STRONG BRANDING IS FOR NONPROFITS, TOO
Phinney Bischoff is a brand, creative, and digital agency with 30 award winning years. Based in Seattle, with a satellite office in Sun Valley, ID, the agency has worked with local and internationally recognized nonprofits including; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Allen Institute for Brain Science, Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, YWCA, National MS Society, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Woodland Park Zoo, and Seattle Symphony.
The Importance of a Strong Brand
Since the U.S. recession began, Americans have dramatically reduced their giving to nonprofits and charitable organizations—“dropping their donations a total of about 20 percent,”* from pre-recession levels. The competition has increased—so as a nonprofit organization how do you stand out?
A strong brand is equally important for profit-driven companies as it is nonprofit organizations. It is the brand that communicates what is unique and special about the organization compared to other organizations in the industry. It highlights the benefits and creates an experience that engages people on an emotional level, encouraging them to support the brand over others. Strong branding can be the difference between failure and success for many organizations.
Great nonprofits represent their brand seamlessly through all that they do. Their communications, their visual identity, how they engage with and partner with others in the community, and how they motivate their staff act in concert to communicate their mission, vision, and the values that drive them. Their positioning, grounded in these core values, emphasizes their uniqueness and outlines core attributes that make their position believable to external audiences. And, positioning facilitates decision making by providing a guide for what the organization wants to be known for. An organization’s brand is the lens in which current actions and future planning can be viewed. Does it align? Will it make us stronger? Does it speak to our target in an authentic and meaningful way? Does this action represent who we are?
Learn from Success
Although many nonprofits suffer from poor branding, there are well-known nonprofits that thrive, and have represented themselves consistently. World Wildlife Fund, with the iconic, black and white panda logo and frequent pairing with celebrity endorsers, has created international awareness of their cause and gained over 83 million dollars in individual contributions in 2011 alone**.
The YMCA began as a national organization for Christian men, but through growth realized that it was a support system for all youth, and moved its identity simply to—The Y. Subsequently, The Y visually and structurally rebranded its organization to meet the changing needs of its target audiences and the growing impact within communities nationwide.
The Money Issue
An inherent deterrent to quality branding is lack of sufficient resources. Not only are budgets small and resources and staff limited, but the increased pressure to be a good financial steward for a nonprofit organization makes justifying expenditures in branding difficult for many. In turn, when considering investing in the organizations’ cause versus allocating funds towards branding and collateral materials, many nonprofits prefer the most immediate ROI. Beyond asking for in-kind pro bono work, many organizations find it beyond their reach to achieve the level of branding that they would like or need. Plus, as soon as the recession began, many marketing firms lost the wiggle room in their own budgets to perform pro bono for those in need.
The Answer is in the Scale
Fortunately, some agencies are willing to adapt and scale their services to account for smaller budgets. When working with a firm to scope out branding and marketing work, consider fewer rounds of revisions, a limit to the number of in-person meetings, and implementing phone-based stakeholder interviews in place of in-person interviews. Organizations may also be able to save on funds by taking on some of the scheduling or account management tasks that could be handled by their own team. By reducing the time spent in process and planning, a project estimate can be reduced by thousands of dollars.
In general, people want to work with people who are bettering our communities and our world. Although both parties want to work with each other, there are elements at hand that can easily block that opportunity. With a little creativity and a willingness to be transparent and open about budgets and needs during the planning process, both parties can benefit.
**WWF 2011 Annual Report