How corporate-style nonprofit brands alienate donors

Very important discussion of nonprofit branding over at queer ideas: Great logo, shame about the work.

It’s a look at some research on donor attitudes in the UK by nfpSynergy. Among other findings, more than half of those surveyed called big charities “professional” but “wasteful.”

Ouch. Of course, a few of them really are wasteful and deserve the label. But most are not; it’s a problem of image, and the problem is caused by nonprofits’ branding practices.

Here’s QI’s hypothesis why:

Big charities mimic … companies in how they promote themselves — strong corporate identities, powerful brands … But what happens [when someone gives]? Unlike in the commercial world where there’s a box to open or service to experience, the donor has no way to judge if the brand values they’ve bought into are authentic or not.

That’s right: Corporate-style branding backfires. Because it’s organization-centric, and it almost never gets backed up in the donor’s experience. Think about it this way: If I hand a bunch of money over to Apple, they give me an iPhone or something else the proves (or disproves) that my money was well-spent.

A nonprofit has nothing to give in return for your money but information. There’s no iPhone. There are only words and pictures.

If the nonprofit is trapped by their branding into proving that yes, indeed, they really are super-cool like they said they were — they simply can’t pull it off. It’s a qualitative claim, and that can’t be proven. The donor is bound to be disappointed, or at least underwhelmed, by the lack of tangible proof they get.

A smart nonprofit brand takes a different approach: Instead of a look-at-me brand, it has a look-at-you brand that recognizes donors give to make stuff happen, not to support organizations. Instead of promising to be the best charity on the block, it promises a fulfilling, exciting, information-rich experience that will maximize the donor’s impact and experience. It says two things:


  1. You’ll have a lot of impact.
  2. You’ll see that impact, clearly and dramatically.

All that stuff about how cool the organization is moves into the background where it belongs.

When a donor gives to the smart-branded nonprofit, all you have to do is deliver the information you promised. Deliver it quickly, well, and frequently. And over-deliver, while you’re at it.

It’s fulfillment of a fulfillable, no-BS promise.

So when someone comes to you wanting to help you build a corporate-style, spit-and-polish look-at-me brand — you might want to say no thanks. You can’t afford the damage it can do to your relationships with donors.


Comments

6 responses to “How corporate-style nonprofit brands alienate donors”

  1. Dear Jeff,
    I agree. Since Planned Parenthood started branding itself like a healthcare company like Kaiser or other brands, I’ve really been turned off from their look.
    Where’s the radical planned parenthood I knew, instead of this bland baby blue stock photo place I see now?
    Mazarine
    http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  2. Dear Jeff,
    I agree. Since Planned Parenthood started branding itself like a healthcare company like Kaiser or other brands, I’ve really been turned off from their look.
    Where’s the radical planned parenthood I knew, instead of this bland baby blue stock photo place I see now?
    Mazarine
    http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  3. Mary Ann Avatar
    Mary Ann

    Excellent comments. Which not-for-profits do you think are “smart branding”? An example would be helpful.

  4. Mary Ann Avatar
    Mary Ann

    Excellent comments. Which not-for-profits do you think are “smart branding”? An example would be helpful.

  5. I think PETA does an excellent job. They are constantly sharing information with the public about what they do. Everything about them is focused on impact and action, not on the image of the organization.

  6. I think PETA does an excellent job. They are constantly sharing information with the public about what they do. Everything about them is focused on impact and action, not on the image of the organization.

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog