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5 Steps to Defining Your Nonprofit's Brand

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Every successful nonprofit is a brand. Just think of the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or the March of Dimes. These great iconic nonprofits are so well branded that when you think of each of them, the very name calls up a host of associations, memories, positive feelings, and the satisfaction that you know them.

Branding is not marketing and advertising (although both of those activities will help your brand). Branding is about selling everything associated with your organization.

Larry Checco, a consultant to nonprofits, says that any organization can use branding to create visibility and convince supporters of the organization's value. In Checco's book, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization, he provides a five-step process that will move an organization toward successful branding:

1. Conduct a SWOT analysis.

SWOT is an acronym for strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and external threats. Checco suggests that participants in your SWOT analysis should be from every level of your organization. Include a rep from your board, executive staff, management, operations, and support staff. Questions that you might use for each part of your SWOT analysis could include:

  • Strengths - What do we do best? How do we want our target audiences to view us? What distinguishes us from our competition?
  • Weaknesses - In what ways do we have trouble clearly explaining to people outside our field what we do? How much does our board know about branding, and how effective will members be in promoting and protecting our brand?
  • Opportunities - Can we identify an expanding market for our products and services? What is the current economic landscape of our community?
  • Threats - Are there external factors that would prohibit our organization from promoting our brand? Who are our competitors? How much do we know about them?

2. Review your SWOT analysis for brand messaging opportunities.

What have you learned about who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why anyone should care?

3. Determine what messages your audiences want or need to hear.

Sometimes you learn that what you might want to say about your organization is not what your audiences want to hear.

An example that Checco uses in his book is of affordable housing. For years, proponents of such housing emphasized the needs of the people being served. But audiences did not like the idea of "subsidized" housing for "needy" people in their communities. When the message was changed to emphasize the positive impact such housing would have such as tax benefits, shoppers to help maintain a downtown, or diversity in the schools, such housing became much more palatable to communities.

To complete this step, you will need to survey a representative number of your audience and/or conduct a focus group.

4. Create a "messaging package."

A message package includes such things as a tagline, a mission statement, a positioning statement, supporting statements, and a logo. As Checco says, A 'messaging package' is simply a compilation of the core messages you want your brand to convey. Its purpose is to help you stay on message whenever you communicate information about your organization.

5. Before finalizing your message package, go back to your focus group.

Get real reactions from real people to your messages. This step is absolutely necessary to make sure that words or messages you have picked mean what you think they mean to your audience. Unless you want a nasty surprise later, test your messages.

Checco goes into detail about all of these elements as well as how to define, promote, and protect your brand. Get the book...it is the easiest-to-read and most accessible one we have seen about branding. Checco believes every nonprofit can achieve successful branding and he lays out a program to achieve it that anyone can pursue.

Branding for Success, Larry Checco, Checco Communications, 2005, 103 pages, ISBN 1-41205249-1, $20 U.S.

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