Why do not-for-profits need branding?

You might not think about it, but your not-for-profit organization is indeed a brand. If you would like to be succesful, here's why we feel it's about time you started thinking about your organization as one.


What is a brand?

Most not-for-profits are reluctant to think about themselves as 'brands'. And if they do, the tendency is to see it being the name, slogan, logo, font or colour. But those are just some of the visual cues of it that meet the eye.

So lets first take a step back and try to get to grips with the concept of a brand to fully appreciate why it's so important.

What does it then consist of?

You could think about it this way. The name, logo, font, colours and images are like the tip of the iceberg and should reflect what lies underneath: what unites your members or your volunteers, what makes you special, what makes you valued, and what do people actually experience when they use your brand.

Internally branding is a way of uniting your board, staff, volunteers and members behind the same cause – your values, vision and purpose. At its best your brand is a guiding organizational principle that steers your not-for-profit and helps you become more effective and innovative.

Externally your brand is a marketing tool that, if articulated and designed appropriately, evokes the desired feelings in your audience, helps you raise your profile, and create trust in the minds' of your donors. But for your brand to be effective, you obviously have to be able to deliver on your promises. Hence the focus should be on getting the internal brand right first.


Why now's the time to get serious about it

Whether you like it or not, your not-for-profit is a brand. But the question is, are you effectively branded? Most not-for-profits involve enthusiastic and dedicated people, but is the brand explaining to the outside world what can be experienced as part of it?

There has been a huge increase in the number of charities and other types of organizations going after a limited pool of funds, members and volunteers. However, many not-for-profits are struggling to define and differentiate themselves in an increasingly homogenous market. As the economic crisis only deepens, the pressure is on the not-for-profits for becoming more creative and innovative in order to survive the challenges ahead.

But long before the latest global financial crisis, the not-for-profit sector has been shaken by some big changes. While many not-for-profit organizations have grown reliant on government funding, most governments have slowly started to shift the responsibility of financing them to the private sector in an overall attempt to encourage social responsibility.

The corporate donors, however, are much more business-like in choosing the not-for-profit organizations to collaborate with. They understand that a well defined and consistent brand is a sign of reliability and efficiency. Not just that, but they are keen to support not-for-profits with brand recognition.

To attract members, volunteers and funding in this new era, today’s charitable organizations need to be able to articulate their values, vision and purpose with clarity and communicate these effectively to the various audiences in a unique, exciting and consistent manner.

Although branding has been traditionally perceived going against the ethos of most not-for-profit organizations; it nevertheless is the art form which enables today’s charities to respond to the changing world around us and become more innovative and effective.


Read more about how we can help you.

Case study: CISV

Children's International Summer Villages (CISV) was a global volunteer organization at cross-roads: it wanted to grow, but it didn't know how – or where. A Knowledge Transfer Partnership between the charity and Newcastle University was set up to bring strategic innovation. Hired as the Marketing and Project Manager to work on the project (go to project web site), Finntastico's founder Antti Kangaslahti identified CISV's out-dated and disparate brand as the biggest obstacle to growth. While members saw the organization as inclusive, engaging, enthusiastic, friendly and cooperative; externally it was seen as old-fashioned, stagnant, exclusive and only for children. In addition to the gap between internal and external perception, the visual image varied considerably from one country to another, which contributed to the fact that there was little shared understanding over CISV's values, vision and purpose.

A proposal was made to rebrand the 50-year-old organization – a substantial change for a volunteer-led organization steeped in tradition. A web site for the rebranding project was launched to engage CISV's internal membership in the process. After extensive research for rediscovering the brand identity involving thousands, lots of stakeholder communications, several focus groups – you name it – CISV's brand was updated. The name was changed to the abbreviation and the logo was modified with an addition of the slogan 'Building Global Friendship' to underpin the new global brand strategy. The revised brand is now being implemented in over 60 countries worldwide based on the brand guidelines developed. It is on display at www.cisv.org.