The mission is the message


While many leaders at nonprofits understand what a consumer brand such as Apple is and the importance of branding for consumer products and services, they often don’t see the power and value in branding their own nonprofit.

Lack of clarity about or within a nonprofit can often result from the absence of a core brand that connects with the intended audience. The key to fundraising success is impactful branding – develop a strong nonprofit brand that will create stronger connections with a wider audience.

What is a nonprofit brand? Essentially, it is the reputation you have for delivering on your mission. More than just your mission statement, it is the “personality” of your organization, the character traits you want it to possess – responsive, trustworthy, strong – how you want to be seen and the “gut feeling” someone has about your organization.

Current and potential donors will “brand” your organization and develop an impression on their own, whether you take ownership or not. By actively participating in the branding process, you can intentionally shape your target audience’s perception about your nonprofit.

How can you develop a strong brand? Here are some things to consider:

Differentiate. Identify your organization’s core strengths and value proposition. Is your mission clear and easy to understand? What are your core competencies or your brand’s singular distinction? You may want to focus on one or two attributes, as the best brands are often the simplest. Look at GuideStar ( to see what other organizations similar to yours are doing.

Establish credibility. Donors and volunteers need to have trust and belief in your ability to deliver on your mission’s promise. A strong, accountable board of directors and solid management practices can establish credibility amongst donors and confidence that their money will help those it is intended to.

Be real. Represent the cause you support in a way that links your mission and is authentic and true to what you do. The more your brand is viewed as true to its cause, the more you will be likely to attract a wider audience.

Know your audience. Who are they? What do they think when they hear the name of your organization? What do you want them to think? What motivates them to get involved?

Understanding the motivations of each of your target audience segments is critical to developing appropriate messages for each. Once you understand who your audiences are, craft a plan on how to reach them.

Tap into emotion. How do you want your audience to feel about you when they see or hear your brand? Strong nonprofit brands elicit strong emotions and heartfelt connections. The very nature of nonprofits gives you an advantage in creating powerful brands that use emotion to get people to rally behind your cause.

Tell a story. Stories about your organization and the people you serve enhance the meaning of your mission and build connections to what you do. Livestrong®, the non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by cancer has built its message strategy around the personal stories of cancer survivors with its “It’s About You” media campaign.

Be consistent. Your core brand message should always remain the same, but how it is presented can be unique for each person or target segment. Rebecca Leek, author of “Message Matters,” says in her book, “Words are flexible, the message is not.”

All events, activities, programs, internal and external communication should reflect your unique brand identity and support and/or build on your overall brand.

Live the message. Every interaction your organization or its members (from board president to receptionist or volunteer) has with the public – oral, visual and written – impacts the brand image of your organization and how it is viewed by those in the community.

How you answer the phone, how responsive you are to an inquiry, how you appear in public, your behavior at meetings and the language and tone of your letters, emails, brochures, newsletters, “tweets” on Twitter, postings on Facebook– every point of contact is an opportunity to reinforce (or undermine) your brand image and in the case of social media, guide the conversation to shape your brand perception.

Developing an effective powerful brand will allow you to efficiently and effectively communicate your organization’s mission and values in a unique way, creating the perception that no one could do it better or smarter.