide. Just start and add to it month over month as your brand grows.

The importance of Brand Consistency for your Nonprofit Brand

After you’ve figured out what your Core Idea, Purpose, and Visual Identity is, and you have created a Brand Book and Brand Style Guide, you must ensure that your brand is being communicated consistently.

People can almost never remember a brand after seeing it just once. They need to see a brand several times to remember it.

Next to that, people need to trust your Charity. If you communicate from the Core Idea and Purpose consistently, people will understand the story you’re trying to tell. If not, chances are that your message is all over the place and people can’t follow and understand what you’re trying to convey.

Third, you should be telling a story. This is how you’ll stand apart from similar Nonprofits. Just a single scroll through Facebook will show you just how many causes and charities there are out there nowadays. They’re all fighting for the same public support, and it’s harder than ever to get heard. Break through this noise by telling your unique story with all of your creative elements. How does your logo share your story? How do your social media posts share your story? Keep this story close to your marketing strategy since it’s the heart of your project.

Fourth, after achieving Brand Awareness and Trust and after you have told Stories about your Core Idea and Purpose, it’s easier to get people to take action. Either apply to volunteer, donate to your cause or anything else.

Why is Brand Consistency important for Nonprofits?

  1. Being consistent helps to create Brand Awareness for your Nonprofit easier.
  2. Brand Consistency helps build trust within an audience.
  3. Brand Consistency helps tell a story from beginning to end.
  4. Ultimately, Brand Consistency helps drive more bottom-line results.

How (large) Nonprofits can Manage their Brand like a Pro

If you’re a larger Nonprofit, it can be very difficult to stay on brand while managing a large amount of content, working remote, owning multiple marketing channels, etc., etc. Luckily tech can help. You could opt-in for a Brand Management Solution with an integrated Brand Center and Digital Asset Management system that will make just about all aspects of your brand management easier, faster, and better.

A Brand Management Solution helps to:

1. Create and Manage cloud-based and user-friendly Brand Style Guides. Your brand guidelines:

  • Are easy to find by all employees and partners who promote your brand
  • Interact with the reader and have direct uploads to your fonts, logos, etc.
  • Are available in one place only for easy updating and to prevent duplicate files
  • Can easily be shared with partners, distributors, and agencies

2. Collaborate easier. It enables partners and employees to always stay on brand by

  • Creating locked, on-brand content templates that can be edited without design skills.
  • Making your brand guidelines interactive and easy to find.
  • Managing user rights, so no external partner and employees have access to material that is not for their eyes.
  • Supporting different languages so everyone can work with the same solution no matter the region.

Get Serious About Your Branding and Marketing

A lot of new nonprofit organizations make the mistake of thinking the cause will market or brand itself. It’s easy to believe so many people will be empowered by your message that it will spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more planning than that. There’s a lot that goes into a strong marketing strategy like content marketing, advertisements, and social media campaigns. That’s a lot for a single group to take on. Many branding experts like Rocket Pilots advise that it’s worth recruiting the expertise of professionals who do the heavy lifting for you.

When in doubt, start small with your marketing. Optimize your website with SEO so more consumers can find you in their search results. Write blog posts that reflect your brand messaging and that are easy to share on social media. Most of all, interact with your audience. Start a conversation around your cause and educate people about why it’s important.

Conclusion

Branding is a key element of any successful nonprofit organization. You don’t have to be a marketing guru to create a winning brand for your organization as long as you keep the focus on your unique story and connecting with others. As long as you take a proactive approach to your branding, your cause will benefit!

You have a story to tell. We want to help.

Let’s create memorable content and reach tens of thousands of people.

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