Nonprofit Marketing: 6 Steps to a Better Nonprofit Brand


As seen in Chronicle of Philanthropy! Yep, that Chronicle of Philanthropy.

If you are not a subscriber, you can read the article here…

Instead of chasing donors in 2019, focus on creating strong and consistent communications that set your nonprofit apart. Developing a strong identity for your organization helps attract like-minded donors and strengthen relationships with your supporters.

Here are six steps to create a brand that resonates with donors.

1. Assess your marketing efforts. Conduct a two-part evaluation of your marketing materials. First, take an inventory of all your communications: brochures, emails, newsletters, annual report, fundraising appeals, mailings, social-media outreach, and website. Itemize expenses related to producing each, including staff time, and look at the income generated from each. Some are easier to measure than others, and at times you may need to guess, but that's OK. The purpose is to understand your investment in each item. It can also help you prioritize limited resources.

The second part of the assessment is a "brand review." Assemble all the items listed above. Gather a few people from the staff, board, and committees, and ask these questions for each item:

  • Does the material visually represent our organization?

  • Is it consistent in color, design, and layout?

  • Does it all look like one family, and does that family accurately represent our organizational personality?

  • Are the messages inspiring? Do they move people to action?

  • Do the materials tell a compelling and cohesive story?

Record your answers, indicating needed improvements. When you are finished, you should have a clear understanding of what resonates with donors, what's missing the mark, and how to craft a more cohesive and compelling message.

2. Define your audience. This can be tough because nonprofits often want to appeal to everyone. Resist that urge and instead pick two or three audiences to address. A strong brand requires consistency and repetition; serving too many audiences dilutes both. It takes discipline to keep a laser focus on these audiences, but that is how you break through the communications clutter.

3. Establish an emotional connection, or "brand promise." This step tells supporters you know and understand them. You don't need to state it directly, it's understood. How can you develop a brand promise? Ask these questions to different members of your audiences and look for the strongest, deepest emotional connection.

  • What first attracted you to this organization?

  • What do you tell your friends or colleagues about us?

  • If you believe strongly in our work, why do you feel that way?

Identifying your brand promise allows you to create communications built on that connection. It helps you stay relevant to your audiences. Here's an example of a brand promise. The nonprofit Justine Petersen provides business loans and mortgages to low- and moderate-income people whom traditional banks often reject. The group's brand promise is: "You are worthy of investment." Making clients feel worthy permeates the organization. It's how the receptionist greets clients and how loan counselors interact with them. That attitude also comes through in the annual report and on the website.

4. Create a "main message" to tell people why they should care. This is an audience-directed statement that describes the overall benefit of your organization and explains why people should care about your work. It can also be called a tagline. This is not a mission statement (an internal statement that gives an organization direction).

For example, Oasis Institute, a group with chapters across the country, provides educational, health, and volunteer opportunities to senior adults. Oasis is the name for a lot of things — a British rock band, a pool-cleaning company, a spa — so the group needed a main message that differentiates it, conveys its purpose, and shares its promise: an active, engaged, interesting lifestyle as one ages.

Its main message, "Oasis: Lifelong Adventure," fulfills a brand promise and conveys the group's mission. This short message explains whom the organization serves (lifelong learners) and how (adventure) without using labels like "senior" or other age-related words.

5. Develop talking points to share a consistent message with ease. The most common way audiences interact with a nonprofit's brand is through in-person events. Talking points help leaders share your organization's story with confidence and should cover these four areas.

What we do. This is a general description of your nonprofit and is not tailored to any particular audience.

How we do it. This describes the programs and services you offer to accomplish your mission.

Why you should care. This should be tailored to each audience. Corporate donors may care about sales, and individual donors may care about recognition. Adapt your talking points to motivate each group.

What you can do. This is a call to action that's tailored to each of your audiences.

Here's an example of talking points from Community Living. This is targeted toward potential parents of adults with disabilities.

What we do. We work to enrich the lives of people with disabilities so they can achieve their highest potential.

How we do it. We provide children and adults with services and programs that allow them to live, learn, and work in our community. In turn, they make our community inclusive, diverse, and a better place to live.

Why you should care. We are there from early childhood to adulthood, helping your child lead as independent and productive a life as possible. Our clients are out working and volunteering in the community. And if caring for your child is keeping you from working and causing financial strain, we can help. Our programs allow time away so you can find employment.

What you can do. Please call us today to learn more about how we can help you and your child.

Discuss your talking points with the appropriate people in your organization so all are comfortable sharing your story in person.

6. Share your messages across all communication channels. Now that you have your brand promise, main message, and talking points, grab that communications assessment and see where adjustments or updates are needed.

Do you need new photos to better illustrate your story? Should you update your brochures or website? What about social-media pages or posts? Do they reflect your brand? Don't get overwhelmed or think you need to start from scratch. Update what you can initially and make a plan to implement remaining changes over time.

Maryanne Dersch