For many nonprofit organizations, the cause caps everything else. This is for good reason; when donors seek out organizations to contribute to, they search for a place that they know is dedicated to their mission and will use their funds to make the largest impact possible.
However, changes in the philanthropy sector have forced many nonprofit organizations to reevaluate how they connect with potential donors and beneficiaries. With a new generation becoming increasingly engaged in social activism and determined to make a difference, the challenge is even greater for nonprofits to distinguish themselves and gain attention from donors. If it sounds cutthroat, it’s because it is. Even across the endless network of social causes, nonprofits will find themselves competing with each other for resources on social media and elsewhere.
This has led to a restructuring in how nonprofits operate; while the mission still comes first, branding has become increasingly important to position organizations well. Though nonprofits construe themselves much differently than corporations, competition still very much exists.
With that in mind, I’d like to present a few ways that nonprofits are capable of improving their brands even with limited resources.
Building a brand sounds like a difficult proposition; after all, a brand is created through success, strong outreach, and capable leadership, but at the same time, all of those things are created through having a strong brand. With a strong brand, more potential consumers or donors are driven toward the organization in question.
So where do we start in this seemingly continual circle? Communications is a good springboard. Flashy ad campaigns may be the first thing that comes to mind when we think “branding,” but communicating well and building strong relationships with donors is the best way to spread a nonprofit’s reputation through word of mouth, which is the best kind of organic endorsement.
Chances are, if you have a nonprofit looking to support a philanthropic cause, you’ll likely have some sort of following heavily invested in your cause. Part of branding is leveraging this audience and getting them engaged and involved.
Do they want to help spread your story? Let them, and even better than that, give them the tools to do it. Encourage your audience to subscribe to your social media feeds, and you’ll find that they’re willing to spread content on your behalf, while connecting you to more like-minded individuals. And if something goes viral along the way, all the better for your organization.
As I said earlier, the cause caps everything else. Branding only detracts from the mission when you focus on it at the expense of your other operations. In fact, branding should fuel your audience’s understanding of your intended mission, as well as the change and impact you hope to have on the world. Don’t mire your mission statement in corporate jargon; be direct and honest with what you are trying to achieve.
Similarly, transparency about finances and funding goes a long way toward proving your authenticity as an organization. Websites such as Charitywatch and Charity Navigator give potential donors ways to preemptively screen organizations; if your nonprofit is less than forthcoming with financial information, people will take notice and become suspicious.
Think about your own brand
As a leader of your organization, it’s up to you to be a passionate champion for your cause. Not only that, but you will likely be, in some capacity, the face of your organization. Take time to ensure that you’re presenting yourself as such. Do research on developments in your field and share your findings. Engage personally with your audience. Be friendly and compassionate, and people will respect you for it.
Most of all, be aware that everything you say or do is likely to be remembered, particularly if it’s saved somewhere on the Internet. Always think about how what you’re doing reflects on you and, by extent, your organization.
Build your network
With passionate followers willing to support your cause, you receive organic advertising that can carry more weight than any poster or commercial. But why stop with donors? Engage with other nonprofits who you believe can add value to your goals, creating partnerships with similarly brand-conscious companies. Sell yourselves and the ways your relationships can be mutually beneficial.
Even within your organization, speak with your board of directors and involve them in your company. Report on your successes and keep them well-informed of your future plans. Having a board that is just as passionate as you are can do wonders when it comes to generating a brand and even building out your network further. As with the for profit sector, it’s all about who you know.