Having had some great marketing people on boards I have worked for, the importance of “brand” has always been discussed at board meetings or during strategic planning sessions. We have learned some great concepts and practices from the for- profit sector, but I have always wondered “shouldn’t a nonprofits brand be used in a different way? “Over the last few years as the use of social media has grown and become so pervasive it has struck me that how nonprofits manage their brand might actually be underutilizing the potential of their brand in terms of the impact it may have. For example Blake ( 2014) describes: ”…social media is revolutionizing the way we lead, the way we live and the way we connect with ourselves and others. It is changing the way we in the voluntary sector expect to achieve change and create the better world we seek. That makes it a big deal.” With the power of social media platforms authors such as Levinson et. al. (2010) suggests that nonprofit organizations need to consider opportunities to take advantage of this ability to spread information quickly. These authors advise:” Give people the content they need to pass on your viral marketing. Provide assets for your audience to make their own videos, allow them to put their pictures in an e-card, anything that helps to put them into the storyline and send to their contacts (Levison et al.,2010, p.199). This sounds like really practical advice, but many of the marketing professionals that I have even worked with might quickly sound the alarms about losing control of the brand if you do this.
Kylander and Stone (2012) have some very interesting perspectives on the role of brand for the nonprofit and how the paradigm may be changing . They explain:” . Although many nonprofits continue to take a narrow approach to brand management, using it as a tool for fundraising, a growing number are moving beyond that approach to explore the wider, strategic roles that brands can play: driving broad, long-term social goals, while strengthening internal identity, cohesion, and capacity (Kylander &, Stone, 2012). As leaders of nonprofits we think of brand in terms of its ability to support our fundraising efforts. These authors point out: “Brand managers in these pioneering organizations were focusing less on revenue generation and more on social impact and organizational cohesion. Indeed, some of the most interesting brand strategies are being developed in endowed, private foundations with no fundraising targets at all.”
As nonprofit leaders we have a high awareness that we need to continuously raise revenue and find new sources of revenue to continue to deliver our mission. It seems reasonable that we would consider the for- profit sectors use of brand to maximize revenue as having a good fit with our own organizations. Kylander & Stone (2012) point out:” The models and terminology used in the nonprofit sector to understand brand remain those imported from the for-profit sector to boost name recognition and raise revenue. Nonprofit leaders need new models that allow their brands to contribute to sustaining their social impact, serving their mission, and staying true to their organization’s values and culture.” They go on to elaborate:” A decade ago, the dominant brand paradigm in the nonprofit sector focused on communications. Nonprofit executives believed that increased visibility, favorable positioning in relation to competitors and recognition among target audiences would translate into fundraising success. Branding was a tool for managing the external perceptions of an organization, a subject for the communications, fundraising, and marketing departments. In contrast, the emerging paradigm sees brand as having a broader and more strategic role in an organization’s core performance, as well as having an internal role in expressing an organization’s purposes, methods, and values. “.
Having worked for nonprofit organizations for a few decades I wouldn’t completely disagree with the notion of making efforts to increase visibility having an impact on increasing fundraising revenue. I would say that I have seen this effect in action. However increasingly I wonder if our brand (s) can be leveraged to do more than just this. Can they be used to help us better deliver our mission and have this greater strategic role? I used to tell any of our volunteers and staff who would listen that regardless of our role or title we are all really on the fundraising team. I think now I would more accurately describe that we are all not only on the fundraising but also the marketing team. Our volunteers and our staff are really brand ambassadors. Today’s social media can make our volunteers and our staff ambassadors with a much broader reach. It would seem that Kylander & Stone (2012) would agree:” Increasingly, branding is a matter for the entire nonprofit executive team. At every step in an organization’s strategy and at each juncture in its theory of change, a strong brand is increasingly seen as critical in helping to build operational capacity, galvanize support, and maintain focus on the social mission.”
In part 2 of this article how to use your brand as a powerful tool beyond just increasing visibility for your charity
Blake,S (2014) Why social media is important for Chief Executives as retrieved from:
Kylander,K. & Stone, C. (2012) The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector: Stanford Social Innovation
Review; V34, Spring 2012, as retrieved from:
Levinson, J.C, Adkins,F. & Forbes,C. (2010) Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits: 250 Tactics to Promote,
Recruit, Motivate and Raise More Money: Irvine: Entrepreneur Press