Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding is the second book I've reviewed about this topic this year. The other one is Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications, by Sarah Durham. They are both excellent and compliment one another nicely.
Silos Come Down
In Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding, I found a consistent theme, suitable for our age, of breaking down silos within organizations. Branding, according to these authors, does not reside in the marketing department. It belongs to everyone, from fundraising to programming. Gregory Boroff, VP for External Relations for Food Bank For New York City (one of the case studies in the book), tells why he joined that organization:
I have worked for organizations where fund-raising was in a corner on its own and marketing engaged in totally different activities, and neither area connected with the programming. When I joined the Food Bank, a crucial consideration for me was the deep internal integration that already existed between various functions. Lucy's [Lucy Cabrera, CEO] vision was remarkable She understood the value of bringing marketing and fund-raising together and aligning them with the work of our frontline programs. It seems obvious, but too few organizations do it.
Branding is also intimately connected with mission. Indeed, the two almost become one. Mission commonly drives a nonprofit organization, helps it to set prioties and keep the nonprofit on task. With breakthrough branding, mission becomes part of a "brand platform" which then infuses the entire organization with its ultimate meaning.
The brand platform encompasses: brand meaning; brand position statement; personality and voice; a brand promise statement; mission; vision; and values. From this platform comes a cohesive brand, but also a cohesive organization that is focused on living out its brand in every respect.
The Seven Principles
It's quite a breathtaking vision that the authors set out in Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding, but it is one that does work. The proof is in the many case studies presented in the book.
But, let's go back to basics. Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding sets out seven principles that guide the branding process:
- Discover the Authentic Meaning of Your Brand
- Integrate Brand Meaning across the Organization
- Rally Internal Brand Ambassadors
- Develop 360 Degree Brand Communications
- Expand Your Brand by Mobilizing an External Community
- Cultivate Partners to Extend Your Brand Reach and Influence
- Leverage Your Brand for Alternative Revenue and Value
The authors take a deep dive into each principle (a chapter to each), using examples from 11 nonprofit case studies showcased in the book. They include large, small, old, and new nonprofits that range from the American Heart Association, Goodwill Industries, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Food Bank for New York City, and College Forward. All of these organizations went through a major rebranding process, and small nonprofits are included as examples just in case you might think that only large, well financed groups can accomplish the revolutionary changes involved in "breakthrough nonprofit branding."
What Are You Really About?
The first step is for each nonprofit to discover its "authentic meaning." This involves a lot of research. These organizations did not sit in a room and just research their own opinions, but made sure to find out what people both close to the organization thought and people who were casual observers. Many preconceived ideas were dumped, and a clearer view of what the organization truly stands for became the basis for everything else. As Lisa Fielder, of College Forward, says:
Our rebrand coincided with what might be called an organizational recalibration....We needed a better name and more exciting visuals. But equally inmportant was our shift in focus from admission to college....We identified an urgent need to work on parent engagement, financial aid and literacy, career exploration, study skills, and other 'soft' skills. College persistence was becoming as important as college admission. Our new branding reflected this broader role for the organization.
UNICEF, on the other hand, discovered a renewed commitment to what they had been doing all along...saving the lives of children throughout the world. But they pumped up their brand and mission with an aspirational goal: "Whatever it takes to save a child." As Director of Marketing Kim Pucci put it:
Literally, there is a daily holocaust that goes largely unrecognized....We're asking our supporters to 'Believe in Zero' by joining with the organization that does 'whatever it takes' to reach a day when the number of children dying from preventable causes is zero. That's the new heart and soul of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
Brand Building Through Community Building
Pretty heady stuff and far beyond our old ideas of branding.
Principle five was my next favorite one in the book: Expand Your Brand by Mobilizing an External Community. Here is where "old school" completely breaks down as branding is joined to community and we enter the realm of new media. Using new media to build community is well described in Beth Kanter and Allison Fine's book, The Networked Nonprofit.
When Susan G. Komen for the Cure was begun in the 1980s, however, "new media" wasn't even on the horizon. That organization, from the beginning, built community around their breakthrough events, buidling a communal foundation runner by runner. Over the years the organization has provided deeper personalized benefits and rewards, and experiences that bind participants to the mission. Today, with multi-channel opportunities, Komen turns casual participants into "long-term and lifetime champions who are co-owners of the cause and actively recruit members, regularly advocate and raise funds for the organization." Susan Carter Johns, of Komen, explains:
Our philosophy is to be the catalyst to connect people to the brand meaning. We want people to feel a sense of community, that there is a place for everyone here....We don't start by asking for anything. We don't lecture. We give people information they want to hear and let them get involved on their terms. The relationship and support builds from there.