Daw and her co-authors in their book on Nonprofit branding ( 2011,p.19) report that:” The world now boasts more than 2 million nonprofits fueled by a 35% increase in the number of organizations in United States and Canada in the past decade alone. In this complicated philanthropic marketplace, people are overwhelmed by a deluge of over complicated messages from a vast array of organizations –which are often difficult to distinguish.” This statement is itself is likely overwhelming to Executives running small local nonprofits. It will likely make them think how will they ever utilize their brand to gain the support they need to keep their charity sustainable? These same authors do go on to point out that ( Daw,J.S et al p.20): “ A strong brand can be a nonprofit’ s most valuable asset. It can carry an organization through good times and bad as well as predispose people toward a personal and emotional connection to the group it represents. Because it is linked to reputation, a strong brand drives tremendous economic, social and political gains for its organization. In fact, in most cases, brand accounts for more than 50% of a nonprofit organizations market value.”
Most of my CEO/Executive Director colleagues would say “Ronald McDonald House is a strong internationally recognized brand- why do you have to worry about your brand?” What many people don’t realize is that the RMHs are individually owned and operated by local boards and charities. We have a licensing agreement with the global charity not unlike McDonald’s franchisees. In our local market we need to be very concerned about our brand for our own wealth fare but also for the reputation of all the other RMHs throughout the world. Having a recognizable brand throughout the world is a great thing to be able to leverage off of, but this is not to say that that international brand cannot be better utilized as well. In his book The End of Fundraising Jason Saul (2011) talks about his work with both local Ronald McDonald House Chapters as well as the Global RMHC charity. He points out that the organizations typically have described things like how many families use the Houses or how many stay each night in the Houses but not the real impact of the Houses. In his book Saul talks about how the Southern California chapter began to change their brand to reflect the impact and the difference the House made for families.
For our own Houses this approach has made a significant change in our ability to attract volunteer and new donors. At every fundraising event, in newsletters and on videos we have families tell their story of how the House has impacted them personally when their family was going through the worst time in their lives. We want our brand to reflect the difference we make for children and families – not just that we are an inexpensive place to stay when your child is sick.
It is also interesting that being able to describe your impact to your other stakeholders beyond your users can have an effect on the support you receive. Saul describes;” But now that RMHC is in a position to demonstrate the economic value they create for hospitals, they can approach hospitals as impact buyers and generate significantly greater support.” In this example Saul is referring to research that having a Ronald McDonald House nearby the Hospital reduced length of stay and cost to the medical system. In the past some hospitals would donate land for chapters to build RMHs, armed with this information more hospitals started to become cash donors to their local RMH. More recently the global charity has worked with researchers and found evidence that children heal faster when their family is able to be close to them and that there are positive treatment effects when the family stays at a Ronald McDonald House. Imagine the brand implications of being able to now demonstrate that your organization not only provides a place to stay, but it’s impact is that kids actually get better sooner and that the cost to the health system is less (I live in Canada where the government and the taxpayer pay for our healthcare system). Being able to convey this greater impact allows your brand to resonate more with potential donors and volunteers.
A small local charity may or may not be able to enlist researchers to prove the impact of their organization. Regardless every charity can capitalize on enlisting users to describe the impact the organization has made for them personally. With the tools and technology available the stories can be captured on video and text and it is now easier and less costly to share these messages. A small charity should look for opportunities to shape their brand with messages of the impact; in our charity we always have families tell their story because their story is our story and no one tells it better than the family who has lived through it.
Daw,J.S, Cone,C, Merenda,D,M & Erhard.C (2011) Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding: Seven Principles to
power extraordinary results: New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Saul, J (2011) The End of Fundraising: Raise more money by selling your impact: San Francisco;