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  • Writer's pictureMikaela Bolling

What is brand strategy? Nonprofit Edition.

“Brand strategy” may ring differently for nonprofits.

Nonprofits often don’t use the typical definitions of customers, marketing, and profit meant for corporations and businesses. This can make marketing information unrelatable to Executive Directors and Communication Managers.

However, if you substitute customers for stakeholders, marketing for communications, and profit for impact, then for-profit and nonprofit marketing aren’t so different.

So what is brand strategy and why does it matter to your nonprofit?

First, let’s be clear, nonprofits have a brand and everything revolves around this brand! Nonprofits aren’t typically selling a product or service, instead they are selling feelings to donors, whether that is hope, valid concern, or warm, fuzzy feelings. Selling feelings can be difficult since the donor isn’t getting anything tangible in return. That makes a nonprofit’s brand even more important than a regular business.

The donor is asking themselves questions like:

  • How reputable is the nonprofit (i.e. the brand)?

  • Will this nonprofit use my money wisely?

  • Does this nonprofit have a history of making an impact?

  • Does this organization make me feel a certain way?

The brand is everything! It’s your credibility.

A good brand strategy = committed donors.

Many nonprofits go through a transition phase. When the nonprofit is in its early years it is usually funded by the founder’s close network or personal relationships. As the nonprofit gets older, it needs to make the jump to being funded by people who are loyal to the nonprofit, not just the founder. If that founder leaves or retires, the money essentially goes with them, leaving a valuable cause unfunded and unknown. Therefore, the donors need to start becoming loyal to the brand. The sooner that a strong brand strategy can be developed in a nonprofit, the less reliant the nonprofit will be on the founder’s original network.

What is brand strategy?

A brand strategy for nonprofits is the intentional positioning of the brand, compared to other nonprofits and in the minds of their donors. It answers the questions:

  • Why is your nonprofit different from other similar nonprofits?

  • Why do you matter to the world?

  • What do you stand for and what are your values?

  • Do your donors care about your mission?

  • And if not, how do we make them care or how do we adapt it to have maximum impact?

Brand strategy has many elements but it can be stripped down to two buckets: the visual identity and the brand story. This is because you want your audience to identify who you are through multiple senses (through their eyes with consistent visuals and with their ears and eyes through the story and messaging.)

What is messaging as it relates to brand strategy?

Brand messaging is all about the nonprofit’s story and it really comes down to why people care. A good brand story is one that aligns with the nonprofit’s mission but also deeply connects with its donors and stakeholders. It must be emotive.

When you work on brand strategy with an agency, first you will define the story of your brand, which includes:

  • Mission, Vision, Values

  • Tagline

  • Your unique “selling” point or differentiator: For nonprofits, this is the unique reason why a donor would donate to your organization over another

  • Positioning Statement

  • Elevator Pitch

  • Key messages for your audiences

  • Brand voice and personality

Nonprofits often have a good grasp of their mission, vision, and values. They live and breathe it. But what often gets difficult is explaining what they do and why they matter in a concise and compelling way for donors.

Often we hear nonprofits say that they don’t know how to talk about themselves, don’t know how to explain all of their programs under one umbrella, or aren’t relevant anymore in the cultural landscape. The messaging component of a brand strategy can help simplify how they talk about themselves in an emotive and relevant way.

What is branding in graphic design?

Graphic design is often what people think about when someone says “branding.” This relates to the visual identity of a brand and is the consistent look and feel.

The visual identity that graphic design helps create includes the:

  • Logo

  • Colors

  • Fonts

  • Icons

  • Photos and Videos

The visual side of the brand must also be emotive and connect to the mission and story of the nonprofit. Visual consistency is a key area many nonprofits could improve upon to ensure their impact is being taken seriously.

Brand strategy is future-proofing your nonprofit

Many nonprofits today are dealing with outdated messaging and communication strategies that are not future-proof. As an Executive Director, you know you need to attract new, younger donors, yet the story of your organization has not yet been adapted to connect with them. It doesn’t speak to the wants and needs of the upcoming generation of donors, communicating the urgency, relevancy, and impact of the cause in a way that evokes strong feelings that lead to action.

If this is your nonprofit, then you need to take a deep look at your brand strategy.

We can help.

To fit the urgency and needs of nonprofits, we are offering an accelerated Nonprofit Communications Intensive. In only two short weeks, you’ll understand where your marketing, communications, and brand strategy can be improved and have a roadmap to get you there.

If you’re ready to build your roadmap to a better brand strategy, schedule your 30-minute intake meeting where we will explain the process, ensure you are the right fit, and schedule your first session.

Learn more about creating a nonprofit Brand Strategy with us. Contact us for more information!


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